What do all those statistics about GCSE results actually mean?

From Spencer Drury, PPC for Greeniwch & Woolwich: 

At a hustings meeting held by Greenwich Pensioners Forum on Friday, one local parent asked for clarification about the different statistics used in the various leaflets put out by the different political parties. As a local teacher, Spencer thought he should do his best to explain (although some of what follows is a bit arcane). Spencer is deeply concerned by the effect that Labour have had on education across the country, but more specifically in our borough. In the 2009 league tables, Greenwich Secondary Schools have the worst results in London at 5 A* to C grades for GCSE. Unfortunately this has not changed in the last four years since the Labour Council was re-elected.
In Greenwich Labour claim that GCSE results locally have improved (which is true, although from a spectacularly low level), however it does depend on the measure which is used, for example:-
  • Since 2005, the percentage of Greenwich students achieving 5 A* to C grades has improved from 45.3% to 62%.
  • Since 2005, the percentage of Greenwich students achieving 5 A* to C grades including English and Maths (the Government’s standard measure) has improved from 34% to 43%.
  • Since 2005, the percentage of Greenwich students achieving 5 A* to C grades including English, Maths, a science and a modern foreign language (often described as a ‘traditional’ education) has improved from 12.8% to 14.5%.

So on the surface, this seems relatively good news, although other London Boroughs have improved faster, however, it must be noted that in 2006 the results dropped back on every measure and there is substantial variation in the level of achievement at the schools across Greenwich. An interesting point is that Crown Woods School appears to be showing an improvement in results from 33% to 41% at 5 A* to C grades at GCSE but on the measure of traditional education, it has fallen back from 7.1% to 6.4%. Similarly Eltham Green moves up to 29% on one measure but falls to only 2.4% of students achieving a ‘traditional’ education (down from 7.7%).
Spencer said “Labour chose to broaden league tables when they came to power to include a range of different qualifications. This means schools can achieve the government’s key measure of GCSEs in a range of ways, often not by providing the traditional education of science, maths, English and a foreign language that many parents feel is a normal education. The way in which Greenwich’s 5 A* to C GCSE results have increased without a corresponding increase in the traditional education, suggests that schools are playing the system to ensure that their students count as achieving a basic education, while this may not be the case.  Schools are increasingly good at choosing easy qualifications, which push them up the league tables but I do not feel really improve the quality of education for our children.” 
“This is definitely not the case in all Greenwich schools and the Catholic schools remain beacons of high achievement in our community, however, with hundreds of parents sending their children either out of borough or to independent schools each year, it suggests that what Greenwich is doing does not appeal to parents.”
Ironically the Labour government’s approach means that some very strong academic qualifications are excluded from the League Tables, so schools which complete the International GCSE, like top private school Westminster achieve 0% on the 5 A* to C including English and Maths measure. 
Greenwich Conservatives believe that smaller schools which are free from constant Council interference will help teachers focus on the needs of individual students and to provide an education which suits them. Nationally a Conservative government would help parents set up their own schools if they were not happy with the alternatives provided by the local Council.