Schools miss top university grades

Pupils at work The league tables look at performance in more than 4,000 secondaries

Almost a quarter of England's sixth forms and colleges have failed to produce any pupils with the top A-level grades sought by leading universities.

Some 594 (23.4%) of the 2,540 schools teaching A-levels had no pupils with the two As and a B in the subjects recommended for top degree courses.

The data also shows some 215 schools missed the new government target of 40% of pupils obtaining five A*-C GCSEs.

The BBC is publishing its league tables for secondary schools in England.

The tables are drawn up from the latest official government data on pupils' academic achievement.

Overall they cover achievement in more than 4,000 mainstream state and independent schools, based mainly on the results of last summer's exams for 16- and 18-year-olds. In total, 2,540 schools and colleges in England run A-level courses.

England league tables

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Talent pool

Much has been made of the inability of leading universities to recruit more bright students from a wider set of backgrounds. But this data shows that many schools are not producing students of a high enough calibre to automatically get places at such universities.

It also shows that in only two schools did more than 70% of pupils obtain two As and a B in what is known as the "facilitating" subjects favoured by the 24 Russell Group of some of the leading universities. And in only 16 schools did 50% or more pupils achieve these grades.

Analysis

The figures for how many pupils in a school achieve the grades most sought after by the leading universities are stark but not surprising.

Just two schools managed to get 70% or more of their pupils over this very demanding academic hurdle and 16 schools pushed 50% or more over it.

The figures demonstrate the degree to which England's education system remains polarised.

Fee-paying, selective independent schools and grammars dominate the top of the list, and community schools, sponsored academies and sixth-form colleges, some in very deprived areas, sit at the bottom.

It is the first time this interesting nugget on school performance has been published by the Department for Education.

And it is just one of the 400 pieces of data it publishes in the statistical blizzard of information on which school league tables are based.

It says the motivation for this is to "shine a light on those schools and colleges whose pupils achieve great results in key subjects that lead to the top universities".

But those working with less able students say the stat is a "blunt descriptor" that reflects poorly on schools and colleges.

A better focus, they argue, would be to recognise and tackle the root of under-achievement that lies earlier in the student's education.

In 208 schools (8%) of the total a quarter of pupils or more reached the grades in these subjects.

The Russell Group of top universities introduced this list to identify the very best students and inform schools which sorts of subjects they expect pupils to sit if they wish to obtain a place on one of their degree courses. Many courses will require two high grades in such subjects, and some will require three. But admissions tutors they also look at a pupil's background before deciding whether to give them a place.

Its director general Dr Wendy Piatt said: "The Russell Group has published a guide called Informed Choices which lists 'facilitating subjects' which are those most commonly required for entry to our leading universities.

"However, it's important that students make decisions based on their individual circumstances. We encourage all prospective students to check the entry requirements for their chosen course before applying to a particular university."

Facilitating subjects

  • maths and further maths
  • English literature
  • physics
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • geography
  • history
  • languages

Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, said the achievement of three A-levels was a "blunt descriptor" and that would give a poor reflection of colleges and sixth form colleges where students were encouraged to combine vocational qualifications and A-levels within a very demanding programme.

"Institutions like this account for one-third of all A-levels taken in this country."

Schools minister Liz Truss said the measure had been introduced to enable parents to be able to identify those schools and colleges where A-level pupils achieve great results in the key academic subjects that most often lead to the top universities.

"We are also reforming the post-16 tables so that in future schools and colleges focus on the very best vocational qualifications that are most valued by employers and lead to good jobs."

GCSE results

At GCSE level nationally, 59.4% of pupils in both maintained and independent schools reached the government's benchmark of five GCSEs (or equivalent qualifications) graded A* to C, including English and maths - up from 58.2% in 2011.

  • best performing local authority: Kensington and Chelsea, where 79.6% of pupils achieved this standard
  • worst performing authority: Knowsley on Merseyside, where 40.9% of pupils got five good GCSEs
  • top GCSE results: Colyton Grammar School in Devon
  • 113 schools saw 100% of pupils getting five GCSEs A*-C, including maths and English, down from 158 in 2011
  • 18.3% of pupils nationally got the English Baccalaureate (A*-C passes in English, maths, two science subjects, a modern or ancient language, and either history or geography), up from 15.4% in 2011.
Map of school performance in England

The schools with the lowest GCSE results was the selective Pate's Grammar school in Cheltenham, where 0% of pupils reached this benchmark.

However, this result was because pupils sat new English exams which the Department for Education does not recognise for the purpose of performance data.

Excluding Pate's Grammar, the school with the lowest GCSE results was the Rushden Community College in Northamptonshire, where 6% of pupils got five A*-C GCSEs, including maths and English.

Joy Mercer, director of policy at the Association of Colleges, says it is hard for pupils and parents to interpret performance measures

Head teacher Mark Lester said the college had entered pupils for English language and English exams but not English literature, which he said is the one counted by the DfE.

If pupils' English exams had been counted, their pass rate including English and maths would have been 46%, he said.

Academy schools

The Department for Education hailed the success of its academy schools in the performance data.

It said sponsored academies were improving results at a record rate - more than five times as quickly than in all state-funded schools - with an increase of 3.1 percentage points. This compares to a 0.6 percentage point improvement across all state-funded schools.

But many of these would have been performing at a higher level, as sponsored academies tend to be struggling schools which are converted to academies because of their difficulties.

A spokesman said: "This shows we are right to continue to support the sponsored academy programme. These brilliant sponsors have a track record of arresting decline - and then reversing it."

General Secretary of the Nasuwt teaching union, Chris Keates, said: "Everyone recognises that there is more to be done to ensure that the best is being achieved for every child, but the government's approach of manufacturing deficiencies to seek to justify its flawed education policies, rather than celebrating success is counter productive and divisive."

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