Private schools want to opt out of GCSE exams because state schools in England are catching up with their results, the government’s former social mobility tsar Katharine Birbalsingh has said.

Commenting on moves by Latymer upper school in London and Bedales school in Hampshire to curb pupils taking GCSEs other than English and maths, Birbalsingh accused the schools of trying to hide their failures to achieve consistently high grades.

“I would argue that Latymer and other private schools are failing their pupils. They have a highly selective intake and they are unable to produce the results at GCSE, which is why they are making these changes,” Birbalsingh told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“People think that they get high results – [but] we are on their tails with regards to their results.”

Michaela community school, the free school in Brent, north London, founded by Birbalsingh, is one of England’s highest performing state schools at GCSEs despite a comprehensive intake and a high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals.

Ian Emerson, the deputy head teacher of Latymer upper, a private school charging £24,000 a year, said that GCSEs “confine and stifle” students’ learning.

“[GCSEs] reward rote learning rather than deep or original thinking, and they do not effectively teach students the core skills that are sought out by employers in the modern workplace,” Emerson said.

But Birbalsingh said parents should be suspicious of private schools that opt to limit GCSEs and replace them with internally assessed courses.

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