League Tables Will Not Boost “Hard” Subjects

This year's A level results highlight the growing gulf between achievement of different students in different subjects, says the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC).

Students from the independent sector dominate both entries and top grades in the  "hard" subjects of maths, the sciences and modern languages.

Tinkering with performance tables, as recently suggested by Michael Gove MP, will not solve the problem of the declining  take-up of these subjects in the state sector.

All attempts to compare different subjects ( physics versus media studies) or qualifications (A levels versus Diplomas) by applying and aggregating a common numerical value – whether in  performance tables, league tables and the UCAS tariff – are meaningless and should be scrapped. Results for different types of qualification should be reported separately in terms of their own particular grade profile. This is what happens in the independent sector and, indeed what leading universities do in making offers for university places.

Any government measures to boost the take-up of "hard" subjects should focus on two things:

  • what goes on in the classroom in those schools where such subjects are really popular and
  • the career advantages of studying such subjects.

Geoff Lucas (HMC Secretary) said:

“Students and the public at large) already know which subjects are hard. What they need now are some meaningful incentives to study them. 

“Downgrading media studies or English Literature in performance tables, in order to boost Maths or physics, will not lead to a clamour for more of the latter. Showing students why they will be inspired and rewarded for doing so is much more likely to succeed."