THE HEAD of Oxfordshire’s biggest academy has said schools are being battered by a ‘perfect storm’ fuelled by exam, funding and recruitment pressures.

David Wybron, the leader of Lord Williams’s School in Thame, has called on the government to change policies to protect pupils’ education.

The 2,091-pupil secondary is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, but Mr Wybron warned that GCSE reforms were burdening young learners.

He said: “It is not acceptable to put students in state schools under additional pressures - a rethink of exam content and structure is vital.

“The obsession with prescribing so much content in new GCSEs appears political.

“It moves us away from the skills our students need in the 21st century, and certainly away from the skills businesses are requesting.”

His concerns have been echoed this week by Oxford author Philip Pullman, who said the government's focus on exams was 'damaging and destructive' for children.

A rollout of reforms began last year with numerical grades rather than letters, tougher content and scrapping of modules and coursework – meaning results rest solely on end-of-year exams.

In 2014 Michael Gove, then education secretary, said the reforms would deliver ‘world-class education’ and ‘address pernicious damage caused by grade inflation’.

But Mr Wybron, who said some students had to sit 26 exams, was concerned state pupils were at a disadvantage compared to counterparts in private schools, who generally take IGCSEs instead.

IGCSEs were largely seen as more rigorous than the pre-reform GCSEs and are less coursework-heavy.

Mr Wybron said: “The Department for Education confirmed to the school that these [GCSEs] are the ‘very best’ qualifications and IGCSEs lacked the same rigour.

“It therefore staggers me that independent schools are having nothing to do with the new GCSEs.

Students at our leading independent schools can still do coursework and assessments, which are less memory based and content heavy.”

He said state pupils now face ‘greater exam pressures’ and ‘harder exams’ than privately-educated peers.

The headteacher added: “Another feature of the storm is the recruitment crisis - recruitment is getting harder year on year.”

He said immigration control restricted appointment of overseas teachers, and called for all secondary teachers – not just in some subjects – to be added to the government’s ‘shortage occupation list’.

Adding to those pressures, Mr Wybron said, was the issue of funding.

He said: "Alongside many others, this school faces huge financial challenges.”

He cited staff pay and inflation as rising costs, worsened by the government’s new national funding formula.

This was devised to distribute schools cash fairly, but Mr Wybron said his school will still receive about £1,000 less per pupil than those in well-funded areas of the country.

The Department for Education claims the new formula will boost Oxfordshire school budgets by three per cent, equivalent to £10.5m.