Without league tables, pupil performance improvement is almost impossible to gauge

With the publication of the latest league tables, as usual, the NUT have welcomed impressive results, while the right-wing press bemoan "falling standards".

The publication of GCSE results yesterday sparked our annual debate about the value of league tables. On the one hand the NUT welcomed impressive results whilst at the same time decrying the manner of their publication. On the other hand the right wing press used the tables to diminish the achievements of teachers and pupils, ignoring figures which show improvements.

Both responses miss the mark.

Wide dissemination of testing results is crucial for transparency and accountability. All the evidence shows that without pupil level data being available to teachers, head teachers and administrators, performance improvement is almost impossible.

And so if it is right that this data be available to educators, it would be difficult to argue that it shouldn’t be available to parents too, who after all have a significant impact on pupil progress. Beyond that, how the press put the data into tables is something we can’t control.

Systems that are not accountable for results can tolerate mass failure. In our case that would disproportionately affect poorer children who are more likely to be let down by schools.

What’s more, the fact that improvements reported yesterday were particularly concentrated in National Challenge Schools – where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils get 5 GCSEs including English and Maths – shows the value of publishing performance data to tackle failure.

Challenge schools were named (and ‘shamed’) in 2008. But now with a combination of external scrutiny and support, their number has been nearly halved to the lowest ever level (247).

However, there are of course legitimate criticisms of the league tables. If schools are focusing all their attention on getting kids over a somewhat arbitrary benchmark in order to look good, that would mean high-fliers and those who are really struggling might get left behind.

This concern has been partly assuaged this year with the introduction of a progress measure: this tells us how many pupils progressed at least two levels from the start of secondary school. This is welcome because it will encourage schools to be just as concerned with moving a pupil from an F to a D as an A to an A*.

And if this becomes a measure that is widely used, it will highlight the schools that are adding the most value, as opposed to those that are relying on an already highly achieving intake. It will also help teachers and schools provide a more individual offer for individual children.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today. 

7 Responses to “Without league tables, pupil performance improvement is almost impossible to gauge”

  1. Lucy Openshaw

    RT @leftfootfwd Without league tables, pupil performance improvement is almost impossible to gauge: http://is.gd/6fwNW

  2. Oli de Botton

    RT @leftfootfwd: Without league tables, pupil performance improvement is almost impossible to gauge: http://is.gd/6fwNW

  3. Jed Keenan

    The only variable in the outcome of pupils is the quality of the governance of their school and the last time I asked there were 23 vacancies and 22 applicants so that in terms of range and quality, having a pulse is sufficient to become involved in our children’s outcomes. This is also true of the candidates for the upcoming local elections where paper candidates outnumber active and engaged citizens. We should really be having league tables of the effectiveness of governance not of pupil’s capacity or teaching standards because that is the variable being monitored. So how about number of applicants or number of candidates if contested at all for governance positions, attendance at meetings by parents and local stakeholders, and sophistication of the halo activities such as team sports, and then all the normal management measures such as clean windows, staff development and engagement, and time taken to respond to a letter or a ringing telephone?

  4. Michael

    At least part of the problem is the fact that there can emerge a disconnect between what statistics declare to be true, and the experience of people on the ground – in short, the accusation of grade inflation etc. is difficult to disprove, especially when grade inflation is incentivised as a means of both school (and government) demonstrating ‘success’.

    Indeed, in light of this, the fact that so many schools, and so many children, are still underperforming means that some more fundamental questions need to be asked regarding what an ‘education’ might actually look like. Because, as things stand, it will generally be those from the poorest socio-economic classes that suffer most – the richest can buy their way out of trouble.

    I blogged on this yesterday – http://wp.me/pJiP0-3c

  5. ODNetwork Conference

    #OD_BLOGS: Without league tables, pupil performance improvement is almost …: With the publication o.. http://bit.ly/57CYrO

  6. Fony Blair

    You don’t need league tables to know Labour has comprehensivley failed to deliver “Education Education Education!”

  7. Richard Blogger

    League tables are a failed Tory idea, I am against them. I am not against metrics, they are important. I am not against school inspections and reports, they too are important. But league tables of schools, like the sillr Dr Foster league table of hospitals, are not helpful at all.

    The reason is quite simple, there is more to a school than the SATs results or the GCSE or A level results. Those extra things do not appear in the scores that are used in the league tables. So a school with good leadership, where the children are happy and contented, but are, well, not particularly academic will get a poor score and a bad position. What does that achieve?

    A school that has academic selection (which I am in favour of, it is far fairer than the economic selection involved in buying a house near a good comprehensive) will have a high position. So what does that achieve?

    Parents do not know what the league tables are, and so it is easy to, shall we say, mislead them. Seriously, there is a poor comprehensive near me who publish a leaflet every year that says they are (yet again!) the top of the league, and they prove it by showing the league table. Only they omit the grammar schools (well they are selective) and the independent schools (well, they *charge* for the education) and they ignore the other nearby comprehensives as well. Why do they ignore the local comprehensives? Because, umm, those schools get better results. So the ‘league table’ is the schools in the county that get poorer results than the comprehensive claiming to be ‘top’. No one ever complains, because, I guess, no one cares about league tables!

Leave a Reply