League tables do schools no good

December 23, 2003 ,

DOES the goose get any fatter from being weighed all the time? Do league tables improve schools?

In Wales, the National Assembly has abandoned publishing school exam results in league tables, but in England they still do so.

In fact, new tables have been published which measure “value added”.
They are supposed to show how successful schools been in raising the attainment of the student.

It's not difficult to get good results with exceptionally bright pupils, so without a value-added measure the tables would tell us little.

A look at the English tables gives two immediate impressions.
Firstly nearly all the top performers are grammar schools.
Secondly, nearly all are in the wealthier south.
This has led some to suggest that we should bring back grammar schools. This, of course is a false argument.

If you take the academically selected four percent of pupils who attend grammar schools, and compare them with the top four percent of pupils attending comprehensive schools they do no better.

Also, for every grammar school you must have three secondary moderns, except that nobody calls them that any more.
To make a proper comparison you need to compare the performance of all pupils in a selective system, with pupils in a non-selective system, in areas of similar social and economic make up.

The real problem we have is that even our comprehensive schools are too selective.
Within the comprehensive system itself there is too wide a difference between the backgrounds of pupils at different schools.

League tables are all very well for football but what students really need is parental support, extra resources in poorer areas, and above all inspirational teaching.

As the Irish poet WB Yeats once said: “education is about lighting fires not filling buckets”; or he might have added, compiling league tables.