League tables: When does zero mean excellent?

As many top independent schools finish bottom of the league tables, it’s important parents look at the full picture, writes Caroline Jordan, GSA President and Headmistress, Headington School, in The Telegraph, 21 January 2016

Parents trying to make the tough decision of where to send their child to school might be thinking the publication of today’s performance tables will make that job easier. Unfortunately, that is likely to be far from the case.
The Department for Education provides a bewildering amount of data on every school in the country. It would be impossible to publish all that information in a quick, digestible format so each newspaper chooses which statistics are worth including. Parents then have to make sense of the information they are given. To complicate matters, new measures are introduced with alarming regularity.

The Government has previously set great store in one particular measure at GCSE – the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – which is five A* to Cs including English, maths, science, a modern language and history or geography. This might sound like a good baseline measure but unfortunately it is problematic.

For many years, top independent schools have been taking International GCSEs (or IGCSES) – a well-established and more rigorous qualification. For a period, IGCSEs were de rigeur with the Government and many state schools were encouraged to introduce them. Then Mr Gove decided they didn’t count any more.

Now the Government has decided that some count and some don’t. This means some independent schools will find that their pupils’ grades appear in DfE tables and some will find themselves with zeros instead of the top grades their pupils actually achieved.  This is when zero can actually mean excellent; many of these schools would have achieved extremely high league table figures in those columns, perhaps 100 per cent, were IGCSEs taken into consideration. How are parents expected to decipher this?

This year the Government has introduced yet another performance measure. Progress 8 will measure progress across pupils’ eight best subjects including English, maths, three subjects from the EBacc and three others, marking progress from the end of Key Stage 2. It is broader than the EBacc but is still limited to a prescriptive list of subjects.

Surely this should provide insight into how a school is improving children’s outcomes? Unfortunately not, as Progress 8 relies on Key Stage 2 SAT data, a qualification taken by very few independent schools. Many pupils in independent senior schools have attended state primary schools and do have these baseline results, but many others do not because they were educated at independent prep schools. So Progress 8 will hardly paint a full picture.  In addition, IGCSEs do not count – once again, those who sit these highly-regarded well established qualifications score a big fat zero. And, of course, Progress 8, although broader, provides no information about what goes on beyond the classroom in any individual school.

Results alone will not tell you if a school is focusing on academic achievement at the expense of an all-round education, if your child will be able to take part in a wide range of extra-curricular pursuits, if they will thrive and be supported or, most importantly of all, if they will be happy.


Read the full story in The Telegraph


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