Saturday, November 20, 2010

League Tables

Announcing in a comprehensive school staffroom that you think the School League Tables are a tremendous idea, elicits roughly the same response as declaring that you collect Nazi memorabilia or have a bit of a crush on David Cameron. One thing that unites public sector teachers above anything else is that the tables are a BAD thing.

Unfortunately almost all parents think that they are a very GOOD thing.

So who is right?

My view is that although they do not give a perfect comparison of schools, as they can be fiddled slightly (by concentrating the best teachers and resources on the c/d borderline kids and entering pupils for even easier GCSE 'equivalents', the bottom line is that they are better than no comparison at all. After all most parents are only comparing a small number of potential schools in a limited area, who will use similar tricks to boost their results and if one school is significantly better than another then this will show up.

One of the reasons that we are no longer taken seriously as a profession is that we refuse to accept any form of accountability. The League Tables could be improved and we should be the ones pointing out exactly how this could be done, rather than simply rejecting any form of comparison out of hand.



21 comments:

Cabbage said...

It seems to me that the big question is whether the good done by allowing parents to compare their local schools outweighs the harm done by encouraging schools to fiddle the system in ways that negatively affect the quality of teaching they can offer.

And just what good IS done by letting parents compare their local schools? I don't understand the benefit of this.

Anonymous said...

Maybe so they can decide which one to send their child to?

Don said...

They're better than nothing. But obviously they're not the be-all-and-end-all of what makes a good school, and I do wonder what useful purpose is served by the publication of Top 100 Best Schools "charts", especially given that most parents will only have a very limited number of schools from which to choose.

On the other hand those schools which do well in the tables publicize the fact as a 'selling point' - understandably enough. Which I daresay gives some of the others an incentive to try harder, even if that entails 'massaging' the figures a bit.

Mr Natural said...

First there were percentage pass rates. You might be astonished at the number of supposedly well educated people who cannot see that a school that enters 10 candidates and achieves a 90% pass rate might not be any better than a school that enters 100 and achieves an 80% pass rate.

Then there was cooking the books. Schools used to take their weakest candidates off roll and enter them privately; that was rumbled fairly quickly.

Then there were tables that looked at the percentages achieving “5 good passes”, others that showed “5 good passes including Maths and English”, yet more with “percentage of As and A*s”, or “percentage of A*s, As and Bs”: you just selected your data to show your institution in the best light.

Then we had that hocus-pocus about Contextual Added Value. This meant that a student achieving two Cs at A-level could bring the same added value to a mediocre sixth-form college as an identical student at a more aspirational college who achieved two Bs and a C. (I kid you not.)

And the latest scam is Mr. Balls’s Great Diploma Fiddle: you can find out about that for yourselves if you’re interested, but I know that diplomas are no preparation for A-level sciences, even though they are supposed to count as the equivalent of 5 GCSEs.

Most parents I know do not spend hours poring over league tables. They know that the youngsters they see streaming out of Gas Street Comp. at 3.10 pm behave appallingly, are scruffy, smoke and shuffle along with cans of lager, and that Cousin Kylie went there and said it was crap so they want their sprogs to go somewhere else; anywhere but there!

So just oblige each school to publish its results on line:

e.g. Well Scrubbed Academy. GCSE results 2010 By subject.
Mathematics: number entered 110. 10 A*, 20 A, 25 B, 35 C, 5 D, 6 E, 6 F, 3 G, U 0;
English Language: number entered 110; etc.

Let parents work out their own percentages and not rely on spurious manipulation by those who have an axe to grind.

Mr Natural said...

Some supposedly well educated people cannot see that a school that enters 10 candidates and achieves a 90% pass rate might not be any better than a school that enters 100 and achieves an 80% pass rate.

Schools used to take their weakest candidates off roll and enter them privately; that was rumbled fairly quickly.

There were tables that gave percentages achieving “5 good passes”, others that showed “5 good passes including Maths and English” etc: you just selected data to show your institution in the best light.

Contextual Added Value Hocus Pocus. A student achieving two Cs at A-level could bring the same added value to a mediocre sixth-form college as an identical student at a more aspirational college who achieved two Bs and a C. (I kid you not.)

