Page 5 - Independent Schools Magazine
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 League tables still present an inaccurate picture – but they aren’t the only problem
Government-imposed systems
which let all our children down
Last month (January) the league tables for secondary schools were released. They charted those with the best results at the top, showing percentages of progress for the number of students gaining top grades in GCSEs and pitching each institution against the national average. But within them are serious  aws and misrepresentations which punish independent schools.
Just one of a number of important issues highlighted by Brendan Wignall, Headmaster at Ellesmere College, Shropshire.
 League tables have been a part of the education system in the UK since John Major’s government introduced them in 1992.
They were designed to be a bene t to parents across the country struggling to choose which school or college they want their child to go to, giving vital information about how previous students have fared.
But they have also been a bone of contention.
League tables present an inaccurate picture of just what a school is achieving - and therefore misinform parents making dif cult decisions for their children.
For example, the tables are a great misrepresentation of Ellesmere College – because many of our students don’t sit GCSEs.
At Ellesmere it is always our policy to enter pupils for the exam that is most appropriate for them.
We take students as individuals and want to focus on them as individuals, entering them for the best quali cation for their abilities and ambitions.
Many of our students sit IGCSEs,
a very high standard international quali cation, but not controlled by the UK government, which I have to be honest and say is an additional attraction.
In our Sixth Form Ellesmere
College offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma alongside A levels and BTECs. A perverse consequence of the Government’s refusal to acknowledge what it cannot control, even when it’s better, is that Ellesmere had the
distinction of of cially having no pupils achieve the EBacc, since some of the EBacc subjects at Ellesmere are examined via the IGCSE.
We ignore the EBacc stipulation
on required subjects too, as we are more concerned to ensure that each individual student has the right GCSE options for her or him, rather than following the rather crude tick- box model promoted by the EBacc.
Therefore, in charts printed in our local newspapers in Shropshire when the league tables were published last month, Ellesmere College scored zero in a number of categories.
It is an awkward statistical anomaly but a fairly normal feature for Ellesmere.
The Government’s reluctance
to recognise higher standard quali cations means that some schools have results discounted
from league tables – or, perhaps even more worryingly, it has had the effect of pushing schools into taking the exams that the government
does recognise – the exams the government want them to take.
The day we start prioritising what the Government wants over what is best for our pupils is never going to come as long as I am Headmaster.
This system lets all our children down.
At Ellesmere we can protect our pupils, but others are not so lucky.
The devastation that has been wreaked on arts education in schools
is a well-known consequence of the government’s obsession with the top-down mechanistic vision of education embodied in the EBacc.
Successive governments have created a culture where schools need to conform to what they want them to do, rather than what is best for each individual student.
But why, when the alternative quali cations are equal – if not more valuable?
It is widely recognised that historically the IGCSE has been of a higher standard than the GCSE.
But because the Government can’t control the curriculum of the IGCSE, because it is a genuinely international quali cation and represents the international gold standard for sixteen year olds,
the Government chooses not to recognise it in the league tables.
Similarly, the top grade in the IB Diploma is equivalent to six and a half A grades at A Level for university purposes.
But, again, because the Government can’t control it – it frequently does not feature in their league tables.
And this was not just an issue for Ellesmere, or indeed just an issue for independent schools across the country.
Many schools and colleges of all types across the UK take up the option of entering their students for IGCSEs instead of GCSEs.
But they are punished for this in not
“The day we start prioritising what the Government wants over what is best for our pupils is never going to come as long as I am Headmaster”
being represented in league tables.
In May 2016 the number of students sitting IGCSEs had risen by 8%, up from 457,000 the previous year to 493,000.
And now in 2018 the trend tends to be that the uptake of the IGCSE is decreasing – are leaders in education being forced into this change because of the impact it is having?
That is hard to prove and dif cult to claim because, as I have said – each student is an individual and should be treated that way.
But it may well be a factor and that doesn’t put the student  rst.
At Ellesmere we take the ‘independent’ bit of being
an independent school very seriously, and as long as we’re not breaking the law we will give the government’s views on education fair consideration, as we would consider any view, but I suspect we’ll continue largely to disregard it. Our duty is to our pupils, not the state.
Of course, if the government was serious about improving life chances for all children it would continue
to extend the academies and free school programme and give power to parents – who usually know better than governments – and introduce a voucher system.
   “If the government was serious about improving life chances for all children... it would introduce a voucher system”
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