'Gaming' the school league tables?

construction lesson, Fyndoune Community College Fyndoune College says it prepares students 'for life, not just government measures'

The government has published new school league tables data showing the role of vocational courses in GCSE scores - which schools rely on them most (see table below)?

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he is worried that the existing system creates incentives for schools to encourage students to take "low quality" vocational courses, to boost their places in the league tables.

Government officials describe it as "gaming" the system.

Vocational courses - in subjects like catering, travel and tourism, life skills and IT - can count for up to four GCSEs.

Some were heavily criticised as being of little value in a recent government review - though many others were considered to be higher quality.

Schools have long been rated on the "benchmark measure" of the percentage of pupils getting five A*-C grade GCSEs, or equivalents - although English and maths GCSE were added to the measure in 2007, because of fears that schools were relying too much on vocational equivalents.

The data published on Thursday shows the proportion of children getting five A-C passes, including maths and English, but it gives two columns - one including, and one excluding, non GCSE equivalents.

The gap between the two figures shows the extent to which the school is dependent on vocational equivalents for its GCSE figures.

Nationally, in all state schools, the proportion of students gaining the GCSE benchmark drops from 55.2% to 50.5% when vocational equivalents are excluded.

For academies - many of which were set up in a drive to turn around failing schools - the gap yawns much wider, with 44% dropping to 33% when non-GCSE courses are removed.

The table below is a list of the 200 schools in England with the highest dependence on vocational equivalent courses - those most likely to be accused of "hiding" behind vocational courses.

'Happy'

Top of the list is the Steiner Academy in Hereford, which offers an alternative curriculum based on the principles of Rudolf Steiner - merging the practical, artistic and intellectual and allowing students to learn in individual ways.

The school offers only four accredited qualifications - but say students go on to A-level and university study successfully, with very positive feedback from sixth-form colleges.

"It goes to show a programme doesn't have to lead to a GCSE to be high quality, broad, substantial and balanced," says headmaster Trevor Mepham.

Second was Heath Park Business and Enterprise College in Wolverhampton, a school classed as "outstanding" by Ofsted, which has seen the proportion of pupils gaining the GCSE benchmark rise from 42% to 74% over the past four years.

No-one at the school could be reached for comment, but on its website, it says its priorities are that children "be happy", "have a wide range of learning opportunities in and out of the classroom", and "are encouraged to achieve their full potential whatever their abilities".

Third on the list was Fyndoune Community College in Durham.

It too has seen a rapid rise in pupils attaining the GCSE benchmark, from 26% in 2008 to 64% in 2010.

Languages 'vocational'?

Principal Trevor Dunn points out that this includes English and maths "'proper' GCSEs" in which students did "incredibly well... far, far better than could have been predicted".

"In our view, maths and English tells the story - you can't fudge maths and English," he says.

The school's intake comes from a "relatively socially deprived community", he says, and students are offered a mixture of academic and vocational qualifications - as well as the opportunity to study on an on-site farm.

"We believe we're not just preparing students for government measures, we're preparing students for life," he says.

Even so, Mr Dunn welcomes the introduction of the English Baccalaureate.

Even though languages have not been a priority for the school in the past, he wants to invest in "state of the art" language facilities.

"We live in an ever smaller global community and we probably are at a point where we believe having some language skills is a useful thing - it's what I would call a vocational skill really," he says.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says he aims eventually to rework the equivalent scores given to vocational courses, with some still be considered to be worth at least one GCSE.

He admits that as academies and other schools are turned round, and surge up the league tables, vocational equivalents often play a major role.

"If we look at schools that have been underperforming - as they go on a journey to improvement, they tend to use equivalents - but as they become stronger, their reliance on equivalents diminishes."

But with the government's emphasis on traditional subjects, particularly through the English Baccalaureate, the National Union of Teachers is concerned that schools are no longer clear where the goal posts lie:

"As the Government goes down the route of championing vocational education they need to make their mind up as to whether all qualifications are of value, or if it is simply particular academic subjects which carry weight when judging a school," said general secretary Christine Blower.

The table shows the roughly 200 schools in England whose GCSE benchmark scores drop most when equivalents are removed. AC denotes academies.

