The rise of soft courses: Half a million students fail to hit GCSE target


More than 550,000 pupils failed to achieve five passes in traditional subjects at GCSE because they were signed up to take easier options such as hairdressing, league tables revealed yesterday.

Only one in six youngsters achieved the standard which is now expected of them by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Mr Gove believes this leaves them lacking basic academic skills and ill-prepared to enter the workplace or further education.

Poor record: More than 200 secondaries in England are failing to meet tough new targets set by the Government (posed by models)

Poor record: More than 200 secondaries in England are failing to meet tough new targets set by the Government (posed by models)

The findings are the result of a controversial new ranking system for secondary schools – called the English Baccalaureate – which Mr Gove says exposes the shift under Labour towards ‘soft’ courses such as hairdressing salon services.

To meet the Education Secretary’s new measure, all pupils are expected to score A* to C in the five core GCSE subjects of English, mathematics, science, languages and humanities. But just 15.6 per cent of pupils passed the threshold last summer.

Failing: Michael Gove said Britain's education standards are still lagging behind other nations

Failing: Michael Gove said Britain's education standards are still lagging behind other nations

In more than half of state secondaries – some 1,600 – fewer than 10 per cent achieved this.

And in 270 schools, there were no pupils who achieved it.

Mr Gove wants this measure to be one of the statistics parents use to judge the value of schools.

But his plan has sparked a major political row and provoked furious reaction from headteachers and teaching unions.

Yesterday Andy Burnham, Labour’s education spokesman, accused Mr Gove of telling youngsters they can ‘study Latin but not ICT’. Teaching unions claimed he was ‘relentlessly elitist’.

But Mr Gove maintains the toughening up of standards is necessary to reverse more than a decade of downgrading of core subjects in favour of easier alternatives.

He is furious that poorer children are being fobbed off with easier subjects because they are not seen as capable of tackling harder ones.

Under Labour, there was an astonishing 3,800 per cent increase in uptake of non-academic GCSE-equivalent courses, including sports leadership and computer skills.

In 2005, 15,000 so-called ‘soft’ GCSEs were taken. This soared to 575,000 last year. Mr Gove said yesterday: ‘Labour got its priorities wrong and said kids from poor homes could not do difficult subjects.’

He added that previous ranking measures encouraged ‘many great schools and great heads to offer certain non-academic subjects rather than more rigorous subjects’.

Parents can now view results based on the English Baccalaureate measure (A*-C in the five specified core subjects) and on how many pupils gained five A*-C grades including English and maths.

The rise of soft GCSEs

They can also see financial information to judge if their head is making the best use of his or her resources. However, Mr Gove was forced to defend himself during an interview on BBC Radio 5 live.

A caller said: ‘Children go to school to work out who they are and what they want to study.

‘My guess is that this just reflects your own personal, narrow experience of education ... I’d just ignore your silly English Baccalaureate.’

He replied: ‘You are free to use the information published today to produce your own findings.’

Chris Keates, of teaching union NASUWT, said: ‘The Coalition

Government is pursuing a relentlessly elitist approach to education, condemning schools to live or die by the narrow range of subjects identified in the English Baccalaureate.’

GOLDEN GRAMMARS

Grammar schools cemented their dominance of league tables, taking nine of the top ten places. Of the top 50 schools, 80 per cent are grammars.

The results will prompt calls for the Coalition to increase the number of grammars, which on average receive more than five applicants for every pupil place.

David Cameron has said that he will not increase the number of grammars, although Education Secretary Michael Gove has said they will be allowed to increase in size.

ANGER OF THE INDIES

World-renowned independent schools criticised the new rankings after sinking to the bottom on a technicality.

Schools such as Eton, Harrow and Marlborough achieved lower results than some of ­England’s worst-performing comprehensives because they swapped conventional GCSEs for the more rigorous International GCSE, which is not recognised in the tables.

The result is that the rankings showed 142 independent schools with no pupils achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE.

