Free school charity claims top state secondaries use A-level general studies to inflate results

Almost ninety per cent of all entries for A-levels in general studies and critical thinking come from the 500 top-performing state schools, a study has found.

New Schools Network, a charity set up to promote free schools, commissioned the research. It found that the top 500 state schools, defined as those whose students scored the highest numbers of A-level points, were responsible for 21,321 entries for the two subjects in summer 2014.
This represents 88 per cent of the overall 24,275 entries in these subjects.
The New Schools Network claims that the figures suggest schools are using the subjects to “inflate their overall results”.
“The findings show,” Nick Timothy, director of New Schools Network argued, “that under the surface many of our best state schools are not providing the quality and rigour that students badly need.”
General studies and critical thinking are not defined by the Russell Group, which represents leading universities, as “facilitating subjects”. These are the subjects that, according to the group, “open doors to more degrees and more professions than others”.
The Russell Group’s published advice to students says critical thinking and general studies are “better taken only as an ‘extra’, rather than as one of the advanced level subjects on which your university application will be relying.”
It is not clear how many of the entries covered by the NSN’s study were made in addition to, rather than instead of, other qualifications.
And Jill Stokoe, an assessment specialist at the ATL teaching union, said the figures would be “worrying” if students were taking critical thinking and general studies A-levels instead of other subjects, particularly “facilitating subjects”, but less so if they were being taken in addition to these.
“In themselves, they’re quite useful subjects, but they shouldn’t be done at the expense of facilitating subjects,” she
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