Why top schools are happy to be bottom of the class

The Telegraph, 29/01/15, with many top private schools scoring a resounding zero, GCSE school league tables are complete nonsense, says leading headmaster and chair of HMC Richard Harman.

Across the UK, parents and teachers are today poring over the new league tables; for many they are seen as key to assessing a school's performance. Sadly, they are being seriously misled by a system which cannot be trusted.

There have always been significant flaws with the league tables, but the recent decision by education ministers to drop IGCSEs from the league tables over the next two years has made them into a complete nonsense.

IGCSEs are relevant and rigorous qualifications which stretch our pupils and prepare them well for sixth form study. However, for reasons which appear to be more political than practical, the Government has decided they are no longer automatically included in the national measures of performance and any schools with the temerity to offer them will score a resounding zero.

Behind this sits a process characterised by muddled thinking. Put simply, only qualifications accredited by Ofqual count this year. Many IGCSEs are not accredited – for the simple reason that they have not been put forward for accreditation.

The reason they were not submitted is that an IGCSE can only be accredited if it altered to become similar to existing GCSEs. Given that the whole point is to offer something not similar, but different and more useful, most independent schools have to live with this Kafkaesque state of affairs.

As a result, many of the UK's most high performing independent and state schools appear to be bottom of the class in the Government's rankings.

A large number of these are members of the HMC which I am proud to lead; centres of learning of world renown such as Westminster, St Pauls Girls, Haberdashers Aske's Boys and my own, Uppingham, which achieve A*-C ratings approaching 100 per cent at IGCSE but show at 0 per cent.

This obviously absurd situation would cause hilarity if it were not so serious for those parents who are no longer able to compare schools' performance accurately and transparently. Those with experience of our schools are sanguine; they know the excellence of our teaching and the efforts their children go to.

However, for parents who are struggling to navigate the system, this is both frustrating and confusing. It also devalues the huge achievements of the thousands of pupils who have worked hard for their IGCSEs and are wondering why they are not being recognised.

We in the independent sector, free as we are of state intervention, can afford to take the current Government-run system with a massive pinch of salt. We live or die by our academic excellence, enriched by wide-ranging extra-curricular activities.

However, there are serious questions to answer about this ill thought through and ill advised decision. Are the league tables being used politically as a way of killing off IGCSEs and thereby choice? Or are they just the product of muddled thinking?

Either way, whichever new Government which comes into power in May must slow the rate of change in our schools and stop using our pupils as guinea pigs

Many HMC schools will continue to offer the IGCSE, as experience tells us it is the best option for many of our students. We know what works for our pupils and will always continue to provide a range of the best and most suitable courses, regardless of the vagaries of political decision-making.

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