School name Local authority % GCSE benchmark (inc equivs) What does this mean? % GCSE benchmark (excl equivs) What does this mean? Difference (% points) What does this mean?
Steiner Academy Hereford (AC) Herefordshire 75 0 75
Heath Park Business and Enterprise College Wolverhampton 74 8 66
Fyndoune Community College Durham 64 21 43
Ash Green School and Arts College Warwickshire 67 25 42
St Alban's Academy (AC) Birmingham 50 8 42
St Hugh's CofE Mathematics and Computing College Lincolnshire 47 6 41
Sutherland Business and Enterprise College Telford and Wrekin 61 23 38
Beechwood School Slough 42 5 37
The Barnsley Academy (AC) Barnsley 51 16 35
St Clements College Lincolnshire 36 2 34
Mitchell High School Business & Enterprise College Stoke-on-Trent 42 9 33
Whitgift School North East Lincolnshire 38 6 32
King Richard School Portsmouth 35 3 32
Abraham Darby (AC) Telford and Wrekin 53 22 31
Oasis Academy Lord's Hill (AC) Southampton 40 9 31
Stockwell Park School Lambeth 70 40 30
Barnfield West Academy Luton (AC) Luton 52 22 30
RSA Academy (AC) Sandwell 45 15 30
New Line Learning Academy (AC) Kent 37 7 30
Durham Community Business College for Technology and Enterprise Durham 58 29 29
Redbridge Community School Southampton 46 17 29
Outwood Grange Academy (AC) Wakefield 71 43 28
Stuart Bathurst Catholic High School College of Performing Arts Sandwell 52 24 28
Counthill School Oldham 48 20 28
Hartsdown Technology College Kent 43 15 28
The Mablethorpe Tennyson High School Lincolnshire 28 0 28
Farringdon Community Sports College Sunderland 62 35 27
Battersea Park School Wandsworth 55 28 27
The Radclyffe School Oldham 51 24 27
North Liverpool Academy (AC) Liverpool 45 18 27
Birches Head High School Stoke-on-Trent 43 16 27
Frankley Community High School Birmingham 40 13 27
The James Hornsby High School Essex 35 8 27
Lees Brook Community Sports College Derby 61 35 26
The Giles School Lincolnshire 51 25 26
Wodensborough Community Technology College Sandwell 42 16 26
Manchester Health Academy (AC) Manchester 41 15 26
St Peter's RC High School Manchester 55 30 25
Holly Lodge Girls' College Liverpool 51 26 25
Washwood Heath Technology College Birmingham 51 26 25
Sandhill View School Sunderland 49 24 25
Stoke Damerel Community College Plymouth 49 24 25
The Crest Boys Academy (AC) Brent 44 19 25
Deansfield Community School, Specialists In Media Arts Wolverhampton 43 18 25
Walworth Academy (AC) Southwark 59 35 24
Aldersley High School Wolverhampton 50 26 24
New Heys Comprehensive School Liverpool 50 26 24
Andrew Marvell Business and Enterprise College Kingston upon Hull, City of 48 24 24
The Cathedral School Wakefield 48 24 24
Lilian Baylis Technology School Lambeth 47 23 24
Harborne Hill School Birmingham 35 11 24
John Smeaton Community College Leeds 32 8 24
Thornaby Community School Stockton-on-Tees 30 6 24
Aylesford School . Sports College Kent 27 3 24
Park View Business and Enterprise School Birmingham 71 48 23
Staindrop School A Business and Enterprise College Durham 61 38 23
The Causeway School East Sussex 59 36 23
Globe Academy (AC) Southwark 42 19 23
Archbishop Sentamu Academy (AC) Kingston upon Hull, City of 39 16 23
Pent Valley Technology College Kent 38 15 23
Ormiston Park Academy (AC) Thurrock 39 16 23
Christ The King Catholic and Church of England (VA) Centre for Learning Knowsley 35 12 23
Parklands High School Liverpool 23 0 23
Haslingden High School Lancashire 77 55 22
Upper Wharfedale School North Yorkshire 65 43 22
Heywood Community High School Rochdale 67 45 22
Wakefield City High School . A Specialist Maths and Computing College Wakefield 59 37 22
The Lindsey School and Community Arts College North East Lincolnshire 50 28 22
St Anne's Academy (AC) Rochdale 46 24 22
Avon Valley College Wiltshire 43 21 22
Sirius Academy (AC) Kingston upon Hull, City of 40 18 22
The Bulwell Academy (AC) Nottingham 35 13 22