Mr. Balls’s Great Diploma Fiddle:I know that diplomas are no preparation for A-level sciences, even though they are supposed to count as the equivalent of 5 GCSEs.

Most parents I know do not spend hours poring over league tables. They know that the youngsters they see streaming out of Gas Street Comp. at 3.10 pm behave appallingly, are scruffy, smoke and shuffle along with cans of lager, and that Cousin Kylie went there and said it was crap so they want their sprogs to go somewhere else; anywhere but there!

So just oblige each school to publish its results on line:

e.g. Well Scrubbed Academy. GCSE results 2010 By subject.
Mathematics: number entered 110. 10 A*, 20 A, 25 B, 35 C, 5 D, 6 E, 6 F, 3 G, U 0;
English Language: number entered 110; etc.

Let parents work out their own percentages and not rely on spurious manipulation by those who have an axe to grind.

Anonymous said...

The dumbing down procees started in earnest when the primary purpose of exam results became to compare schools rather than to compare pupils. It has utterly destroyed the credibility of pre university qualifications in this country, but I doubt any political party, or combination of parties, has the bottle to sort it out.

Cabbage said...

Anonymous says the good of league tables is that they let parents decide which school to send their child to. I don't see what the benefit of this is. The same numbers of children will still go to each school, right? So the only difference is that with league tables, the children with parents who care have an even better chance of getting into the best schools compared to those whose parents don't. And the social benefit of this is what, exactly?

TonyF said...

As a parent, I couldn't give a stuff about league tables. As far as I can make out, they are trying to compare chalk with cheese. The stats could be made up for what they are worth.

Dack said...

I think we should have league tables for catchment areas. Such as '% of parents who can't be arsed to ensure that their kid comes to school with a pen. Or... % of parents who say "Timmy can't do detentions because I run out of fags around 3pm and I'm too fat to go to the shop myself." Or... % of parents who come in to school with a machete if you suggest that their kid's behaviour is affecting the progress of his peers.

There may be a correlation with that and exam results, who knows.

Anonymous said...

There are three local non-denomonational comps here. Two are about the same - not very good, behaviour a problem mainly, but held up by a small core of able, well-brought-up kids who get all the grades. The other is the hellhole where I work.

The two others get about 45% A*-Cs; one does slightly better than the other because it has chosen courses that give more points. But ours lurks forlornly around the low teens, due to its poor s/e catchment and high new-to-English refugee intake.
They are full-to-bursting with kids from our historical catchment and we are half empty.

But because you can't cram any more kids into them, a certain number have to come to us. If they were going to do well at the other schools, they do well with us. There are just so few of them. The rest are kids the others schools rejected because of their poor school history.

I wish they would bring back catchment areas. If you live here you go to school A. I know it buggers up the house prices but how much comfort is it to a parent to know that a school is foundering on the bottom of the league table but they still have to send their child there?

Cabbage is a tosser said...

@Cabbage: 'So the only difference is that with league tables, the children with parents who care have an even better chance of getting into the best schools compared to those whose parents don't. And the social benefit of this is what, exactly?'

I do care about the wider social benefit, but I'm afraid I care more about my own children than yours, or any spurious social benefit.

The more parents who care for their children, and who help their children to achieve good things, the more the 'social benefit' will take care of itself.

Anonymous said...

Seems as like the best reason for having league tables is that teachers' unions don't like them.

Case proven?

Anonymous said...

Seems as like the best reason for having league tables is that teachers' unions don't like them.

Case proven?

ladyjustine said...

'fiddled slightly' or fiddled completely??!

An ex-colleague of mine, my best NQT ever, is now head of KS3 in a flagship academy down in London. She phoned me with a moral dilemma last week. The head had changed the coursework grades on the GCSE OMR sheets, so that instead of giving the result the pupil had got, determined by the teacher and internal standardisation, they now had their 'target' grade. This is obviously illegal and completely stupid, since the exam board ask for 20 folders to check.

