Public examination results matter. They are a significant part of the package that parents are buying and most independent schools score outstandingly well. Independent schools account for some 15% of all A-level entries but more than 28% of the total A grades awarded (in fact, about half of their A-level entries attract an A grade, three quarters an A or B, and virtually every candidate passes). At GCSE, over 55% of all entries are graded A or A* and almost every entry is at least grade C (the critical grade to be accepted by universities).
Some schools emphasise their academic results at the expense of all else – maybe a reflection of parents’ concerns and a response to league tables. Many schools are keen to advertise the number of top grades achieved and their percentage pass rates, which we do not regard as helpful information (see Pass rates). Where the information is available, we give the number of GCSE and A-level passes achieved by the cohort as a whole and the average final point score achieved by the upper sixth (see Points score). This should give some indication both of the number of exams passed and the level of achievement – though, sadly, the availability of good, central information against which this can be checked has deteriorated in recent years
Good exam results are not a reliable gauge of a good education; a school may have done a better job getting a marginal candidate to scrape through an A-level or two, than helping a bright pupil get four grade As. Depressingly, pupils can still leave school with good A-levels but without a clue (for instance) about the structure of DNA or who Ghandi was.
It is worth keeping academic results in perspective and starting with the aptitudes of your child. Some children will thrive in academic hothouses in which the principal aim is to get the maximum number of pupils through 3, 4 or even 5 A-levels; others will not and may do better in a less academic school and one which specialises in, say, riding or expeditions. British pupils are now so hugely over-examined (public examinations in each of the last three years of school), that some are put off higher education, at least in the short term. Parental pressure may be counter-productive.