Viewpoints: School league tables

The secondary school league tables in England allow parents to rank schools according to the results of tests and examinations taken by pupils the previous summer and by a range of other criteria.

The government publishes the data, and media organisations, including the BBC, produce rankings of the best and worst performers.

BBC News has gathered a range of viewpoints on the league tables and the publication of the data.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet

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Justine Roberts

The best advice... is to visit, look around and talk to other parents and staff”

End Quote Justine Roberts

Most Mumsnet users feel that while useful, league tables alone aren't a sufficient measure of a school's quality and character.

Nonetheless, at secondary school stage you do want to feel that the school you choose will enable your child to achieve the best exam results he or she is capable of and there's no doubt school league tables can be a helpful indicator.

But a note of caution - they don't necessarily tell the whole story and you need to examine the figures carefully. Viewpoints: School league tables

Headline numbers may tell you more about the students than the teachers, as a class of bright students could artificially push league table results up, so do also look carefully at the figures for "value-added scores".

Other Mumsnet users feel strongly that there's too much emphasis on league tables, and that can be damaging, as schools and teachers inevitably focus on repetitive testing and test results rather than on the individual needs of children and a broader education.

Justine Roberts

  • Co-founder of Mumsnet parenting website
  • Says look beyond the league table scores

The best advice, rather than solely relying on league tables when vetting schools, is to visit, look around and talk to other parents and staff.

Do make sure you consider the leadership of the school, the teachers' specialisms, and the extracurricular activities that are on offer.

Professor Simon Burgess, Bristol University

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Prof Simon Burgess

Removing league tables reduces average school performance ”

End Quote Prof Simon Burgess

Performance tables are a really important part of the school accountability system in England.

Prof Simon Burgess

  • Led research into the impact of the abolition of school league tables in Wales

Our research at Centre for Market and Public Organisation has shown that league tables play an important role in school standards.

Removing league tables reduces average school performance and raises inequality in attainment.

The league tables now contain quite a lot of information and some is more useful to parents than others.

The measure of what percentage of children get at least five C grades at GCSE comes in for a lot of criticism, and a lot of that is justified.

One criticism is that this focuses all of the attention on students on the borderline between D and C. Critics argue it's bad.

It's believed some schools focus on them and not the high-achieving or low-achieving pupils. Schools have that incentive, but that is not a flaw in the threshold that has just been discovered.

It's a design feature that is intended to focus schools' attention on a particular place.

BBC School Report team from The Bramcote Park Business and Enterprise School, Nottingham

Lucia: The league tables shouldn't be 100% trusted on how a child will perform at certain schools. If they are a hard-working child, they will more than likely be hard-working at whichever school they go to. However, I do think that they would be influenced by the people they go to school with and the teachers and the way they are taught.

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Lucia, Kate, Sara

It has never seemed relevant to me”

End Quote Kate

We don't really talk about league tables, as they don't really concern us at the moment. But I know some parents take a lot of notice because they think they tell them how good a school is.

Kate: League tables shouldn't be trusted, as some students and teachers may work harder than others. It is not reflected in the statistics. I don't ever talk about league tables because nobody else talks about them. We see people on the news talk about them but it has never seemed relevant to me.

Sara: League tables portray overall what the school has been working at and what the outcome ends with - the grades - and it doesn't show talents of individual students.

We hardly ever talk about league tables. However, I would like it if we would because it would be nice to know how our school is doing with the grades, and comparing it to the other schools.

I think teachers and pupils compromising with each other makes a good school. Also the fact that our school is based in the middle of a park is great! We walk through park to get to school and I think that reflects on our school, and makes it good.

Malcolm Trobe, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)

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Malcolm Trobe

The data presents an incomplete picture of what a school is like”

End Quote Malcolm Trobe

Transparency of information is important, and ASCL fully supports the principle of the publication of data about schools and colleges. Indeed, most secondary schools and colleges published their results long before the current centralised system was introduced.

Malcolm Trobe

  • Deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders
  • Says transparency is good but the media are wrong to look for a single indicator of what is a good school

However, we are now at risk of information overload, with so much data about schools and colleges published that only those with a relatively detailed understanding of how to interpret the data can draw fair and balanced conclusions. We would also emphasise that the published data presents an incomplete picture of what a school is like.

Before making decisions about a secondary school, parents and pupils should look on the school website, speak with parents and pupils already at the school and visit the school themselves to talk with the teachers, taking the opportunity to discuss matters that are important to them.

The performance tables do not give information about the wide range of "extra-curricular" activities that schools offer and only a visit can give a true reflection of the ethos and culture of the school.

It is good to see that the DfE are revising the use of the Key Stage 4 performance indicators with an emphasis on pupil progress, which will be a fairer measure. However, the accountability system remains too data-focused, and the media must take some responsibility for constantly looking to find and promote a single indicator to say whether a school is successful or not when in reality a whole range of factors need to be considered.

Chris McGovern, Campaign for Real Education

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Chris McGovern

Things are rarely quite what they may appear to be”

End Quote Chris McGovern

Want to find a good school? Look at the school league tables. Want to avoid a bad school? Look at the school league tables.

If only life was so simple! It is true that good schools and good teaching can make an enormous difference but most parents will understand that the raw data of exam results has to be treated with caution - the character of a school's pupil "intake" can outweigh all other factors.

Chris McGovern

  • Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education
  • Says league tables should have an international feel

So the tables are a bit of an illusion. As with so many things in education, things are rarely quite what they may appear to be.

The matter becomes rather more serious when we realise that, too.

Sadly, even a 100% pass rate at GCSE tells us only that a school is doing well on an examination that has been largely discredited by massive grade inflation and undemanding content. Quite simply, our examination system, including A-Level, does not "cut it" internationally.

We are languishing way behind the educational premier league in the only league table that really matters - the international one provided by the OECD.

What we really need is a league table that informs schools just how far they are behind those in Asia Pacific. Now, that really would be a league table worth having.

Christine Blower

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They fail to reflect the character, ethos and catchment area of a school”

End Quote Christine Blower
Christine Blower, National Union of Teachers

League tables are based on a narrow definition of pupil performance.

This makes it impossible to capture a school's contribution to pupils' wider education or to their social and personal development and fails to reflect the character, ethos and catchment area of a school.

No-one would argue that schools need to be held accountable.

The interests of parents and carers, learners, and schools themselves are best met through a dialogue and relationship between schools and homes and families.

They are not met through the use of crude and potentially misleading "accountability" measures expressed in terms of performance tables.

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