Heads call for league tables to be scrapped

Polly Curtis
Tuesday May 25, 2004

The Guardian

Headteachers are calling for the new "value added" league tables to be scrapped, claiming they are "fatally flawed" despite being heralded as the remedy for the problems of ranking schools' performance. The value added tables measure pupils' improvement between the ages of seven and 11 and are thought to give a truer reflection of the teachers' success than straightforward results. The system was introduced last year. But a report commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers concludes such tables are misleading and should be scrapped.

The curriculum, evaluation and management centre at the University of Durham, which carried out the research, highlighted a number of failings of the tables, including:

bulletin small primary schools results can fluctuate from year to year because of the performance of individual pupils
bullettests at seven are marked in-house by teachers instead of by external examiners, which means results can vary from school to schoola minimum of 50 pupils should be introduced, says the research
bulletschools with high turnover between the ages of seven and 11 are not comparing the same pupils results, leading to anomalies
bulletthe tables cannot reflect the achievement of most able students who cannot be ranked above level five at 11, meaning the true "value added" cannot be measured
bulletthe tables compare schools in all different areas with each other. "Contextual factors may have a significant effect on a school's success," the report says.

The report concludes that the tables are so flawed they should be withdrawn this year.

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "From the outset, the NAHT has remained opposed to the publication of performance tables on the grounds that they are unfair, are misleading and have a strongly negative effect on assessment and on the breadth and balance of the curriculum. "In particular the NAHT cannot understand how parental choice is being properly informed when absent pupils, pupils with statements, units containing pupils with significant learning difficulties are counted in the calculation of percentages for the tables when they have no positive result to contribute to the threshold scores."

And while Mr Hart conceded that a value added system was likely to be less unfair, he said the NAHT remained "very concerned" at the way it was being calculated by the Department for Education and Skills for inclusion in the tables.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said adding a value added aspect to tables was "merely a sophistication on a fundamentally flawed system".

The school standards minister, David Miliband, said the tables were designed to help parents decide which school to send their children. He said the value added system was "widely welcomed as a significant step forward", adding that the DfES was planning to consult widely on extending the system to include factors beyond prior attainment. "We want to go even further with a new annual school profile that will be easily accessible and give parents a broader and deeper understanding of school performance," he said. "The profile, which is currently out for consultation, will bring together in one place a range of relevant information about how a school serves all its pupils and what it offers in terms of a broader curriculum."

The last Conservative government introduced school league tables. Labour continued them when the party came to power in 1997, promising to introduce the value-added system.

The Scottish parliament has dropped the tests that lead to the tables. The Welsh assembly has abolished tests at seven and is considering whether to follow the advice of a report it commissioned which urged it to stop testing at 11 and 14 as well.

 Education