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A testing time for scruples

In my school, the GCSE exam results are significantly better than last year's. All credit to the focused hard work of the teachers. All credit also to the conjuring skills of the school leadership team.

Preparation started months before the exams, ready for the January school census form. A senior teacher was instructed to remove as many names as possible from the Year 11 roll.

Hardcore truants' names were removed so that the number counted for the exam total in June could be cut as much as possible.

Some troublesome and low-achieving pupils were moved on to alternative educational providers to get them off the books. (If you make the cake smaller, the percentage of pupils with five or more A*-Cs must go up.) Then there are the English as a second language speakers for whom we are the first UK school. We can remove many of them from the count as well. Not those who will get five A*-Cs - just those with very poor language skills.

But the biggest ploy for boosting good pass rates comes from the GNVQs, some of which are worth four GCSEs. This is manna from heaven - because it can double the number who get past the magic five marker.

This ploy is really great for those pupils who can cope with the continuous assessment better than exams, although it is puzzling that so many pupils can manage to pass a GNVQ yet cannot achieve more than one grade C in other subjects.

Of course, some of the effort does go into real teaching and learning strategies. Huge extra resources are put into coaching the borderline pupils, especially those who need just one more grade C from their predictions - or who, with a nudge, could get a GNVQ pass. The top and bottom ends of the year group are left to their ordinary lessons.

These things are not wrong in themselves. Ours is an inner-city school constantly trying to survive in a political world that is quick to judge and quick to blame.

But is this really the best use of time for a talented team of senior managers and a capable and inventive headteacher who has many good educational ideas that need more time for development?

What is morally dubious about these approaches is the way an obsession with league table positions has forced schools to look for every possible strategy to boost one particular kind of exam result - the five A*-C benchmark - at the expense of so much else.

Is this the best way to improve education? And are we giving our pupils a fair deal as we bust a gut to move up, or even just maintain, our position in the league tables?

The writer is a senior manager in an inner-city school. Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Please send it to

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