Monday, 31 August 2009

League tables

I’ve been having earfuls about the inadequacy and demotivating effect of school league tables, and it is depressing how politicians and the media collude in encouraging people to judge schools by the simplistic but misleading raw data which make up these tables. In different places in the last few days some of those involved in Primary School tests, in GCSE results and in A level results have been saying the same things; they all seem resigned to the quality of their work being systematically misunderstood and misrepresented.

Recently the Government named some schools which such tables showed to be most in need of improvement, and it was a little put out when it was revealed how well Ofsted had rated some of them. This revelation could have prompted it to rethink labelling and targeting schools in this naive way. It didn’t. Instead, Ofsted has been asked to reduce its reliance on the quality it encounters when it visits schools and increase its reliance on the raw data it collects from them. At each level the same story comes back: inspectors tell those involved off the record that, however outstanding their provision, the system is rigged so that they cannot be judged to be ‘outstanding’.

Lots of information exists which could show how well some schools with low levels of pupil achievement are doing. There are forms of ‘added value’ score which attempt to show whether schools have taken individual pupils to results beyond what might have been predicted based on the individuals starting levels. There are ways of grouping schools by the social setting of pupils and then comparing results between those in the same ‘basket’. It is sad and strange that the media does not use these indicators as their staple. It is offensive and unforgiveable that the Government does not do so.

And year groups differ as well. One provider was modest about its particular contribution to a dramatic improvement in some raw data this year; ‘we’ve known for several years that this year group would perform much better than the previous one’. Another is resigned to being pilloried in a year’s time; ‘there is no way that the same quality of teaching is going to deliver the same results next year’.

There are a range of other factors. I’ve been looking in detail at the results for one school. The results for the two thirds of the pupils with whom it had worked for the whole Key Stage was exactly in line with what its ‘basket’ of schools would be expected to achieve. The results for the one third who had arrived at different times during the Key Stage was dramatically lower than this, as was the resulting public average raw data score. And so it goes on.

The green man is in Southwell Cathedral.

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