How you can tell which schools are really making the grade

School pupils – whether attending the borough’s high-profile independents, our state secondaries or the privatised academies – will be receiving their life-shaping GCSE, AS and A level results in the next few weeks.

Education correspondent GENE BRODIE provides an insider’s guide to the resulting league tables – what you should look for to work out what is really happening inside local classrooms

SchoolAre you among those confused by endless education changes? Have you ever wondered whether the fees of our top independent schools are worth it? Perhaps you’ve even considered changing religion to get your children into the top-performing Croydon schools.

In order to understand what is happening this year, it helps to look back at the final results published by the Department for Education in 2012 – which can be seen by clicking here. It is also useful to compare Croydon to neighbouring boroughs such as Bromley and Sutton.

But it is also enlightening to look at what the DfE publishes and compare it with what the schools publish themselves.

The Harris Academy Crystal Palace says that: “At GCSE, 99.44 per cent of students achieved 5A*-C grades including English and maths and 100 per cent gained at least 5 GCSEs at A*-C, with some gaining A* and A grades in as many as 12 subjects.”

How do these claims stand scrutiny? In the DfE listings, the same school managed only to achieve in the English Baccalaureate 62 per cent of pupils getting GCSE English grades C or above. That’s a long way short of 100 per cent, or event 99.44 per cent. Who knows which is right?

The English Baccalaureate: what does it mean?
The EBacc is a government measure of how many pupils in any school manage to achieve GCSEs at grade C or better in five subjects: maths, English, sciences, a humanity (that means geography or history, but not religious studies), and a foreign language. It is supposed to be a measure of a broad education to prepare a youngster for a wide range of careers in the global economy.

Employers like this as it should show a good basic education. The EBacc was a big surprise to schools when it was introduced in 2010, so many have not had time to adjust to it – hence it is less prone to the kind of “creative accounting” than can be applied with other measures of performance in a school.

It is interesting to look through a school’s results and see which subject areas in this range let them down, or which schools are obviously strong across the board.

Croydon High School badgeIn Croydon for 2012, the leaders in this field were all in the private sector:

The next band by this measure include two state schools:

Harris Academy Crystal Palace badgeThere is then a big gap in performance levels to the next band of schools, which includes the first of the academies run by the Harris Federation, which appears to be so favoured by Michael Gove’s education department:

  • Harris Crystal Palace 48 per cent – English results weak
  • Riddlesdown Collegiate 48 per cent – foreign languages and humanities bring the
    numbers down
  • Archbishop Lanfranc 43 per cent – Maths and science strengths reflect the challenges faced by high level of pupils who have English as a second language
  • Whitgift 41 per cent – Foreign languages a big weakness, low numbers in humanities

Then the figures decline until you find several of the borough’s schools with EBacc results of less than 10 per cent, at places such as Addington High, and the Harris Academies at Purley (the former Haling Manor) and South Norwood, and two other Academies, the Oasis at Shirley Park and Quest in South Croydon.

This all adds up to fewer than 20 pupils in a year group at each of these schools – including the DfE’s favoured academies – actually achieving the EBacc levels by the age of 16 that the Department expects.

Value added
It is not enough to look at a school’s final GCSE results and conclude that they are good or bad. It is important to consider the quality of the students entering the school at the age of 11, as well as the resources available to the school, which all help produce the final outcomes.

Wilson’s School, the state grammar just over the borough boundary from Fiveways in Sutton, is one of the highest achieving local schools and has an entry point score of 33.2; the other Sutton selective grammar schools also have high entry point scores of about 32.7.

Sutton comprehensive schools entry point scores are clustered around 26.7 to 29.9.

In 2012, 76 per cent of Sutton pupils in Year 11 achieved both maths and English GCSE; and 36.3 per cent achieved an EBacc.

Croydon has a much wider range between its school entry points, ranging from 25 to a high of 30.9. Entry data for Croydon’s private schools is not available.

In 2012, 62.5 per cent of Croydon’s pupils in Year 11 achieved both maths and English GCSE, and 15.5 per cent achieved an EBacc.