Kings Norton High School Birmingham 32 10 22
Hodgson School Lancashire 82 61 21
Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat Church of England Secondary School Tower Hamlets 75 54 21
Wilsthorpe Community School Derbyshire 59 38 21
York High School York 57 36 21
Bexhill High School East Sussex 51 30 21
John Paul II School Wandsworth 50 29 21
The Freeston Business and Enterprise College Wakefield 49 28 21
Sir William Stanier Community School Cheshire East 47 26 21
Moseley School A Language College Birmingham 46 25 21
Our Lady's RC Sports College Manchester 44 23 21
St George's Church of England Foundation School Kent 41 20 21
Kenton School Newcastle upon Tyne 40 19 21
New Brompton College Medway 39 18 21
Sandwich Technology School Kent 38 17 21
Grace Academy Darlaston (AC) Walsall 32 11 21
Spires Academy (AC) Kent 32 11 21
Scalby School North Yorkshire 69 49 20
Coombe Dean School Plymouth 60 40 20
Harris Academy South Norwood (AC) Croydon 60 40 20
Bishop Barrington School A Sports with Mathematics College Durham 59 39 20
Kingsdale Foundation School Southwark 59 39 20
Sandon Business and Enterprise College Stoke-on-Trent 52 32 20
The Westlands School Kent 51 31 20
Sunnydale Community College for Maths and Computing Durham 48 28 20
Central Technology College Gloucestershire 46 26 20
The St Guthlac School Lincolnshire 44 24 20
St George of England Specialist Engineering College Sefton 41 21 20
Addington High School Croydon 38 18 20
Bennerley Business and Enterprise College Derbyshire 38 18 20
De La Salle Humanities College Liverpool 38 18 20
The Grantham Church (VA) High School Lincolnshire 34 14 20
Unity City Academy (AC) Middlesbrough 28 8 20
Park Lane Learning Trust Calderdale 23 3 20
Hull Trinity House School Kingston upon Hull, City of 89 70 19
Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Secondary School Southwark 85 66 19
Tanfield School, Specialist College of Science and Engineering Durham 65 46 19
Southmoor Community School, Mathematics and Computing College Sunderland 62 43 19
Shotton Hall School Durham 59 40 19
King James I Community Arts College Durham 53 34 19
William Bradford Community College Leicestershire 45 26 19
North Axholme School North Lincolnshire 49 30 19
Woodside High School, A Business & Enterprise Specialist School Haringey 47 28 19
Brockworth Enterprise School Gloucestershire 44 25 19
Hillcrest School East Sussex 38 19 19
Balby Carr Community Sports and Science College Doncaster 38 19 19
Smith's Wood Sports College Solihull 38 19 19
All Saints Catholic Centre for Learning (VA) Knowsley 38 19 19
Hodge Hill Sports and Enterprise College Birmingham 38 19 19
Manning Comprehensive School Nottingham 38 19 19
Bolton St Catherine's Academy (AC) Bolton 36 17 19
Arrow Vale Community High School . A Specialist Sports College Worcestershire 33 14 19
Greenacre School Medway 31 12 19
Sittingbourne Community College Kent 32 13 19
Cheadle Hulme High School Stockport 78 60 18
Perry Beeches School Birmingham 74 56 18
South Craven School, the Technology and Engineering College North Yorkshire 63 45 18
Castleford High School Technology and Sports College Wakefield 60 42 18
Royton and Crompton School Oldham 61 43 18
Colne Park High School Lancashire 58 40 18
Ripon College North Yorkshire 55 37 18
Onslow St Audrey's School Hertfordshire 54 36 18
Easington Community Science College Durham 55 37 18
The Hillcrest School and Community College Dudley 55 37 18
The Ravensbourne School Bromley 55 37 18
All Hallows RC Business and Enterprise College Salford 53 35 18
Siddal Moor Sports College Rochdale 52 34 18
Shoeburyness High School Southend-on-Sea 51 33 18
Darwen Aldridge Community Academy (AC) Blackburn with Darwen 49 31 18
Appleton Academy (AC) Bradford 47 29 18
George Dixon International School and Sixth Form Centre Birmingham 47 29 18
Rhyddings Business and Enterprise School Lancashire 45 27 18
