As Rugby School celebrates its best A level results for a decade (in a year which has seen the introduction of more substantial and more challenging syllabuses, plus the end of modular exams with the opportunity for re-takes), I remain of the view that a good, all-round education should focus on a broader definition of academic success than the acquisition of subject knowledge and the proof of it in public exams. I have of course congratulated all our sixth formers on their success, but they know that the passing of exams is only one aspect of life at Rugby School and that other factors are important in getting the best out of the education we provide.
Parents considering a school for their child will soon be scanning the league tables for GCSE and A level results. I understand that; doing so is part of the current process of school selection. But in my view, and I say so to parents visiting the School, they are only a partial snapshot of a school’s achievement. They are often misleading and usually leave out more than they reveal about a modern all-round education.
For this reason, Rugby School has, this year, withdrawn from the league tables published in the press within a few days of the first – you could say ‘provisional’ – exam results being published. Our results will still be reported to the Department for Education and the Independent Schools Council but, as far as disseminating them publicly, we have decided that we shall wait until the conclusion of the annual appeals process against questionable marking before posting the results on the School website. The appeals process takes time and is not reported in a similar format. And, importantly, it nearly always results in significant alterations, usually in favour of the students and the schools. Last year, Rugby School’s A*-A pass rate at A level went up from 57% to 61%.
I have been sceptical about league tables for a long time and for a number of reasons. For a start, A levels and GCSEs continue to be subject to the vagaries of political fortune and grade inflation.
“League tables say nothing about the ethos of a school; its social mix; its location or place in the community; the commitment, generosity and aspirations of its staff; its range of co-curricular offerings.”
They do not report the full range of exams that schools offer; neither do they reflect the range of a school’s wider offering. They fail to say which schools prevent their borderline students taking particular subjects in case their own performance is adversely affected. They do not tell us which schools include ’easier’ subjects in the curriculum in order to boost results. They don’t even acknowledge the size of the school.
Rugby School is not the first to withdraw from the league tables system. Many independent schools took the same decision several years ago, believing – as we do – that a school’s position in the league tables does not give a true picture of its success.
We have taken this decision from a position of academic strength, with excellent exam results, year on year, at A level, the Cambridge pre-U, GCSE and Edexcel’s iGCSE. Rugby School is an unashamedly academic school and we believe that mental responsiveness and intellectual agility are important skills which are well tested in exams. But our aims for the education of the children in our care go much wider.
League tables provide no indication of the standard of music, drama and sport that is taught, or any of the intellectual, artistic and community-based activities that contribute to the development of the whole person, to which Rugby is committed. League tables say nothing about the ethos of a school; its social mix; its location or place in the community; the commitment, generosity and aspirations of its staff; its range of co-curricular offerings. In all of these categories, I am proud of Rugby School and its insistence on continuing to develop these diverse aspects to the highest possible level.
And I am delighted to say that next year we have more students enrolled than ever before.