Demonstrating high achievement in comprehensive settings

Comprehensive schools and colleges can face a challenge when trying to show how well their highest achieving students do and how many of them there are. They can suffer from ‘bog standard’ syndrome and the assumption that all their students achieve roughly the same, fairly modest outcomes. Institutional averages will always show selective providers in a better light precisely because they have selected students on the basis of their likelihood of achieving high scores. Based on such averages, providers with a comprehensive intake across the full range of prior achievement will always seem ‘middling’ or even below average if their cohort is ‘bottom heavy’. This might suggest that very few of their students achieve outstanding results.

One solution to this is to pick out subgroups of students and describe their achievement. This could be students who started with high scores at entry, ie: those who might have qualified for admission to a more selective provider; the ‘grammar school’ cohort perhaps. Or it could simply be those students who achieved above the national average, highlighting how many there were.

Newham sixth form college (NewVIc) has well above national average vocational achievement across the board, but our average A level point scores, although improving rapidly, are still below the national average. This can be explained by the fact that we are not super-selective and that we have a higher than average proportion of students with an average of GCSE grade C at entry. Many school sixth forms or selective post-16 providers set a minimum entry requirement of an average of GCSE grade B or above.

Nevertheless, as a college with a fairly large cohort we can demonstrate that we have a very substantial number of students who achieve well above the national averages and that this high achieving cohort is much larger than many whole sixth forms. This means that within a large comprehensive college there is a large high-achieving cohort whose achievements are equal to or above those of more selective providers. Parents can understand this and it is a good antidote to the narrative which equates selectiveness with success or overall ‘average-ness’ with a lack of success.

So, for example:

A level 2014 No. of students Points per student Points per entry
England average 772.7 211.2
NewVIc 361 655.9 193.8
NewVIc top 200 200 796.2 226.5
NewVIc top 100 100 875.4 237.5

This table shows that the sub-cohort of the top 100 and top 200 are achieving above the national average and they represent groups of students which are larger than many whole cohorts from more selective providers. This allows for a more informed comparison based on detail which crude averages would miss.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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