Schools playing fair on GCSEs

Dr Sonia Sharp,Sheffield City Council
Dr Sonia Sharp,Sheffield City Council

SCHOOLS in Sheffield will not be ‘caught out’ by Government plans to shake up GCSE league tables by banning thousands of work-related courses from annual statistics.

That is the verdict of Dr Sonia Sharp, the city’s executive director of children’s services, who said Sheffield’s secondary schools did not rely on ‘tricks’ to achieve exam success.

Ministers believe some schools are seeking to artificially boost their league-table rankings by putting pupils in for job-related courses such as office skills and nail technology - both currently worth two GCSEs.

Dr Sharp said she did not believe city schools were going down that route to ensure students achieved five GCSE passes including English and maths - the Government’s minimum requirement.

She said: “I don’t think our schools resort to tricks, though there have been issues in the past - for example there was one ICT qualification which was officially worth five GCSEs.

“I think this was more of an issue before the rules were changed to place an emphasis on English and maths.”

The last changes to league tables were introduced in 2010, when the minimum GCSE target was changed to insist pupils included English and maths in their five A to C passes.

As a result of the shift, several Sheffield secondaries saw their pass rates suffer sharp falls.

In this year’s tables, published last month, seven city schools remained below the Government’s so-called ‘floor target’ of 35 per cent, which could see them forcibly turned into academies.

Dr Sharp said: “I can see the chance to move up the tables by entering students for a variety of vocational courses could be a big temptation for some heads, but ours do not go down that route. At the same time it is important they provide opportunities that are right for each individual child.”

David Blunkett, Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said the changes risked downgrading all work-related courses in the mind of the public and employers.

The former Education Secretary said it was ‘entirely wrong’ if schools were deliberately seeking to skew league tables - but warned the tone of the reforms, due to be introduced in 2014, risked discrediting important vocational qualifications.