Philip had his heart set on becoming a mechanical engineer from a young age. However, when he was 15 and preparing for his GCSEs, his highly selective London boys’ grammar school was not confident that he would receive a top grade in mathematics, which could jeopardize the school’s league table position. Despite Philip’s desires to study mathematics, the school informed him that he could join the sixth form but should not pursue mathematics as a subject of study. It turns out that the school’s impressive league table position is partly achieved by not enabling students, like Philip, to reach their full potential.
Fortunately, Philip was able to find a school that taught him mathematics and engineering. On the other hand, Jane’s story does not have the same happy ending. She wanted to enroll in a textiles course at the Kent Institute of Art and Design and needed a textiles A-level to do so. Although she had excelled in her GCSEs, the highly selective Kent grammar school she attended was not pleased with her grade in English or her performance in other subjects. They refused to allow her to study the subjects of her choice and would not even permit her to study only textiles and theater studies. Since the school’s position in the league tables relied on point scores and the number of A-levels passed, they could not afford to let Jane bring down the average. With no other option, Jane is now studying irrelevant subjects at a local further education college, demotivated about her future prospects.
Both Philip and Jane are victims of schools that prioritize league table positions over their students’ best interests, but grammar schools are the worst offenders. These schools select the brightest pupils at age 11 from a wide range of geographical areas. When it comes to A-levels, the school reviews student performance and eliminates anyone who will not help them rank higher in the leagues. The schools can make these decisions since each institution is permitted to set its criteria for entry to the sixth form, either admitting or rejecting pupils from other schools. Some schools go as far as having a thorough clearout after GCSEs, removing students who may meet published criteria but have doubts about their ability to perform well in A-levels. Some parents are not aware that they can insist on their child being accepted into the sixth form if they meet the published criteria. Even if they are aware of this, they may not want to force a reluctant school to accept their child.
For example, Paul, a gifted linguist at a boys’ grammar school in London, received an A* in French at GCSE, but his teachers predicted that he would earn a lower grade at A-levels. This would have reduced the school’s scores, so Paul was not permitted to enroll in French studies in the sixth form. He attended another school and achieved an A grade instead. In the end, these schools’ behavior leads to students missing out on opportunities and failing to reach their full potential.
Several grammar schools exert a considerable effort to perform well in the league tables. The Queen Elizabeth boys’ school in north London, for example, only permits existing students to enroll in its sixth form. Furthermore, the students are solely permitted to study a subject if their subject instructor believes they will score highly. Liam Hagerdon, the head of the school’s sixth form, disputes that this means the institution advises pupils on A-level courses. "Students will get a few subject teacher recommendations, and they may select from those. GCSEs may not be an accurate predictor of A-level grades," he explains.
Despite this, the method implies that some scholars of Queen Elizabeth boys’ school relocate to the sixth form of a nearby grammar school — the Latymer school, which is also highly selective. The school’s criteria for joining its sixth form are that students must have a minimum of six grade As at GCSE and a genuine interest in participating in the school community.
Wallington county grammar school, based in Surrey, has raised its conditions for joining the sixth form this year from six Bs at GCSE to six As. "We aspire for A, B, and C grades at A-level. If we believe that students won’t succeed, they simply withdraw," states Wallington’s principal, Dr. Martin Haworth.
In some grammar schools, the students’ best interests seem to play a minor role in comparison to the institution’s rank in league tables.