Buile Hill Visual Arts College Salford 46 28 18
Prospect School Reading 43 25 18
Joseph Swan School Gateshead 45 27 18
Hereford Academy (AC) Herefordshire 40 22 18
Walker Technology College Newcastle upon Tyne 41 23 18
Archbishop Beck Catholic Sports College Liverpool 40 22 18
Blacon High School, A Specialist Sports College Cheshire West and Chester 38 20 18
Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College Bradford 38 20 18
Harrop Fold School Salford 36 18 18
Swanley Technology College Kent 37 19 18
Lyng Hall School Coventry 34 16 18
Adeyfield School Hertfordshire 32 14 18
North Birmingham Academy (AC) Birmingham 32 14 18
John Madejski Academy (AC) Reading 28 10 18
Wembley High Technology College Brent 75 58 17
BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology Croydon 66 49 17
Greensward Academy (AC) Essex 65 48 17
CTC Kingshurst Academy (AC) Solihull 64 47 17
Harris Academy Falconwood (AC) Bexley 60 43 17
Bethnal Green Technology College Tower Hamlets 58 41 17
Tudhoe Grange School Durham 51 34 17
Sutton High Sports College St. Helens 50 33 17
Bebington High Sports College Wirral 47 30 17
Outwood Academy Adwick (AC) Doncaster 46 29 17
Shelfield Community Academy (AC) Walsall 44 27 17
Feltham Community College Hounslow 44 27 17
St Paul's Catholic High School Manchester 44 27 17
Winifred Holtby School Technology College Kingston upon Hull, City of 42 25 17
Blurton High School . Business and Enterprise College Stoke-on-Trent 41 24 17
Walton le Dale Arts College and High School Lancashire 41 24 17
Thistley Hough High School Stoke-on-Trent 40 23 17
The International School and Community College, East Birmingham Birmingham 41 24 17
Corby Business Academy (AC) Northamptonshire 36 19 17
Trent Valley Academy (AC) Lincolnshire 34 17 17
Sheffield Park Academy (AC) Sheffield 31 14 17
Medway Community College Medway 25 8 17
St Benedict's College Liverpool 24 7 17
Trinity Academy (AC) Doncaster 63 47 16
Sedgefield Community College a Specialist Sports College Durham 64 48 16
Southborough High School Kingston upon Thames 61 45 16
West Derby School Liverpool 56 40 16
Stanley School of Technology Durham 53 37 16
Treviglas Community College Cornwall 53 37 16
Moreton Community School Wolverhampton 50 34 16
Handsworth Wood Girls' Visual and Performing Arts Specialist College and Sixth Form Centre Birmingham 45 29 16
The Wellington Academy (AC) Wiltshire 45 29 16
Whitley Abbey Business and Enterprise College Coventry 45 29 16
George Salter Collegiate Academy (AC) Sandwell 39 23 16
Clacton Coastal Academy (AC) Essex 38 22 16
Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Girls (AC) Manchester 38 22 16
Grange School Oldham 37 21 16
Top Valley School & Engineering College Nottingham 32 16 16
Tamarside Community College Plymouth 31 15 16
Kirkby Sports College Centre for Learning Knowsley 31 15 16
Kingswood College of Arts Kingston upon Hull, City of 32 16 16
Skinners' Kent Academy (AC) Kent 31 15 16
Hadden Park High School Nottingham 27 11 16
What do the table headers mean?
% GCSE benchmark (inc equivs)
This benchmark measure is the percentage of pupils in the school who achieve passes graded between A* and C in five GCSE or equivalent qualifications, including maths and English GCSE. SS = small school; N/A = data not available. More detail
% GCSE benchmark (excl equivs)
This benchmark measure is the percentage of pupils in the school who achieve passes graded between A* and C in five GCSE, including maths and English GCSE, but not including vocational equivalents. SS = small school; N/A = data not available.
Difference (% points)
This is the difference between the percentage of pupils in the school attaining the GCSE benchmark measure with and without vocational equivalents included. The bigger the difference, the bigger the role that vocational courses play in the school's score.

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