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

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’.”

What do you think? Email


  • If something is within the rules, how can it be seen as 'manipulating the tables'? The obsession with league tables is bound to mean that teachers will do what they can to give their students the best opportunity to get the best results they can. You could argue that they would be unprofessional if they didn't do that. The EDP ought to be using the Freedom of Information Act to discover how much public money has been used to establish the Free schools in Norwich - the cost of the Isaac Newton and the Jane Austen buildings and their refurbishment must be huge, particularly when there is, demographically speaking, no need for them. Could that money have been better spent on helping existing schools to improve?

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    Thursday, January 23, 2014

  • This is nothing ; the cheating is far far worse than this - things like coursework either done for them, or done by a fill in the blanks method for example. GCSEs are pretty much worthless.

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    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • I agree with you V self promotion is the order of the day and as the saying goes you can't fool all the people all of the time. Well done EDP Freedom of Information is a tool which can flush out a lot and our children are entitled to have the very best education possible to prepare them for the difficult economic climate they face. There are a lot of very good committed teachers trying their best under difficult circumstances and the current system where Governors are unable to sufficiently challenge Headteachers is allowing Headteachers to manipulate Governing Bodies and the LA are not able to intervene at an early enough stage. How many of your readers have had their complaints thrown into the long grass because the Headteacher is blindly supported by weak Governors?

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    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • I couldn't agree more with Namaste. Desperately weak governance is the root cause of what happened at Stalham, for example. They appointed a dud then couldn't get the genie back in the bottle before she mesmerised them into becoming her unquestioning courtiers. Isn't that the opposite of what governors should be doing? And why didn't Norfolk County Council intervene to stop the train wreck?

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    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Public targets and league tables always corrupt and devalue the product....schools, hospitals, councils, selling financial products etc. The only surprise here is that anyone is surprised !!!

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    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

  • Weird how the investigative reporting stopped short of looking at the Academy Trusts who now have control over Norfolk!

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    Thursday, January 23, 2014

  • Hear hear Pablo.....let's really examine what is being spent on Free Schools and academies and forensically examine value for money which is all this Coalition harps on about yet like Labour they throw money at their pet projects regardless of their worth.

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    Friday, January 24, 2014

  • "Do our secondary schools try to manipulate GCSE league tables?" Of course they do. But its not only the schools, it is also the teachers just to make themselves look good. Why do you think the teachers either panic or go off sick when there is an Oftsed ?. Its because they know they would fail.

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    Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site


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