Wales politics

Confidence lost in Welsh school banding, says head

Pupils (generic)
Schools will be banded according to performance

The head of one of Wales' oldest schools has claimed confidence has already been lost in a new way to categorise performance.

Neil Foden of Ysgol Friars in Bangor, Gwynedd calls the banding system, which starts next month, "imperfect".

"Schools don't understand it, the impression we get is that civil servants don't understand it, so what chance have parents got?" he said.

The Welsh government said it offered a clear picture of school performance.

The education minister's spokesman said Mr Foden was "clearly getting confused" despite being at technical briefings about it.

Banding, according to the Welsh government, uses national data on school performance to group schools according to where they are on their improvement journey in comparison to other schools in Wales.

The banding model uses four groups of data:

  • Some GCSE results
  • Free school meal eligibility
  • Attendance record
  • Progress over a number of years

The original Friars School dates back to the mid 16th Century, while the modern secondary school has had a record year, with 80% of pupils gaining A to C grades in A level exams.

But Mr Foden claimed that banding could be misleading and might not truly reflect a school's performance.

"This system is an imperfect way of measuring schools," he said.

'Misleading'

"For example, if we were able to recruit seven additional children from disadvantaged households who are eligible for free school meals even though we had done nothing to improve our own performance, we would almost certainly go up a quartile.

"Even though we had done nothing our performance would suddenly look better.

"Clearly that isn't a healthy state of affairs.

"It could be misleading."

Primary school
Plaid Cymru said the Welsh government's branding plans would undermine schools

The new system comes into effect in December but schools have already been told provisionally which band they are in.

The Welsh government says that banding is very different to introducing league tables.

But Plaid Cymru is concerned that the new system might be perceived in that way.

"Plaid Cymru does not want our schools to be micro-managed," said Plaid education spokesman Simon Thomas.

"The Labour minister is seeking to name and shame schools he considers to be underperforming, but this could only undermine them further.

'Key component'

"The education minister has himself conceded that league tables are 'simplistic' and 'destructive' yet continues to establish them in Wales by another name.

"What the minister has announced so far will only serve to highlight the gap between 'good' schools and 'bad' schools without addressing the reasons for failure. "

The Welsh government said banding would be "at the heart" its school improvement agenda and was a key component in its programme for governing.

"It's not about labelling, naming or shaming, or creating a crude league table," said a Welsh government statement.

"It is about putting schools into groups to identify which need our support and which we can learn from."

'Confusion'

A spokesman for Education Minister Leighton Andrews said: "If Friars' school now thinks it should do more to engage with young people from deprived backgrounds, that in itself is a positive outcome of the banding exercise.

"It seems the head is clearly getting confused, which is surprising considering we have given many technical briefings on this matter, one of which Mr Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friars attended.

"The comment in the interview given to the BBC that Ysgol Friars could 'go up a quartile' if they 'were able to recruit seven additional children' suggests that despite these briefings they are still confused on how the banding system works.

"To be clear, there is no way for Ysgol Friars to be able to calculate the effect of a change in their FSM levels on their banding calculation. For a start they don't have data from all schools which would be needed.

Deprived backgrounds

"It is extremely worrying that a school is openly talking about game-playing with FSM levels - and indeed individual pupils - rather than addressing weaknesses at a school.

"As Mr Foden says, there is no such thing as a perfect system, but, the banding approach is based on the most up to date and reliable data available and mathematical modelling."

Mr Foden, chair of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Wales, responded that he was glad the education minister was engaging in the debate over banding but said there were inaccuracies in the spokesman's comments.

The head said he had not attended a technical briefing on banding but was attending one on Monday.

He also denied "game-playing" over pupils from deprived backgrounds.

He added: "If there's uncertainties about how the system works among head teachers and governing bodies, it's because of uncertainties in the Welsh assembly."

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