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C of E schools ‘add value’, tables show

TWO Church of England comprehensives, the Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, Tunbridge Wells, and the Bluecoat School, Liverpool, were listed alongside some of the country’s most successful grammars in the top 50 schools according to new “value-added” league tables.

Bennett Memorial also appears with Archbishop Holgate School, York, St Hilda’s, Liverpool, and King’s School, Peterborough, in the list of the top 20 comprehensives at which 14-year-olds scored higher than their performance at the age of 11 might have indicated.

The “value-added” tables combine three measures: results in Key Stage 3 tests at 14 are compared with the same pupils’ attainment aged 11; these are then adjusted for the “innate ability” of pupils, and for the number of pupils receiving free school meals (seen as a guide to an area’s socio-economic conditions). Schools are also divided into benchmark categories, which take into account only the entrance scores of pupils.

Though the value-added tables were meant to be fair to schools in difficult areas, the system has been criticised as flawed by the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) as being unfair to many successful comprehensives that have high overall scores. High performing comprehensives, such as St Aidan’s, Harrogate, have to compete with grammars in the top benchmark group, even though it has 35 pupils with statements of special need, including two with Down syndrome, whose test marks are included in the results.

Moreover, even taking value- added measures into account, the tables draw attention to schools with exceptionally low scores. When the tables were published before Christmas, some reports drew attention to the poor performance of St Alban’s, Birmingham, failing to mention that the school has been commended by OFSTED inspectors for its efforts in exceptionally challenging circumstances. Only a minority of pupils speaks English as a first language; and for many it is the first school they have attended.
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