She'd phoned me asking what to do. She has been told she will be sacked if she doesn't submit the results. The school take the 20 kids whose folders are asked for, and it is her job, as the only 'outstanding' teacher in a department of unsatisfactory teachers, to get the results to the target grade. They take the 20 kids off timetable and they re-do their folders until they are the target grade, thus fooling the exam board and getting away with super-inflated grades. Worse, for the exams, they take 20 kids out of the exam room to work on their exams in a quiet little room with three teachers who 'help' them.

When my ex-colleague questioned this, the head said all the departments do it, and how the hell did she think they got good results??!

She has no union rep (not allowed in the academy) and all she can do is move on. Six schools in five years. Each one as bad as the rest. She can't phone the exam board because the school will know who did...

So really, the league tables are just a table of who is good at massaging the figures, or, in the worst case, blatant cheating.

Great blog by the way... look forward to reading it further!

Notts said...

"She has told she will be sacked if she does not submit the results"

Are teachers really this stupid? Of course she can't be sacked for not submitting faked results. She should just get some courage, write to the exam board and explain the situation. Why does she need a union rep to tell her what is right and wrong?

ladyjustine said...

Notts... worked in an Academy lately? They don't play by the same rules. They answer to no-one except the DfE. A woman I know was sacked from an academy for having poor attendance. She had two days off in a year. She's fighting it, but the NUT - her union - are not allowed in the school and she has had to pay for legal representation. But because she was given a warning after her first day, they had then gone through protocol when they sacked her after the second day.
When the head is the chair of governors, the LA can do nothing and they are governed by no-body, they can do as they like. When you battle against a 'super-head' and his management team and an entire staff, how easy is it to be a whistle-blower? I'm not sure I'd have the guts to, especially when your name would be mud in every other local school. Who'd want you working there??! The fact is that there are 150 other members of staff, and not one - not a single one - has questioned the head or the way things are running there... what do you think her chances are?
Incidentally, the deputy rings her at 11:00 pm on Friday nights to ask her to do non-essential things for the following week. The fact is that she has worked in five London schools where grades are massaged in various ways. Where do you draw the line between giving kids a little extra time to complete folders, submitting coursework that is over-supported and out-and-out cheating?
I'm an assistant principal examiner for a major subject for a major exam board... and I see papers that are virtually identical... answers that are virtually the same... I pass them on to malpractice, but what happens next?! Nothing. I never hear of any school being investigated because their kids' answers are virtually identical. You've got to ask yourself: where does it end? If you coach kids for exams, what's the next move, when you can't progress up the tables any more? You help them during the exam, you inflate coursework grades, you play the system.

My ex-colleague is anything but stupid. She's the only one who's not so sheep-like she goes along with a bully-boy head and his scandalous tactics. What's worse, Notts, is that you think it's her that's stupid, rather than condemning the school and the head for their habits!!!!

ladyjustine said...

Notts... worked in an Academy lately? They don't play by the same rules. They answer to no-one except the DfE. A woman I know was sacked from an academy for having poor attendance. She had two days off in a year. She's fighting it, but the NUT - her union - are not allowed in the school and she has had to pay for legal representation. But because she was given a warning after her first day, they had then gone through protocol when they sacked her after the second day.
When the head is the chair of governors, the LA can do nothing and they are governed by no-body, they can do as they like. When you battle against a 'super-head' and his management team and an entire staff, how easy is it to be a whistle-blower? I'm not sure I'd have the guts to, especially when your name would be mud in every other local school. Who'd want you working there??! The fact is that there are 150 other members of staff, and not one - not a single one - has questioned the head or the way things are running there... what do you think her chances are?
Incidentally, the deputy rings her at 11:00 pm on Friday nights to ask her to do non-essential things for the following week. The fact is that she has worked in five London schools where grades are massaged in various ways. Where do you draw the line between giving kids a little extra time to complete folders, submitting coursework that is over-supported and out-and-out cheating?
I'm an assistant principal examiner for a major subject for a major exam board... and I see papers that are virtually identical... answers that are virtually the same... I pass them on to malpractice, but what happens next?! Nothing. I never hear of any school being investigated because their kids' answers are virtually identical. You've got to ask yourself: where does it end? If you coach kids for exams, what's the next move, when you can't progress up the tables any more? You help them during the exam, you inflate coursework grades, you play the system.

