Since their introduction in the early Nineties, the teaching unions have bemoaned the ‘damaging impact’ of school league tables. But, as the clamour for their abolition grows again, the unions’ case is weaker than ever.
They initially complained that an absence of context made the tables unreliable. Yet, as the Government added improvement indices, average point scores and an assessment of the value added by individual schools, they were not appeased.
All of which suggests that the real reason they don’t want parents and the public to have comparative information about schools is that they have something to hide.
Yet, tables have been a force for good. They have helped to drive up standards, alongside inspections and national testing. When the first primary results were
published school-by-school in 1995 they exposed those that were coasting, encouraging real improvement in the 3Rs.
The sophistication of today’s data now means that schools’ performance is compared with the achievement of similar schools. Fischer family trust and value added data enable teachers to set challenging but realistic goals for every pupil in all their subjects. The best schools involve parents in this process.
Tables encourage scrutiny and openness. If this information were not public, the pressure to succeed would be weakened. Failings would not only be hidden from parents and the wider community, but from many school governors.
Tables can also support public policy goals with minimal bureaucracy. Last week, Lord Adonis announced that information on pupils achieving level 6 and 7 in the Key Stage 3 tests would be published to encourage attention for gifted and talented students. Ruth Kelly’s decision as education secretary to include English and Maths scores in the preferred GCSE measure has rightly focused more attention to the basics.
And tables are also important in a culture of increasing freedom of information. Teachers, who are public servants, should be so accountable. We rightly expect government and its agencies to publish increasing amounts of information about their workings. It would be intolerable to hold publicly-funded schools to a lower
Equally, it is unrealistic to expect that newspapers should not publish the results. Most now celebrate fast improvers as much as they highlight the lowest achievers. Rather than trying to abolish the tables, their union critics should be encouraging their members to make the most of the wealth of information they contain to improve standards for every child.
And, for those, including the BBC, who report that a fifth of schools are still failing to meet Gordon Brown's challenging target that 30% of pupils in every school should get five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, two points.
1. Given that the target was set after pupils sat the exams on which schools are being judged for today's league tables, how can they still be failing to meet a target that they didn't then have?
2. By the same token, half of schools missed this target in 1997. Why is that not reported?