Exam board chief: Private schools are being ‘punished’ in league tables

The Telegraph, 30/01/15, the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, Simon Lebus, whose exam boards include OCR, argues that it is “plainly absurd” that top schools such as HMC member school Eton College are listed near the foot of the latest league tables because their pupils sat International GCSEs (IGCSEs).

Britain’s leading private schools are being “punished” in official league tables “for pursuing rigour”, the head of one of the country’s biggest exam boards has said.

Simon Lebus, the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, accused the Department for Education of attempting to “rig” the race to the top of the rankings by effectively excluding schools that have shunned GCSEs in favour of international alternatives.

In a letter to the Telegraph Mr Lebus said it was “plainly absurd” that top schools such as Eton College were listed near the foot of the latest league tables because their pupils sat International GCSEs (IGCSEs).

Dozens of private schools score zero in a key performance measure as a result of the decision. Many, including Eton, chose IGCSEs as a “more rigorous” alternative to the conventional qualifications.

Writing for the Telegraph in response to claims that the situation was “absurd”, she insisted that a government overhaul of GCSEs had ensured that the exams were tougher, and appealed to independent schools to return to the traditional qualifications.

However Mr Lebus, whose exam board is responsible for both GCSEs and IGCSEs, said: “I fear the Secretary of State for Education has been badly advised.”

He added: “Schools say they offer the IGCSE because it is the best preparation for university – feedback that is echoed by admissions tutors.

“If the Department for Education advisers are so confident that schools will switch back to the ‘new world-class GCSEs’ from IGCSEs, they should encourage real competition in a ‘race to the top’, rather than try to rig the race.”

A spokesman for the group said schools should be allowed to choose between the two qualifications on a “horses for courses” principle.

He added that the Government’s overhaul of GCSEs in an attempt to toughen up the exams “largely reflected what the IGCSE already offered.”

“It seems perverse that the qualifications that helped develop the thinking for the reformed GCSEs should now be excluded,” he said.

Although some IGCSEs are included in the tables, many are not recognised, meaning schools that took those qualifications last summer performed poorly in the measure of the proportion of pupils gaining at least five C grades, including in both English and maths. From 2017 the qualifications will be excluded from the tables altogether.

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