Private schools league tables question(13 Posts)
I have begun researching senior schools for my (thus far) academic DD using a cocktail of Mumsnet, the Good School Guide, friends' feedback and the dreaded league tables.
While I was looking at the league tables, i came across something that puzzled me and I was wondering whether more experienced mums had some insights to share (and before I get blasted for being a result-obsessed, pushy parent, let me tell you that obviously the league tables are only one of the many elements I'm looking at in my research and by no means the most important).
Some schools seem to experience a huge discrepancy between their GCSE and A-level results. Now I was expecting a drop, but nothing quite as spectacular. Last year, for example, two of the schools on my radar dropped from about 86-87% A*-A at GCSE to 50% at A-Level. Is this purely linked to harder exams and a sixth-form exodus to pastures new, or could it be an indication that the teaching in the last couple of years is not as great as it could be? Looking at it logically, the massive drop seems to happen across too many schools for it to be a specific teaching issue, but still, it begs the question.
Views much appreciated, thanks!
GCSES are not that difficult. Getting good grades just requires learning what is on the syllabus. Good private schools are very good at delivering this. Hence the high number of A*/A grades. A levels require a much greater understanding of the subject, individual thought, ability to argue a case etc. Hence the lower proportion of students getting top grades. DS1 got an A* in maths from his private school despite always having had problems with basic mathematical concepts at primary school. But he did not have that mathematical brain that some of his peers had and we did not encourage him to take maths at A level.
You really should not be averse to using league tables as a measure of a schools performance, it is really the only certain factor which is comparable and in my opinion a good barometer of a schools health. It is also essential to use the web sites to compare previous years GCSE and A level results of the schools you are interested in against their peers. If a school has structural issues it will soon become evident as the fall in performance will be noticeable, as you have seen. Do not ignore this factor as if you are considering a school for a capable child you must look for consistency. If a school is getting consistently good results it is in good health, if a school takes a noticeable fall be very careful. You would not want your DD to join a school which is going backwards as it often takes many years to recover.
The reasons for a school beginning to fail are many. You have eluded to the gap between GCSE and A level results which might indicate brighter students leaving at year 11 for a better sixth form. Check if the school is now offering less academic subjects in an effort to gain results, always a good indicator. Has there been a change in school leadership or an exodus of staff, are other schools just getting better? Look at school inspection reports, are they recent?
There is a lot to research and you are obviously keen to do the best you can. Talk to as many parents as possible, visit all of the schools, be firm and ask searching questions. Make sure you back up your visit with a letter to confirm any promises, good schools will be open and honest, some will try to hide the cracks! You will soon get a feel for things after a few visits and perhaps you can arrange taster days for your DD at one or two.
So much to consider but please bear in mind consistency and go with your gut, your senses rarely lie.
Have a look at leaver's destinations as well - most schools will say on their website. If they are sending most of their students to good universities then maybe there is a gap in the league table info e.g. Pre-U.
I have taught A level and most of my pupils have obtained A or A* at GCSE but the range of grades they obtain at A level is much wider.
It isn't necessarily due to teaching at the school. Some pupils may have had extensive tutoring at GCSE which has meant they achieve entry grades but find it hard to keep up in an A level class.
League tables and exams have also changed in the past few years which makes comparisons harder. Many pupils used to resit exams in January to improve their grades, but January exams were discontinued in 2014 and this has affected league tables by lowering grades.
The overall percentage doesn't tell you a great deal though as a school may have higher overall grades because they offer less academic subjects.
Many schools publish a full list of grades obtained at GCSE and A level for each subject which may be more informative.
Hope that's helpful.
Nationally there are many more A-A*s given out at GCSE than A level.
But also, there's quite a bit of movement into and out of schools at 16, so some schools - particularly the smaller ones tend to lose kids after GCSEs as they head off to places where they've got more choice over A level options. And other schools especially where the local state sixth form provision is poor have quite a big intake of state school kids, who they may select more rigourously than their existing students (Schools will usually expect to offer places to their current students, assuming they're working hard and reasonably likely to cope). So the results are not necessarily coming from the same students.
It's well worth asking the schools (or looking on websites) for a subject by subject breakdown of the results, especially if you know what areas your DD is likely to be interested in.
6th form admissions policy can vary a great deal. There are some private schools who filter very rigorously (much like many state comps) and others who aim to get as many kids as they can through to A level standard. The latter is in some ways an admirable policy but can seriously lower the averages. I'd look at 6th form admissions standards as well as A level value added, overall results, and if it is important to your kid, the fraction getting good grades in Russell Group subjects. Points per A level vs total points is also revealing - I have seen some school with lower totals who focus more on quality. You cannot get a decent picture from the headline stats. Bear in mind that many privates do iGCSEs which get left off the standard tables and theire GCSE scores are dire!!!
50% of A levels at A*/A will never be an indication of poor teaching.
I've seen a similar pattern in some girls school where many of the high performers leave to join co-ed 6th forms.
Unless you live somewhere with very limited options, it is worth bearing in mind that there may be many different reasons to change schools at 6th form.
"You really should not be averse to using league tables as a measure of a schools performance, it is really the only certain factor which is comparable and in my opinion a good barometer of a schools health."
It's of no value if you don't know anything about the intake.
At an excellent all girls grammar I know they score stellar results at GCSE and then many girls jump ship to the boys coed sixth form grammar and boost their A level results but that affects their own A level results. Main reason is nothing more sinister than the girls are ready for a change.
In relation to minifingerz comment about intakes:
Many schools have entrance examinations which require a minimum score for prospective pupils therefore much about the intake is known. You may also be able to gain some information from sats scores and other mid term measurements. Otherwise you can listen to word of mouth and anecdotal evidence from sites such as mumsnet. Many schools do amazing things with less able pupils and other schools fail some more able pupils. The end results (GCSE and A levels) are the only really transparent measure we have on which to judge a schools overall performance and are therefore always going to be vitally important. The consistency of those results year on year is paramount (IMHO) when choosing a school for your academically able loved ones.
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