The Harris Federation entered hundreds of native English speakers into an exam designed for speakers of English as a second language (ESOL), a Schools Week exclusive found.
Analysis by the paper compared the number of ESOL entries in a school with the number of the school’s pupils who spoke English as a second language. The paper found six of the ten schools with the most ESOL entries from native speakers were Harris academies.
Entering native speakers for ESOL was described as ‘pure gaming’, the then director of strategy at Ofsted, Luke Tryl, said in February.
Harris has denied its academies were gaming. The trust said entering native speakers for ESOL was exam practice.
Until 2019, the qualification counted in the open ‘third’ bucket for Progress 8. This meant ESOL could potentially boost P8 scores. The ESOL exam has now been dropped as a qualifying subject.
An Ofsted spokesperson told Schools Week it was looking into ‘a range of qualification and entry patterns [including ESOL] to identify where schools may be using qualifications inappropriately’.
In 2014, before the tariff for non-GCSE ‘equivalent’ exams was reduced from a potential four GCSE A*-C passes to one, Harris was one among many academy chains which made heavy use of equivalent exams.
Ministers constantly praised academy chains for their exam results, but such praise is misleading if chains appear to be gaming the system.