Changes made to exams mean schools are tripped up as they try to achieve a decent league table position, headteachers warn, as the number of secondaries considered under-performing doubles in a year.
The government says it has toughened up the exam regime by banning resits and removing some vocational qualifications from school tables.
Some 330 state schools fell beneath the government’s floor target this year – up from 154 last year – after failing to ensure that enough pupils gained five good GCSE grades and made decent progress in the basics.
Headteachers warned that the tables could give a skewed picture of a school’s performance.
The National Association of Head Teachers general secretary, Russell Hobby said: “Data on school performance can be useful if used with caution, but today’s adverse statistics are due to the government’s constant changes to league tables and provide no indication of the actual performance of schools over time.”
But a recent survey by the teaching union NASUWT disputed the value of league tables at all, finding less than a third of parents used them when choosing schools for their children. Asked to name the five most important qualities they wanted in a school, 54 per cent listed supportive staff; 39 per cent a good inspection report; 38 per cent a track record on dealing with bad behaviour and bullying; 36 per cent good buildings and facilities, but just 21 per cent a good league table position.
Today’s adverse statistics are due to the government’s constant changes to league tables and provide no indication of the actual performance of schools over time. Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers general secretary
And on the parents’ site Mumsnet, many users said how close the schools were to their homes was more important than their position in the league tables.
One user wrote: “I came to the conclusion that it was debatable if it was the schools teaching that made it top of the league tables or the fact every child appeared to be tutored outside of school.
“Also the fact that the schools that Ofsted deemed outstanding were the ones that had what looked like the most bored students.
“We chose to send our son to one in special measures that we are more than happy with. The pupils are a happy lively bunch and he loves it.”
Another wrote: “No one has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting into anything other than their catchment school. Unless they’re Catholic (even the CofE schools work on a catchment basis). So there is actually no choice, just an illusion of choice, which is frankly the worst of both worlds.”
Mr Hobby added: “Secondary schools continue to improve and continue to perform: they have been tripped up by last-minute changes to eligibility and methods of calculation. Many of these changes disproportionately affected schools working with the most disadvantaged students.
“It is now time for the government to stop interfering in examinations on ministerial whim and let schools focus on teaching. It is also time for schools to turn their attention away from the government’s ever-changing measures and follow their own values for what is right for the students they serve.”
No one has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting into anything other than their catchment school. So there is actually no choice, just an illusion of choice. Mumsnet user
This year’s top scoring school nationally was King Edward VI Five Ways School, an academy in Birmingham. It entered 155 pupils for GCSEs and equivalent qualifications. All scored at least five C grades, including English and maths. It also had the highest average points score per pupil at 685.5.
The most improved school was the Charter Academy in Southsea, Hampshire, which has seen its results rise from 39 per cent of students getting at least five Cs including the basics in 2011 to 83 per cent achieving this standard in 2014 – a 44 per cent rise.
The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea was the top-performing area, with 73.8% of students gaining five or more A*-C grades, followed by Trafford (72.2 per cent), Sutton (72.1 per cent), Kingston-upon-Thames (70 per cent) and Buckinghamshire (69.5 per cent).
At the bottom, just over a third (35.4 per cent) of pupils in Knowsley reached this key benchmark, along with 44 per cent in Bradford and Blackpool, 44.6 per cent in Nottingham and 44.7 per cent in Kingston-upon-Hull.
The head of NASUWT, Chris Keates, said: “Every year the coalition government has changed the basis on which school performance is measured.
“It’s unacceptable that schools, teachers, parents and children are subjected to this negative annual ritual.”
But Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said the changes had been positive: “As a result of our plan for education we are seeing thousands more pupils taking the core academic GCSEs and A levels – those that open doors to future success.”
She continued: “For too long pupils were offered courses of no value to them and schools felt pressured to enter young people for exams before they were ready. By stripping out thousands of poor quality qualifications and removing resits from tables some schools have seen changes in their standings.
“But fundamentally young people’s achievement matters more than being able to trumpet ever higher grades.”