Private schools should not be punished

The Telegraph View, 30/01/15, the Government has no right to label private schools as failures just for using the IGSCE. It is not they who are on trial, but the notorious GCSE. HMC member schools Eton and Harrow are referenced.

What is going on at Eton, Harrow and Winchester? Despite dominating in A-level performance and sending so many pupils to Oxbridge, they have mysteriously plummeted to the bottom of the GCSE league tables – along with many other excellent private schools. Is there an epidemic of truancy? Or did one giant dog eat everyone’s homework? Or could it be that the Department for Education has made a terrible mistake by insisting that they will only recognise the results obtained in standard GCSEs and not the IGCSEs that many independent schools prefer? This decision makes a mockery of the latest league tables.

Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, writes in these pages that IGCSEs are flawed and that she hopes independent schools will return to the new “world-class GCSEs”. That, though, should be their choice to make and not the outcome of government pressure. Moreover, the case for GCSEs being world-class has yet to be made. The older ones were terrible, which is why so many private schools abandoned them. Ergo, it is foolish to punish them for pursuing rigour by sending them to the bottom of the league tables to consider what they have done wrong. The reputation of the more famous institutions probably won’t be affected – but others could be hurt by the false implication that they are underperforming.

These topsy-turvy league tables reflect a worrying trend in the Government’s approach. Much of it has been absolutely correct: making exams tougher, reducing coursework, improving teaching standards. But there has also been a resistance to greater diversity – as the epic struggle to set up a new grammar school in Kent suggests. Recently, the reactionary educational establishment has shown signs of reasserting its influence. Some within the Tory party may feel that the ambitious reform agenda pursued by Michael Gove when he was in charge alienated state school teachers and thus alienated parents. But they are wrong. People will back the fight for higher quality if they see results. And there is no reason to suggest that they would be impressed by any "unConservative" attempt to put the independent sector back in its place. The sector flourishes because it makes good decisions for its pupils. The Government should trust it.

League tables of school results were first started by the distinguished Daily Telegraph journalist John Clare in order to empower consumers. Now they risk becoming a tool of social engineering – compelling private schools to submit to the same form of examinations used by everyone else. Yet it is not the independent sector that should be on trial here. It is the notorious GCSE.

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