If a school asked your kid to cheat, you’d be outraged. Yet schools across the UK are cheating when it comes to league tables.
My anger about this welled up over a coffee with a mum I knew from when our kids were at primary school. We sat in Costa, and above the din of the coffee machine and assorted parents and toddlers, she explained how her 18-year-old daughter had been made to sit an A-level privately because she was only predicted a C grade in chemistry.
Thanks mixed-sixth-form of a renowned boys’ grammar school! Good of you to remove this child from your league table. By the way, that’s cheating. Parents look at charts on websites and in brochures and see rows of A*s and As and think: “Wow, this school must be amazing.”
They imagine their offspring sailing into top jobs and universities; sometimes they’ll even bankrupt themselves or work like ants to pay for their kid to go to that school. What parents fail to realise is that young people around the country are being subjected to this kind of cheating by schools on a grand scale.
It doesn’t stop at denying a student the chance to take an A-level with them in case it sends the school south down the league tables. Some private, council, faith and grammar schools are removing children aged 17, or denying them the chance to sit A-levels or join their sixth forms for the same reason.
Others are even insisting C-grade students must sit the final GCSE school year again before they can join the sixth form. One school in South London asked more than 20 boys to leave after GCSEs because their A-level results might fail to make the school look good. I left Costa feeling bloated from the brownies and milky coffee – and angry. This is happening and no one is standing up for the parents who huddle on WhatsApp groups trying to work out what their kids’ rights are.
The schools often give them lengthy procedures to complain, and if they try to get through to the Department for Education to see why this is happening, they are subjected to another process that often refers them back to their child’s school’s terms and conditions. I suspect that some parents are too embarrassed to kick up a fuss, or their children ask them to keep out of it. So what can you do? Perhaps the answer lies in the parents looking for a secondary school to ask headteachers: l
In the last year, how many of your pupils were predicted a C grade and asked to take their examinations privately or somewhere else? l How many children did you stop from joining your sixth form based on predicted C grades? Ideally, they should have to reveal those figures when the league tables are published.
Or would that make them start looking for those lower than B grade children earlier in their education and manhandle them out with an oh-so-caring: “We’re not sure this is the right school for you”? Surely educators would never do such a thing, and many wouldn’t. But A-level grades pile pressures on young people as it is.
I’ve heard tales of kids breaking down in tears, inconsolable, because they only got an A not an A* on results day. So imagine how the C grade student feels, and their parents, if cast aside by a results-mad school, like rotting vegetables. We need to get some sanity and honesty back into education. Seriously, is a C grade so terrible?
Victoria Silverman is founder of BeTeenUs.com, online community for the parents of teenagers.