Tuesday, August 21, 2007

School league tables

I would be interested in your comments on my latest article for the Guardian's CiF website.

The silly season is very nearly upon us. On Friday the nation's broadsheets and the tabloids will publish lists of the "best" and the "worst" schools in the country. Local papers will name and shame the schools in their area that come at the bottom of the league tables and the letters pages will be full of indignant parents - either defending the school their child attends or calling for the head and the governors to go.

If we do have to have school results published (sadly I think this is a genie that is well and truly out of the bottle), can we at least agree on the format in which these results should be published. On Thursday the DCFS will only release 'raw' results. So called 'value-added' results and 'contextual value-added' results (CVA) will not be published until December.

Does this matter? Well it does when you are trying to judge whether your local school is a successful, complacent or under-achieving one. Let me give you an example. Lets say that on Friday my local school's 'raw' results for 2007 place it in the top 25% of all secondary schools in the country but when the CVA results are released later in the year the same school finds itself in the bottom 25% of all schools nationally. Which data set provides me with the most accurate picture? Which data set is the most useful in helping me and other local parents in evaluating the overall effectiveness of the school? For me the answer is simple. If we have to have school results published nationally and therefore if we have to have league tables of schools let us use one main data set and let it be CVA. Why? Because raw results tell you little about how good a school is at its core function: teaching and learning. Raw results simply tell you about the prior attainment of the pupils on entry. In contrast CVA data looks at the progress that the pupils make while in the school, in other words it tells you the difference the school has made to the life chances of a particular cohort of children.

The truth is that a national league table of CVA school results would be a much better indication of teaching quality than the old-fashioned - and often misleading - league tables that only give raw percentages of GCSE passes. The present league tables inevitably puts schools in leafy suburbs at the top and struggling inner-city ones at the bottom.

The challenge is to persuade a cynical media as well as parents and the general public that CVA is the real measure of school effectiveness. Now is the time to take on that challenge.

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