British School in Colombo ducks The Nation

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Letter to parents claims article ‘erroneous, misleading and ill-informed’

The British School in Colombo, which is facing allegations of unethical educational practices regarding the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examination, has chosen not to respond to an article that appeared in The Nation. However, the school has issued a letter to parents giving its side of the story. The letter, dated March 9 and signed by its Principal, Dr. John Scarth, claims that The Nation’s article is ‘erroneous, misleading and ill-informed’. 

The Nation made several attempts to reach Dr. Scarth to see if the school intended to respond to this newspaper article. However, The Nation was made to understand that he was unreachable due to meetings. As such, excerpts of the letter to parents of the school are published below:

“For IGCSE exams, a “pass” grade is regarded as grade C or better and to gain entry into the 6th Form to study for A levels, a student is required to secure at least 5 subjects with grade C or better, with B grades in the subjects to be studied at A Level.
This year, several students achieved a U grade in different subjects in their Mock examinations. A U grade indicates that it is highly unlikely that the student will be able to achieve a Grade C in their actual examination. In these cases, parents have requested from the school that the student drops that subject so that they can concentrate on their other subjects. Equally, sometimes the school has advised parents that it is advisable for a student to drop a subject, or subjects, so that they can concentrate on the subjects in which they have a much better chance of success.

In every case, Mr Harwood, Deputy Principal, and Ms Ferguson, Deputy Head (Academic) met with the parents and the student to fully explain the school’s policy and to ensure that parents and student are in full agreement with the proposed action.
The article implies that there are many students who have been declined entry to IGCSE exams. This is simply not true. The matters discussed in the letter in The Nation relate to one student who failed all but one of his mock examinations. Clearly, this is a very unusual and extreme case. It is always difficult to discuss pupil matters in public because it is not fair to the individual student or their parents. What I can state unequivocally is that Mr Harwood and Ms Ferguson have been involved with this family for a long time, having meetings on a regular basis to monitor the student’s progress and to offer support. After the mock exams, further meetings were held to discuss the best way forward for the student. Given the nature of the mock exam results, Mr Harwood and Ms Ferguson believed the best solution would be to delay entry for IGCSE exams until next year when the student would have a better chance of gaining pass grades. The parent disagreed and preferred to have their child entered for exams this year as a private candidate, which is what has happened.

The newspaper and the anonymous author claims there are many other students from the “special needs department” entering as private candidates for all their subjects. This is simply not the case. All other students are being entered as candidates through the school. In some cases, students are being entered privately for a few examinations but this is in addition to the school’s entry for that child.”

Reporter’s note
The letter issued by the school confirms the school had ‘advised’ parents of some students who scored low marks at the mock examinations that their children drop certain subjects. It further states that the parent of one student who had failed all but one subject had been advised to delay their child’s entry for IGCSE exams until next year whereupon the parent had chosen to enter the student as a private candidate. It also goes onto confirm that students are in fact being entered privately for ‘a few examinations’. As such, to call the article ‘erroneous, misleading and ill-informed’ is factually incorrect.
The Nation also has several questions to school administrators in respect to their educational policies:
1)    Are students allowed to ignore this ‘advice’ to drop certain subjects?
2)    How many students have scored U grades in recent years? Does this indicate a drop in teaching standards?
3)    Why are some children being entered privately for certain exams?
We hope the school would use the opportunity to

Readers’ comments

Comments by The Nation’s readers regarding the article are published below. See more at 

Janitha Peris
Dear Parent,This would not be the first time such decisions have been taken by International Schools so that they are able to announce the100% pass mark at an examination. By asking weaker students to sit for the exam privately, they are able to make such claims. I am a mother of a student who was asked by the school to sit the exam privately and I also am a teacher and educator. It is a pity that schools resort to such low tactics to safeguard their reputation for 100 per cent pass rate. By asking weaker students to sit privately the school is no longer responsible to the student education but they show no qualms in charging school fees. The school and all educators of any reputation are ethically bound to help the weaker students, not discard them. If you ask the schools, what they do to help such students, the answer would be ‘NOTHING’. The profit margins of the school, do not allow for remedial classes or any extra training for staff so that they can help weaker students.

Lankan citizen
Now, since this is a school and, I surmise (although I am not entirely sure given this incident) that its administrative arm comprises of at least a few educators, that they are willing to learn something. If they are reading this, they need to know a) the law and b) the spirit of running educational institutions for children regardless of whether they are for profit or sans profit.

On the matter of the law, this is an extract from the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The relevant articles I shall highlight are as follows:
Article 12.1: No citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any one of such grounds and Article 12.4: Nothing in this Article shall prevent special provision being made, by law, subordinate legislation or executive action, for the advancement of women, children or disabled persons.

Additionally, Article 2 of the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child (CRC) to which Sri Lanka is a signatory (although going by this expose, it seems that Britain is not), states the following:
“The Convention applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis”.

Therefore, it is clear that this school has violated in spirit and in purpose the constitutional guarantees available to all Sri Lankan citizens with the physical, mental or learning related challenges and it has directly violated the rights of a child as declared by the UN convention. If this is a school that is registered as a business venture in Sri Lanka it should adhere to the constitution and the laws of the land and if it is “international” then I would imagine they mandate adherence to international conventions. They have failed in both.

Blue universe star
Why are the students receiving poor results? Because they are not being taught properly. From what I know, the qualified teachers are leaving school. For that reason, the Physics teacher is teaching General Science. In addition, the Mathematics teacher is teaching the students the theory in the wrong method. In this context, I request the Honorable principal of The British School in Colombo to appoint qualified and sufficient teachers who are to maintain the reputation of the school.

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