Under the standard league table measure, 53.4 per cent of pupils achieved five or more good GCSE passes, including English and maths, a rise of 3.6 percentage points in

12 months.

Some 216 state secondaries face closure or take-over after failing to hit basic GCSE ‘floor targets’.

The best school in the country was Lawrence Sheriff, a grammar school in Rugby, where all pupils gained the equivalent of 13 A* grades in all GCSE subjects

The worst state school was Lafford High, Lincoln, which closed last summer after only 8 per cent of pupils scored five good GCSEs, including English and maths.

RESULTS AND SPENDING SUMMARY

Results and spending per local authority
LA by region
Average spending per secondary pupil
% with 5 or more A*-C
% with 2 or more equivalent A Level passes
Camden   
7,124.9752.4 96.3
Greenwich   
6,966.984987.6
Hackney    
8,528.5054.880
Hammersmith and Fulham 
7,140.2767.296
Islington    
7,289.4649.196.7
Kensington and Chelsea    
7,220.0470.989.9
Lambeth    
7,476.1352.389.1
Lewisham    
7,095.4047.586.4
Southwark    
7,450.26 54.9 94.3
Tower Hamlets    
8,504.16 51.294.6
Wandsworth    
6,892.4456.690.1
Westminster    
7,199.1661.9 90.4
Barking and Dagenham    
6,183.425196
Barnet    
5,979.8466 95.9
Bexley    
5,270.5859.893.2
Brent    
6,741.6459.9 96.3
Bromley    
5,287.9664.893.7
Croydon              
5,731.3353.994.2
Ealing    
6,526.925896.3
Enfield    
5,719.855593.1
Haringey    
7,142.7247.593.2
Harrow    
5,906.286090
Havering    
5,627.5762.1  94.7
Hillingdon    
6,053.78 53.494.9
Hounslow    
5,926.8857.895.9
Kingston upon Thames    
5,383.0967.895.2
Merton   
5,498.5551.9 98.9
Newham    
7,011.31  
49.482.1
Redbridge    
5,334.8168.797.8
Richmond upon Thames    
6,283.7860.793.7
Sutton    
5,173.19 70.298
Waltham Forest    
6,312.9650.596.5
Birmingham    
6,435.9254.6 94.3
Coventry    
5,793.9551.588.5
Dudley    
5,600.2156.195
Sandwell    
5,702.08     43.4 83.4
Solihull    
4,587.4859.993.5
Walsall    
5,551.9549.386.1
Wolverhampton    
6,165.9552 
83.1
Knowsley    
4,310.05     37.889.2
Liverpool    
6,508.52  
52.793.1
St. Helens    
5,502.1152.7 88.2
Sefton    
5,445.1955.5 97.2
Wirral    
5,699.83 58.6 90.9
Bolton    
5,273.5852.8   
96.1
Bury    
5,228.8361.195.7
Manchester    
6,214.83   
45 94
Oldham    
5,740.58 51.695.4
Rochdale    
6,077.07 51.190.4
Salford   
6,365.9249.685.7
Stockport    
4,928.03 61.693.7
Tameside    
5,060.45 49.495
Trafford    
5,279.8268.3 90.6
Wigan    
5,645.4255.8 
89.2
Barnsley    
5,133.4439.990.1
Doncaster    
5,565.27 
51.194.9
Rotherham    
5,637.29 
50.593.2
Sheffield    
5,478.53 
48.996.2
Bradford    
5,745.02 44.2 88.4
Calderdale    
5,145.84 54.196.8
Kirklees    
5,952.9652.597.6
Leeds    
5,357.1250.3 93.5
Wakefield    
5,222.36   
55.4 93.1
Gateshead    
5,486.00  
5492.9
Newcastle upon Tyne    
5,726.4949.192.6
North Tyneside    
5,667.5052.892.7
South Tyneside    
