Horsham headteachers question school league tables

JPCT 030215 S15050721x Billingshurst.  The Weald school's �10m expansion project has been approved by West Sussex County Council planning committee. Peter Woodman -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-150302-155733001

JPCT 030215 S15050721x Billingshurst. The Weald school's �10m expansion project has been approved by West Sussex County Council planning committee. Peter Woodman -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-150302-155733001

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Headteachers from secondary schools across Horsham have been questioning the ‘usefulness’ of school league tables after the latest figures were released last week.

Statistics published by the Department of Education on Thursday, outline the results achieved by pupils from state and private schools across the country who sat public examinations last year.

JPCT 190314 S14120934x Tanbridge House School, Horsham. Head, Jules White -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140319-113033001

JPCT 190314 S14120934x Tanbridge House School, Horsham. Head, Jules White -photo by Steve Cobb SUS-140319-113033001

In the case of secondary schools the tables are measured on results achieved by students at GCSE level and the percentage of pupils who leave school with five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and Maths.

But changes introduced by the government last year now mean only students’ first exam results go towards the league table figures with resit grades no longer counting.

Peter Woodman, headteacher at The Weald School in Billingshurst, saw 69 per cent of his pupils achieve five or more GCSE at grades A*-C, including English and Maths, a one per cent increase on last year.

However, despite the school’s ‘strong’ performance he has questioned the usefulness of the league tables to parents and said it was very difficult to compare the figures to previous results.

He said: “Results at The Weald were again very strong last year with 69 per cent of students gaining five or more GCSEs at A*-C (including English and maths).

“As impressive was the progress that students made across the ability range. Results post-16 were even better where 70 per cent of grades at A level were at A-B making The Weald the highest performing maintained non-selective school in the South of England.

“Whilst our performance in the league tables is very positive I do question how useful they actually are to parents.

“This year, for the first time the government has only included results for first entry only. This means students who sat an exam twice to improve on a previous grade will not have their better result included or counted.

“Whilst this does not impact on the Weald it has had a significant impact on a number of other schools both in West Sussex and across the country. This means it is very difficult to compare results this year with previous years.

“All schools are determined to do the very best for their students. This will often mean compromising a league table position if it allows a student to get, for example, a grade C in maths or English which will then allow them to go onto further education.

“Doing this may mean that the school doesn’t appear to be doing that well whilst in fact completely the contrary may be the case. We know in conversations with our parents that what is more important than league table positions are the answers to the critical questions of whether their child is happy and making progress or whether there are wider opportunities available in the school.

“At the end of the day the performance of a school cannot be condensed into a single statistic and a position in the league table. So yes we are pleased with our examination performance but as pleased with the wider experience that we offer our students and how happy they are coming here on a daily basis. That is something you cannot put a number on!”

Jules White, headteacher at Horsham’s Tanbridge House School, agreed with Mr Woodward.

According to league table results the school saw a slight drop in pass-rate with 76 per cent of pupils achieving five GCSE at grades A*-C, including English and maths, compared to 81 per cent the previous year.

Mr White said there were ‘flaws’ in these statistics and hoped parents could ‘see beyond’ the league tables.

He said: “I am pleased that, yet again, Tanbridge House is adding considerable value to students’ learning and achievement. The fact that 80 per cent of students left with 5+ A*-C (including English and maths) in 2014, whilst the DfE tables show 76 per cent, highlights the flaws in these statistics.

“As I have repeatedly said, whilst they are vital, GCSE results only form one element of a really good school provision. I believe that the vast majority of parents are able to see beyond the narrow confines of league tables or Ofsted reports.”

Results at The Forest School in Horsham saw an eight per cent decrease on last year’s tally with 60 per cent of students achieving five or more GCSE grades at A*-C. Siobhan Denning, headteacher, said: “These league tables tell Horsham parents little that they don’t already know about the excellent schools in their area. National research indicates that only a minority of parents refer to the league tables when choosing a school for their child - the majority base their decision on the known reputation of their local schools. Horsham parents are very lucky – they’re spoilt for choice!”

Steyning Grammar School also saw a slight drop in figures. Around 69 per cent of pupils were reported to have left the school with five GCSE grades A*-C, including English and maths, compared to the 73 per cent the year before. Nick Wergan, headteacher, said: “We were delighted with our excellent results last year – these again reflected the hard work of our students, and the dedication of our staff.”

Meanwhile it was another year of consistency for pupils of Millais School, Horsham, with around 85 per cent leaving the school with five or more GCSE A*-C grades, including Maths and English, matching the previous year’s results.

The County Times approached all secondary schools in the area for comment.