In today's Daily Telegraph, Martin Stephen, the Master of St Paul's with whom I had the opportunity to debate league tables on Radio 4 yesterday, asks 'what planet [I] am living on' when I say that 'league tables help to drive up standards'? The answer is: one rather closer to where the majority of our young people are educated than St Paul's.
First, the data derived from the tables is used by most state schools to set individual and school targets. They are helped to do so by organisations such as the Fischer Family Trust and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which allow them to compare like with like, but show how much more ambitious many schools can be. There is no question whatsoever that this is driving up standards. The only reason why this data is available is because it is collected by the government. If it is collected by the government, it must also be published. That is what the newspapers use to create their league tables.
Second, when primary tables were first published in 1997, few parents knew much about how well - or poorly - their primary schools were doing. Their publication showed just how many coasting schools there were, prompting measures that led to a real improvement in literacy and numeracy standards. Without comparative data, there would not have been that improvement.
So, the data collected for league tables does help drive up standards in many schools; though, I am prepared to concede that they may not do so in schools where the pupil who fails is the one without 5 As at A level.