5,736.31 53.690
Sunderland    
5,629.22  
52.1 85
Bath and North East Somerset    
5,129.3760.794.2
Bristol
5,802.6145.7 89
North Somerset    
5,042.5155.996.8
South Gloucestershire    
5,183.9755.894.1
Hartlepool    
5,536.3249.384.7
Middlesbrough    
7,192.0043.690.5
Redcar and Cleveland    
5,752.145397
Stockton-on-Tees    
5,669.5452.894
Kingston upon Hull   
5,987.9241.7 76.3
East Riding of Yorkshire    
4,908.358.5 94.1
North East Lincolnshire    
5,968.8853.6 81.9
North Lincolnshire    
5,059.425188.6
North Yorkshire    
5,209.5461.397
York    
5,458.5258.990.6
Luton    
5,691.66  
51.894.7
Bedford    
5,755.7150.393.3
Central Bedfordshire    
5,166.4953.896.4
Buckinghamshire    
4,950.1766.795.4
Milton Keynes    
5,447.145194.5
Derbyshire    
5,282.2853.2 96.4
Derby    
5,237.6354.696
Dorset    
5,085.6959.292.1
Poole    
5,654.0955.2 
89
Bournemouth    
5,001.8856 96.6
Durham    
5,728.8955.691.1
Darlington    
5,311.2954.696.9
East Sussex    
5,155.45 
54.793.4
Brighton and Hove    
5,359.8448.891.4
Hampshire    
5,604.48 
58.495.7
Portsmouth    
5,308.4542.3 91.7
Southampton    
5,891.58 
47.1 82.2
Leicestershire    
5,537.8555.195.7
Leicester    
6,164.0248.5 91.4
Rutland         
5,187.8561.4
Staffordshire    
4,874.25 
53.894.6
Stoke-on-Trent    
6,052.61 4886.8
Wiltshire    
4,919.9955.695.9
Swindon    
4,917.61 
49.488.6
Bracknell Forest    
4,919.5956.395
Windsor and Maidenhead
5,237.6663.1 
95.9
West Berkshire    
5,300.1360.596.8
Reading    
5,468.0154   
92.9
Slough    
5,931.33 62.7 91.9
Wokingham    
7,943.6065.299.1
Cambridgeshire    
5,089.3758.5 92.2
Peterborough    
5,395.2045.182.6
Halton    
6,087.58 49.896.7
Warrington    
5,669.466195.4
Devon    
5,067.2554.4 93.9
Plymouth    
5,348.34  
53.886.4
Torbay    
5,108.3354
90.2
Essex    
5,539.6654.4  
94.6
Southend-on-Sea    
5,366.45 61.590.7
Thurrock 
5,253.3056.5 97.4
Herefordshire    
5,207.53 55.691.7
Worcestershire    
5,068.56 54.594.8
Kent    
5,388.5056.491.7
Medway    
5,353.39 53.694
Lancashire    
5,327.9156.595.4
Blackburn with Darwen    
5,766.8651.5 94.6
Blackpool    
5,402.45 
47.391.8
Nottinghamshire    
5,251.2751.1 93.1
Nottingham    
6,052.66 43.993.6
Shropshire    
4,911.2457.695.9
Telford and Wrekin    
5,364.84 55.295.8
Cheshire East    
4,852.19 62.2 94.8
Cheshire West and Chester    
5,036.9756.195.8
Cornwall    
5,182.60 53.692.5
Cumbria    
5,509.9255.591.2
Gloucestershire    
5,185.64 59.995.4
Hertfordshire    
5,487.9763.8 96.3
Isle of Wight    
5,175.164596.1
Lincolnshire    
5,810.43 
58.7 94.3
Norfolk    
5,045.3251.391.3
Northamptonshire    
5,138.66 51.7 87.2
Northumberland   
5,263.17 53.593.4
Oxfordshire    
5,014.0256.994.4
Somerset    
5,560.03  
53.7 95.5
Suffolk    
5,324.8951.593.4
Surrey    
5,147.4361.6 
95.4
Warwickshire    
4,943.6258.591.2
West Sussex    
4,874.16 
54.9 94

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