It is estimated that 13 per cent of Croydon’s pupils attend an independent school. This compares to 3 per cent in Sutton and 9 per cent in Bromley.

According to the DfE’s figures from 2012, among London boroughs Richmond upon Thames has the highest number of children attending independent school, with 3,636 in total. Croydon has 2,957 children at independents, followed by Kensington and Chelsea with 2,911.

Even at a modest estimate, that suggests that Croydon parents are spending an additional £36 million per year to educate their children, over and above their tax contributions. So Croydon parents are on average paying a lot more for education, but many are getting a lower average educational outcome.

To get a flavour of the complexities of Value Added in education, it is worth looking at individual school results compared to their end of Key Stage 2 entry points. Then it is possible to consider why Croydon results are so much poorer than Sutton’s.

Let us consider that interesting cluster of schools gaining 40 to 50 per cent EBacc passes.

Archbishop Lanfranc School badgeArchbishop Lanfranc had an entry point score of 26.7, which would have put it at the bottom of Sutton schools, and one of the bottom five schools in Croydon. It also had 55 per cent of its pupils with English as an additional language, while 36 per cent of its pupils – more than 1 in 3 – have special educational needs. It is, though, free for pupils to attend, and it has a delightful website with pictures of anywhere and anything except, notably, the school site, which is notoriously run-down.

Harris Crystal Palace has an entry point score of 30.9, which is above any Sutton comprehensive and the highest for any Croydon state school. Somehow, for a state school in the north of the borough, it has only 5 per cent of its intake as pupils with English as an additional language, the lowest of any school in Croydon. And not one of this academy’s pupils have special educational needs, again the lowest in Croydon. Lord Harris of Peckham, the carpet salesman, is proud of the splendid facilities lavished on his pupils at this his flagship school.

Whitgift School: "extraordinary", according to Sir David Attenborough. And all for £16,000 per year, too

Whitgift School: “Extraordinary”, according to Sir David Attenborough, with peacocks, flamingos and wallabies in the school grounds. And all for more than £16,000 per year, too

Whitgift School does not publish its entry point scores for its pupils, so it is difficult to identify the value added for the school, but it is selective, so it is fair to assume that it has a similar range at entry to that of Harris Crystal Palace, or even another selective school, such as Wilson’s.

At Whitgift, it just costs a little more – the fees are £16,356 for the academic year 2013-2014.

Part of the tremendously wealthy Whitgift Foundation, Whitgift School is one of the richest in the country, and they are rightly very proud of their facilities. After he visited Whitgift, Sir David Attenborough even described it as “an astonishing school”.

Riddlesdown Collegiate was recently rejected by the DfE to manage Roke Primary, being informed that they were less capable than Harris Academies, which will take over the running of the junior school in Kenley from September.

How did Michael Gove’s department reach this conclusion? Riddlesdown has an entry point score of 28.8 which is above average for Croydon; it had only 7 per cent of pupils with English as a second language, which is low, but not so surprising for a school in the southern part of the borough. At Riddlesdown, 5 per cent of pupils have special educational needs.

Given that entry data, if the value added of the two schools was the same, then Harris Crystal Palace ought to be doing far better than Riddlesdown. Both Riddlesdown and Harris Crystal Palace should far outstrip Lanfranc. As should Whitgift.

GCSE grades and GCSE equvalents
Most parents and employers want qualifications from 16-year-olds that will let pupils progress to higher level qualifications. As Inside Croydon has highlighted in the past, it is very difficult from the statistics to assess the quality of the GCSEs, or the various “equivalent” qualifications being taken by our teenagers. This government has decided to eliminate many of the GCSE equivalents that until now have been allowed to be included in the league tables alongside “real” GCSEs, in an effort to reduce some of the more creative qualification accounting that has been going on by some schools.

The next breakdown parents need is an analysis of grades. Most teachers really only regard B grades and above as useful for progression to higher levels. Batching together A* to C grades can mask a whole mass of C grades.

This summer exams are supposed to be getting tougher. When the raw results emerge towards the end of the month, look closely at them and consider how much each grade cost the parents and the students.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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