Saturday, 26 April 2008

League Tables

It seems to me that during this past week league tables, allegedly depicting performance and achievement, across a range of activities, have dominated the newspapers I choose to read. Throughout the week, as we have throughout the season, the back pages of most newspapers keep us posted as to how our footballing teams are progressing. Earlier this week we had the publication of school league tables based on pass rates in exams. Today, a headline in the Times, forewarns me that tomorrow's Times will have a league table showing our country's highest earners over the past year. I can hardly wait.

As I drove back home from chaufeuring my daughters to their ballet classes I was reflecting on when a league table might actually be useful and when it is not. In the context of football, where winning the league is the ultimate prize, there is no doubt in my mind that the publication of the league table is essential and useful. Football teams are in direct competition with each other and rivalry between opposing teams is what their marketing and survival depends on. League tables to show who is the richest is entertaining and probably sells newspapers but is really no more than useless gossip. In the context of schools though, I have a big issue with putting schools in league tables, based on data that is fundamentally flawed. It can be argued that:

  • League tables for schools take no account of pupils' starting points or progress made since arriving at that school.
  • League tables take no account of social factors that may impact on pupil performance.
  • Schools who have entrance exams or use other means of selecting their intake (E.g. catchment area)tend to do better.
  • Senior (S5 and S6) school exam pass rate calculations are based on the roll when that group of pupils was in S4. In the context of Liberton High School, where more that 50% choose to leave school at the end of S4, it is hugely misleading to compare our exam pass rate with schools where staying on rates are close to 90%.
In trying to maximise opportunity for all of our learners, should the emphasis be on putting schools in direct competition with each other? Is there more to be gained by scrapping our league table mentality and developing a genuine culture of collaboration and partnership between genuinely comprehensive schools?

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