Thursday, January 15, 2004

League Tables

The big news on Breakfast this morning was how comprehensive schools are now performing as well as grammar schools. Blimey, I thought, that's good news. Then, of course, I listened to the whole story and realised what a load of crap it actually is.

In the latest set of school league tables, comprehensives are getting results as good as or higher than grammar schools in the 'value added' part of the table. Essentially, it means that pupils at these schools have shown a greater improvement in exam results when comparing tests taken at age 14 with the GCSE exams two years later.

Well, duh! Why is anyone surprised by this? Surely it's obvious that a comprehensive whose pupils only do averagely well at age fourteen have a much better chance to get their pupils to improve than a grammar school where the pupils were already gaining excellent grades? The grammar schools are still outperforming the comprehensives when it comes to the grades themselves so what is there to shout about?

This obsession with league tables is not good thing. A school and the education that it provides cannot be adequately portrayed by the few measures that are included in the tables and yet people are mislead into thinking it can. When it comes to statistics like this 'value added' bit it gets worse. Here is a statistic that was designed to portray schools that struggle with exam results in a better light and now that that is happening, all we hear is how these struggling schools are now comparable to the high flyers.

What we really need is an objective view of how good a school is overall. How its facilities rate, how good the academic education is, how well-rounded the overall education is, what the atmosphere of the school and its classrooms is like, the quality of its extra-curricular activities and a whole host of other factors. The problem is, of course, that so much of that view is not measurable so a published document won't ever really have everything you need to make the decision over whether it is the right school for your children. The only way to find out the things you want to know is to listen to the pupils already at the school and the reputation it has in the community.

Which is how it has always been done.

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