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Graphic: Will your high school rise or fall when government changes GCSE league table rules?

PUBLISHED: 09:34 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:58 29 April 2014

Changes to GCSE league tables could help improve the position of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Changes to GCSE league tables could help improve the position of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Photo: Barry Batchelor/PA Wire

Norfolk could see its position in national GCSE league tables rise when the government reduces the number of non-GCSE qualifications that are included in the statistics this year.

Expert analysis of the figures

Geoffrey Hunt, a former accountant and governor at a number of Norfolk schools, has looked at the figures. Here is his analysis:

There is a theory that academies in particular have been smart in using “equivalents” to boost their results. But a bit of digging suggests that this is too simplistic.

There is evidence that what a number of Norfolk schools have really been doing is selecting qualifications that better fit the future career needs of their pupils, recognising their pupils’ poorer than average previous academic achievement. The greater users of equivalents typically have to work with pupil cohorts with a higher rate of “disadvantage”. And so it should come as little surprise that academies are typically bigger users of equivalents because many of them are located in more challenging areas.

So, to the extent that schools are trying to give their pupils the best, appropriate, start in life by selecting the right courses to study, they should be praised.

There are of course a few schools that appear to be massaging the stats for league table advantage, both academies and local authority schools. Conversely, there are also a number of schools working with less academic pupils which it seems could do more to fit them for life after school by better course and qualification selection.

Until now, many vocational qualifications have been treated as the equivalent of one or more GCSEs when league tables are produced.

Critics have accused some schools of entering students for a large number of these equivalent qualifications as a way of artificially boosting their league table position, and the Department for Education announced in 2012 that most would not be included in this year’s league table.

• Click here to see a graph of how Norfolk’s secondary schools compared in 2013 with and without GCSE-equivalent qualifications

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

An EDP analysis of last year’s GCSE league tables shows that, when equivalent qualifications are included, Norfolk came 138th out of 151 local education authorities for the percentage of pupils achieving the government’s gold standard of at least five GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths.

When equivalents are removed, Norfolk rose 22 places to 116th. Similarly, Suffolk rises from 137th to 110th, and Cambridgeshire rises from 73rd to 59th.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children’s services at Norfolk County Council, said: “We anticipate that when league tables are reformed it will contribute to an improvement in Norfolk’s ranking. However, the wider work going on across Norfolk, led by school leaders, teachers and governors and supported by the county council, will have a more significant impact in securing long-term improvement.”

An analysis of state-funded schools in Norfolk showed sponsored academies generally make more use of equivalent qualifications than maintained schools. At King’s Lynn Academy, 44pc of pupils achieved the gold standard when equivalents are included, falling to 23pc when only GCSEs are counted, and at Ormiston Venture Academy, in Gorleston, 58pc achieved it with equivalents, falling to 38pc without.

Craig Morrison, principal of King’s Lynn Academy, said: “The crucial subjects of English and maths always take priority, but vocational courses have much to offer in terms of preparation for the world of work, independent study skills and managing projects. These skills are becoming ever more valued in the workplace but are at risk of being lost within GCSEs which are returning to more traditional formats with a dependency on recall.”

He added that since opening in 2010, the school had increased the academic component of each year group’s programme, with all students studying humanities and English literature.

Simon Gilbert-Barnham, principal of Ormiston Venture Academy, said the school offered a broad range of GCSEs and high-quality equivalent vocational qualifications, and research by university admissions body UCAS showed equivalent level three qualifications were still highly regarded by universities.

He added the school had a consistent increase in the percentage of pupils with five A*-C GCSEs only.

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