Secondary school league tables: how to read the results

Today the Department for Education publishes the results of how schools in England performed at GCSE and A-levels, but what do these results actually show?

School performance tables have always proved to be a contentious issue among education professionals.

The same arguments are revisited year after year: do the results give an accurate and fair representation of how successful a school is at educating the children in its care, especially when headline results in the core academic subjects are what many people focus on?

While the results only measure certain aspects of a school’s performance, many would argue that the focus is too narrow and doesn’t paint a full picture of the rounded education a school might offer.

It has also been said that performance tables could lead some schools to teach to the test and push children towards traditional academic pursuits in order to bolster their position in rankings.

The new league tables, published today, have already been criticised by head teachers, with many suggesting the results will be “irrelevant”.

Based on figures provided by the Department for Education (DfE), the tables show how every school and college in England performed at GCSE, A-level and other academic and vocational qualifications in 2014.

So, what do the tables actually show?

In terms of GCSE results, tables show the percentage of pupils obtaining at least 5 A*-C grades (or equivalent) including English and maths at GCSE or equivalent.

The average points score is also shown. This is calculated by assigning each grade a certain number of points – an A* is worth 58 points, A 52, B 46, C 40, D 34, E 28, F 22, and G 16.

The table also includes the percentage of students obtaining the English Baccalaureate (EBacc). This measure highlights where pupils have achieved a C grade or better across core academic subjects including maths, English, the sciences, a language and geography or history

The A-level tables show the average points score of students. This is calculated by assigning each grade a certain number of points: an A* grade scores 300 points, A 270, B 240, C 210, D 180, E 150. The figures also highlight the average points score per exam sat in the school.

Finally, figures have also been published highlighting the percentage of students gaining at least two As and a B in ‘facilitating subjects’. For those not in the know, these are subjects preferred (often required) for entry to an elite Russell Group university.

This year’s figures indicate that the number of schools failing to meet GCSE targets has doubled in the last 12 months to 330.

Does looking at last year’s results provide a realistic comparison?

According to the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and many education professionals, the answer to this question is ‘definitely not’, particularly when looking at GCSE performance tables.

At the beginning of the week, head teachers said that current Government targets for secondary schools were “pretty much irrelevant” this year, following a major upheaval in the GCSE exam system. This has led to a significant fall in many school results.

The reforms that have affected results include: only counting a pupil’s first attempt at an EBacc qualification in performance tables.

According to the DfE, this change was intended to “end the practice of schools repeatedly entering pupils for exams so they could ‘bank’ a good grade.”

Changes also include leaving “poor quality” vocational qualifications out of league tables, capping the number of non-GCSEs counting in performance measures to two, and making sure that no qualification counts as equivalent to more than one GCSE.

Why are many private schools at the bottom of the rankings?

Like the ASCL, independent school leaders have called this year’s tables “nonsense”, as many high performing private schools are sitting at the bottom of GCSE rankings.

This is because large numbers of independent schools actually examine pupils using alternative IGCSEs, many of which are not recognised in the rankings and, from 2017, won’t feature at all.

What is currently expected of schools?

Currently at GCSE, Government targets state that 40 per cent of students should score at least five Cs at GCSE, including English and maths – or satisfy separate pupil progress requirements. This was raised from 35 per cent in 2012.

Any schools failing to reach this target are judged to be below the floor standard. Overall 330 schools fell short of this threshold last summer, compared with 154 in summer 2013.

Where can I see the results?

Using data published today, the Telegraph have created interactive search tools for GCSE and A-level rankings, which allow readers to search by region or school and then compare results against one another.

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