Snakes and ladders with new school tables

Government changes to school league tables will mean less choice for many GCSE pupils. But will focus on new core subjects raise standards?

At 9.30 this morning, the government published the new school league tables – and many head teachers are not very pleased.

The coalition government is keen to make its mark in education. In particular they want to lessen student choice, and create instead a compulsory core curriculum called the ‘English baccalaureate’, or 'ebac'.

When speaking of this innovation last September, Michael Gove, the education secretary, said it would ‘dramatically strengthen the position of core academic subjects in our schools,’ and stop the shift in schools towards what some regard as ‘soft subjects.’

This narrowing of the curriculum is in sharp contrast to Labour’s encouragement of choice in education.

School league tables will now be assessed differently, focusing on pupil success in the core subjects of Maths, English, Science, History or Geography and a Modern or Ancient Language like Latin. The government is particularly keen to promote languages.

This move will sideline many of the more vocational and non-traditional academic courses now available in schools such as Art and Design, ICT, Citizenship, Health and Social Care, Media Studies, Leisure and Tourism, Engineering and Performing Arts. There are in fact now 490 subjects offered as either full or half GCSEs.

The government believes schools have been using ‘less challenging’ courses to place themselves higher up the school league.

This morning, those courses will no longer count in the assessment, and many schools will find themselves sinking down the tables, especially those in socially disadvantaged areas, where vocational courses often flourish.

Many schools could see a 40% drop in the proportion of their students achieving the government benchmark of attainment, which could leave them categorized as ‘Under-performing’.

Table talk

So is the government right?

One parent was delighted: ‘No more vacuous vocational qualifications used to push schools up the league tables! Now they must teach proper subjects to a decent standard.’

But others are unhappy at the development. What’s important, they say, is that students are given the chance to shine at something, whether its Maths, Music, History or Dance. People have a variety of gifts, and the curriculum should reflect this.

As one educationalist said of the new ebac curriculum, ‘So no ICT or engineering for students, but Latin, as a language, is OK. Is that progress?’

You Decide

  1. ‘If pupils are allowed to choose their own subjects, they work harder at them.’ Do you think this is true?
  2. Sometimes education is called ‘a political football’, because successive governments are always changing things. Do you think governments kick the ball around too much?


  1. Imagine you are trying to choose a school for a friend. What makes a good school? What are the five most important things to look out for?
  2. What, in your opinion, are the most important subjects for a school to teach and why? Write a short essay justifying your choices.

Some People Say...

“Too much choice is making us all stupid.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So what are school league tables?
Every year, using data gathered, the government publishes ‘achievement and attainment tables’. People then use the information to compile ranked tables.
What’s good about them?
They’re used by parents to compare schools in their area; and some believe they make the schools more accountable and so improve standards.
So what could anyone say against them?
Well, many think academic results don’t truly reflect a school’s overall achievements, character and quality. They also believe tables say more about a school’s intake than about the school itself; and that they make schools compete rather than collaborate.
So they only tell half the story?
One mother said, ‘Any parent who just looks at league tables when choosing a school must be half way to Bonkersville.’


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