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【The Standard:Boarding Insider】Not out of your league

Boarding 101

“Some of our top-choice schools are absent from league tables – where do I turn?” To answer this common question, I shall refer to the stance held by Britannia StudyLink as well as an eye- opening blog post written by Sedbergh School head Andrew Fleck.

Britannia and its managing director Samuel Chan are of the view that league tables should never be the main indicator of a “good school.”

Indeed, British independent schools should not be defined solely by their academic success but also pastoral care, character development and an ability to offer a broad and varied curriculum. I concur with this view and my message is to look at the big picture.

Many schools, such as Sedbergh, are absent from league tables because, as Fleck points out, they do not reflect “the unique character and value of a Sedbergh education.” Even though the school’s results may be table-topping, parents cannot appreciate the way in which Sedbergh embraces sports, the arts as well as a social and spiritual education based on exam results, he writes.

Another reason Sedbergh is absent from the tables is because of evidence compiled by Durham University demonstrating how the level of difficulty of A levels can vary by two grades between subjects.

Even though top Russell Group universities recognize this, hence the fact they now give greater credit to 12 tougher “facilitating subjects,” league tables do not. The breadth of subjects offered at different schools may distort rankings.

You may wish to consider value- added measures which respect how much a school has improved its pupils based on whether they score above their predicted grades. Another insight into the academic credentials of a school could be the universities at which pupils gain places.

Yet, despite these alternatives to standard league tables, Hong Kong parents need to get to the heart of what a school is about by visiting it and putting questions to the head. Amazing GCSE and A-level results cannot stand alone as a reason for a child’s entry to a school as the environment may not fit his personality and preferences. Besides, schools which feature at the top of the tables are often extremely selective in their intake so parents must ask themselves whether their child is up to the task.

League tables are a possible starting point for a discussion about a school but never a reliable indicator of a school’s capacity to help children become confident young adults.

I shall leave you with Fleck’s Olympic analogy: “League tables are the equivalent of awarding medals for the heptathlon based solely on results in the 800-meter race.”


Picture: Sedbergh School

Mabel Chan is a principal consultant at Britannia StudyLink lucyqna

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