EDP investigation: Do our secondary schools try to manipulate GCSE league tables?

PUBLISHED: 08:00 22 January 2014

Hundreds of students were entered for three or more maths exams last year. Photo Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Hundreds of students were entered for three or more maths exams last year. Photo Chris Radburn/PA Wire


Hundreds of local pupils are sitting maths GCSE exams multiple times in a policy critics claim is designed to manipulate school league tables.

League tables: controversy and reform

While EDP research showed a number of local schools use tactics ministers claim are an attempt to “game” the system, there is great variation between individual schools.

Mark Farrar, headteacher of Reepham High School, said: “League tables do not give a true indication of a school’s performance. They are based on a school’s GCSE results and on the ‘GCSE equivalent’ results. These ‘equivalent’ courses can be of value to pupils and can help develop useful skills. But we all know that they are not nearly as difficult as traditional GCSE subjects. As a result, schools that offer a traditional academic curriculum are profoundly disadvantaged in league tables.”

The government has announced that in next year’s league tables only a student’s first attempt will count, in a bid to reduce early entries.

Wider changes in 2016 to remove “perverse incentives” include replacing the ‘gold standard’ of how many students receive five GCSEs at C or above, including English and maths, with a measure of students’ progress.

Ahead of tomorrow’s publication of the 2012-13 league tables, the EDP sent Freedom of Information requests to 57 state-funded secondary schools about three controversial areas.

According to the 44 responses, last year nearly 750 students were entered for at least three maths GCSEs, with 145 entered four times.

The data also revealed almost 1,250 students took maths, and 1,000 for English, earlier than the usual year 11, when they are 16.

The policy has been criticised as an attempt to ensure student get a grade C ‘in the bag’ at the expense of a higher grade later.

Speaking last summer, Katja Hall of the CBI said: “The sheer scale of multiple and early entries is astonishing. Employers don’t want exam robots – they want young people who are academically stretched, rounded and grounded.”

The data also showed that in more than a third of local schools, large numbers of students took three or more qualifications which are not GCSEs, but count as equivalent qualifications for league tables, which some have said are earlier to pass.

However, schools said the picture was more complex.

Jeremy Rowe, headteacher at Sir John Leman High in Beccles, which reported 36 students taking five or more GCSE-equivalent qualifications, said the qualifications delivered in terms of learning, and had “huge integrity”.

Gerard Batty, headteacher of Hellesdon High School, where 215 pupils sat English and 61 sat maths GCSE in year 10, said: “Our main reason is to help those kids who are on the cusp of a C and need English or maths to get to the next level. It works really successfully.

“Ofsted’s concern is early entry is stopping students getting the highest possible grade. But even if they passed, we would say ‘You did not get the grade you should, so well done for passing but you are going to have to continue until you get a better grade’.”

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