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Fears over GCSE 'threshold' measure
Government plans to overhaul GCSE league tables could still encourage schools to play the system to boost their rankings, according to new research.
A move to keep a "threshold" measure, looking at the percentage of pupils reaching a certain standard in English and maths, could still lead to schools focusing on the performance of just some students, rather than all of them, according to a study by the CentreForum think tank.
Under plans announced in February, schools will no longer be judged on the proportion of pupils scoring five or more C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Instead, two new league table measures are being brought in, looking at the percentage of pupils achieving a set threshold in English and maths, and an average points score showing how much progress every student makes between the end of primary school and GCSE level across eight subjects.
The move comes amid growing concerns that the current tables encourage schools to focus on raising the results of pupils at the C/D grade borderline in these key subjects, and to to play the system to raise their standing.
The new study calls for the threshold measure to be axed, and says that instead, more weight should be given to English and maths within the eight GCSE progress measure. This would allow parents to judge a school on what all pupils learn, ensure the performance of all pupils is counted, and allow government to ensure that schools are being held to account in terms of raising attainment for all pupils and to close the gap between rich and poor pupils.
Report author Chris Paterson said: "A progress measure allows a fair comparison between schools with very different intakes. It also drives an equal focus on every pupil. Retaining a threshold measure, however, will continue to hurt those at the bottom, diverting attention away from those who need it most - the under-performing 'tail'."
Graham Stuart, chair of the Commons education select committee, said that keeping an English and maths threshold measure would be a "serious mistake."
"CentreForum recommends that the threshold measure should be abolished and replaced by an accountability system which would give double weighting to pupils' grades in English and maths within a progress measure. This has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. It will mean schools are judged on the how much help they offer each and every pupil whilst still emphasising the importance of these core subjects."
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We agree with CentreForum that the C/D threshold can create perverse incentives and lead to gaming. Our consultation proposals were designed to minimise this behaviour and encourage high achievement across the board. We are currently considering all consultation responses and will publish our final policy in the autumn."