Education & Family

Q&A: School league tables

Image caption The league tables show both attainment and pupils' progress

The BBC News website answers key questions about the school league tables in England.

What are league tables?

School league tables are created from data published by the government on the attainment of pupils in England. They are based on the results of exams taken at the end of primary school. In recent years, only media organisations have used the data to produce rankings. For the first time this year, the Department for Education has a facility on its website which allows users to rank schools by different measures.

What information do they include?

Primarily the tables are based on raw data on children's attainment - notably the results of Sats (national curriculum tests) taken at the end of primary school, GCSEs and A-levels and their equivalents.

They also contain measures intended to show how well pupils are progressing. These are particularly useful in reflecting the achievements of schools which raise the performance of pupils starting with lower levels of attainment.

The "progress measure" gives the percentage of pupils making the expected amount of progress for their age, as defined in the national curriculum. See our guides to the primary and secondary tables for more detail on measures.

Should I choose a school for my child based on these tables?

The tables show how well a particular year-group of pupils at a given school have performed in tests or exams. And most of them will have started school a few years previous to the tests or exams and there may have been changes of staff or policy at the school in the interim.

And crucially, the tables do not include information about the more holistic elements of a school such as extra-curricular activities on offer, for example sport and drama, or details about a school's pastoral care. The best way to decide whether a school is right for your child is to visit it - most schools run open days and/or evenings for prospective pupils.

How are league tables changing?

Ministers have ditched CVA in the secondary tables and replaced it with a value added measure which compares children of similar prior attainment against the national average for their ability group. The comparison is based on pupils' best eight GCSEs.

This year much of the data on progress is broken down to different groups, so it is possible to see how well those in local authority care or from very poor backgrounds perform, as well as how well those of different prior attainment do. Information on spending per pupil is being published for each school.

What about failing schools?

Education Secretary Michael Gove says he prefers the term "underperforming" to failing but he has nevertheless raised the "floor target" below which schools are considered to be underperforming.

Under Labour, primary schools were expected to have at least 55% of their pupils attaining Level 4 in both maths and English. Now schools in which less than 60% of pupils reach the benchmark will be considered underperforming, if they also fall below the national average for progress in both maths and English.

For secondary schools, 35%, rather than 30%, of pupils must gain five A*-C GCSE passes, with similar progress targets. The government says 107 schools were below this target.

What are the arguments for league tables?

League tables are used widely by parents to compare the attainment of schools in their area. Proponents argue that the tables help drive up standards by increasing the accountability of schools and provide valuable information for parents. Research published this year by Bristol University claimed that the abolition of league tables in Wales had led to a drop in standards in the lowest 75% of schools.

What are the arguments against?

Opponents say league tables are too crude a measure of a school's character, quality and achievements and often end up saying more about the intake of a school than the teaching and learning that goes on there. They say the tables encourage competition rather than collaboration between schools in local areas and can lead to middle-class parents pushing to get their children into top schools, further driving down standards at less popular schools.

What about the rest of the UK?

Wales and Northern Ireland abolished league tables in 2001, followed by Scotland in 2003. Scottish exam data is still published online. It is not in a format where schools can be easily compared, although some media organisations still compile tables. Wales has now published tables which place schools in one of five performance bands.

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