My ex-colleague is anything but stupid. She's the only one who's not so sheep-like she goes along with a bully-boy head and his scandalous tactics. What's worse, Notts, is that you think it's her that's stupid, rather than condemning the school and the head for their habits!!!!

ladyjustine said...

Notts... worked in an Academy lately? They don't play by the same rules. They answer to no-one.
When the head is the chair of governors, the LA can do nothing and they are governed by no-body, they can do as they like. When you battle against a 'super-head' and his management team and an entire staff, how easy is it to be a whistle-blower? I'm not sure I'd have the guts to, especially when your name would be mud in every other local school. Who'd want you working there??! The fact is that there are 150 other members of staff, and not one - not a single one - has questioned the head or the way things are running there... what do you think her chances are?
Incidentally, the deputy rings her at 11:00 pm on Friday nights to ask her to do non-essential things for the following week. The fact is that she has worked in five London schools where grades are massaged in various ways. Where do you draw the line between giving kids a little extra time to complete folders, submitting coursework that is over-supported and out-and-out cheating?
I'm an assistant principal examiner for a major subject for a major exam board... and I see papers that are virtually identical. I pass them on to malpractice, but what happens next?! Nothing. I never hear of any school being investigated because their kids' answers are virtually identical. You've got to ask yourself: where does it end? If you coach kids for exams, what's the next move, when you can't progress up the tables any more? You help them during the exam, you inflate coursework grades, you play the system.

My ex-colleague is anything but stupid. She's the only one who's not so sheep-like she goes along with a bully-boy head and his scandalous tactics. What's worse, Notts, is that you think it's her that's stupid, rather than condemning the school and the head for their habits!!!!

Notts said...

Justine it doesn't matter who you work for, employment law is exactly the same.

Your friend could not have been sacked for having two days off sick in a year. That would simply be illegal and she could easily take her employers to tribunal at no cost to herself.

There must be more to the story, I'm afraid.

ladyjustine said...

Notts... I'm afraid that IS all there is to it. Like it or not. They can sack who they like and when they face the consequences, they get off lightly. Employment law is all about contracts. Read an academy contract closely and you'll see they have very different conditions regarding working hours and procedures for dismissal. More fool the person who doesn't read them and agrees to work in some of the less scrupulous ones. P.s. it's not illegal, it's unlawful. Big difference.

p.s. My uncle is a tribunal representative for a major employment union in commerce so I know employment law inside out. The woman he's representing at the moment got sacked for eating six smarties at work. Shit happens. She'll get a minor payoff for unfair dismissal. Welcome to the real world. Sometimes, sackings are pathetic and petty. Not in state schools where it's impossible, but yes, in academies which are literally a law unto themselves. I have hundreds of other stories like that from my Uncle, all of which are a matter for public record, and no, there's not more to them than that.

What gets me posting back here is more that you are more outraged by the fact my colleague was too scared to be a whistle-blower and that academies work under different rules than the fact that there is wholesale cheating going on. And that many schools, including the many I worked in before I quit do a little more than massage the figures to inflate their league table positions. I'm not posting again because you obviously want to argue with me and you've totally missed the point.

Stuart said...

I previosuly commented on 'PE in the State Sector' blog and now have read this one. I have come to the conclusion that this blog and 'Frank' is clueless!!

Standardized testing and the league tables which are created from this are completely flawed. Schools and teachers are put under so much pressure to achieve results that they result to cheating to get pupils through!!

What message is this sending to the next generation?? Answer = you can get results by putting no effort in at all!!!

Sometimes the best education for some pupils and their maturity, development is to let them fail. Then if they are determined they will come back stronger. But so long as league tables are around then this will never happen.

Secondly, standardized tests only cover certain parts of intelligence. Eg, writen skills, math etc. Why cant we design a curriculum where all pupils are able to be creative and innovative. Check out Sir Ken Robinson's speeches on TED. He also explains that we still teach pupils the same old fashioned curriculum, based around skills we dont need. The world changes so fast these days we need to embrace creativity.