Thursday, 6 December 2007
The beneficial pressure of league tables
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, was playing the caricature of the teachers' union leader on the radio this morning. He told John Humphrys (go to 25 minutes in) that he was all in favour of tests, just so long as the rest of us couldn't see the results. And as newspapers reported that a handful of schools had been disqualified for cheating, his response was not to condemn such practice, but to condone it: apparently the pressure of the league tables had got to them. Well, the pressure of testing and tables has indeed got to a lot of primary schools, and in a wholly beneficial way. It has driven up the performance of many of the weaker schools rather faster than the national average levels of improvement, without cheating. But for Mr Brookes this is all too much. It is not enough that thanks to tests and tables, schools can see exactly how other schools in similar circumstances are doing, and that many with very high levels of pupils on free school meals or significant numbers of pupils with a first language other than English reach or exceed the national average. But because the tables put 'pressure' on other schools to do as well, forcing them to ensure that their pupils can read, write and do basic maths - the basic duty of primary schools - the tables are to be condemned. Does it not occur to the heads' leader that unless these pupils can read and write properly, they will find it rather difficult to access the 'liberal curriculum' that he so eloquently desires?