The Education Blog

Insight Press 26th April, 2016

Can we rely on league tables?

Question: How much should we rely on league tables when choosing a school for our son?

The Telegraph, 26 April 2016 – Read the article in full here.

Use league tables as one indicator of many

The answer to your question is – yes and no. Annual league tables provide statistical data about examination performance, normally at GCSE and A-level.

As you may be aware, there are also different versions of the annual league tables:  for example, some league tables provide comparative data, others offer correlation between the International Baccalaureate (IB) and A-level performance.

Schools with very few pupils can be disproportionately affected in certain league tables by exceptional results by one or two students.

The DfE provides annual statistics for all maintained schools. The Independent Schools Council (ISC) collates data, including examination results, on schools in the independent sector. ISC examination statistics are regularly updated after the initial publication every August, to incorporate GCSE or A-level re-marks.

Above all, league tables reflect how academically selective – or not – a school is, at entry.   As we all know, statistics can be used to prove anything, including the much vaunted “value-added” –  ie how much progress children make during their school career. Be wary of inflated claims.

Almost every head will tell you that education is about far more than just examination results.  For this reason, a significant number of independent schools, including those with superlative academic results, have long opted out of national league tables.

My advice is to use league tables as one indicator of many in making the decision about your son’s secondary school.

Visit the school with your son, ideally more than once. Talk to current pupils and parents, meet the head, check the subject options available at GCSE and A-level, look at the university destinations of leavers and decide whether the opportunities available both inside the classroom and beyond will offer an exciting and challenging education for your son.

Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park

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