Viewpoints: School league tables

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The secondary school league tables in England allow parents to rank schools according to the academic success of pupils in tests and examinations last summer. The way in which such data is published is controversial and divides opinion.

Supporters and politicians say accountability keeps the teaching profession on its toes.

Critics say the tables merely reflect the socio-economic intake of a given school.

So what is the impact of school league tables? The BBC News website has gathered a range of viewpoints.

Prof Simon Burgess, Bristol University

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Prof Simon Burgess

Imagine having no information - it's always helpful to have some, however imperfect”

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Research shows that pupils benefit from having a level of scrutiny of their teachers. In our research, we found the decision in 2001 by the Welsh assembly to stop the publication of secondary school performance data or "league tables" resulted in a significant deterioration in GCSE performance in Wales.

The effect was sizeable and statistically significant. It amounted to around two GCSE grades per pupil per year - that is, achieving a grade D rather than a B in one subject. Pupils in England and Wales were performing very similarly up to 2001, but thereafter the fraction gaining five good GCSE passes strongly diverged.

Prof Simon Burgess

  • Headed up research into the impact of the abolition of school league tables in Wales

One of the interesting things we found was that this affected 80% of the schools in Wales, but the highest performing schools didn't see this deterioration. These kind of schools have a reputation for quality and will strive to keep it, whereas other schools can effectively hide if no information is made available. We found schools in a similar situation in England did much better by their children than those in Wales.

Also, league tables give parents information on how the schools they are contemplating sending their children to are performing. Imagine having no information - it's always helpful to have some, however imperfect.

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Jess, Beth and Katie

School league tables don't reflect everything about the school”

End Quote Katie, Year 11
BBC School Reporters from Horbury Academy, Wakefield

Jess, Year 11: School league tables are a bad thing because it puts the high achieving schools first and the less advantaged schools find it hard to keep up with other more fortunate schools. Also I feel it categorises certain schools and puts some of them in a bad light. I feel it also puts pressure on staff and students.

Beth, Year 10: League tables put quite a lot of pressure on us as students because of the expectations for having to achieve five A-C grades, otherwise we go down the league table. I don't think it's good for the schools that fall lower down the tables, as they must feel they just don't stand a chance. I also think that they don't take into account the community the school may be in.

Katie, Year 11: School league table are a good thing as they represent the school and overall grade success, which helps newcomers choose the right school. On the other hand, school league tables don't reflect everything about the school. Grades are not everything that represents a student, they may have excellent social and life skills that haven't been recognised or shown to the wider community. I really do feel that there should be some recognition of this and feel it is just as important as grades.

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Mark Hayward

Schools are such a major influencer in the process of buying a home”

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Mark Hayward, National Association of Estate Agents

Our agents often find that one of the first questions they are asked is about the local schools. In some cases, families may even be keen to move counties to take advantage of grammar school education for their children. And as a result, family homes are often at a premium price in these areas. The same can be said for homes close to well-respected private schools or sixth-form colleges.

Property investors with a portfolio of homes suitable for families will often also look to purchase properties based on their proximity to highly ranked schools. As well as being a big selling point for prospective tenants, this location can help ensure the strongest possible rental return.

Mark Hayward

  • President of the National Association of Estate Agents
  • Says schools are a significant factor in the housing market

Generally, sellers tend not to be as influenced by school league tables - they remain far more of a "pull" factor for buyers than a "push" one for sellers. While a significant drop in a schools' ranking could in theory prompt a move, it is more likely they will experience any decline in standards first-hand, and base any decision on their own experiences.

We aren't surprised by the impact of the tables, purely because schools are such a major influencer in the process of buying a home. One final thing worth noting is that catchment areas are subject to review, therefore buyers need to check with the local educational authority and their estate agent to ensure their information is up to date.

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Siobhan Freegard

Parents should remember league tables are simply one of a number of tools to help them select the right school ”

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Siobhan Freegard, parenting website Netmums

School league tables are a contentious issue, but most parents accept the need for them. There has to be some way to measure school performance so parents have confidence in the school system. League tables provide a quick and relatively simple way for parents to compare schools.

However, they cannot give a rounded picture of everything going on in each school which are also vital factors in a child's education. Issues arise when parents focus solely on the academic section of the tables and don't consider whether the school ethos is right for their particular child.

On Netmums we have seen schools at the top of the table create a "bubble" where parents will pay vastly inflated property prices to live near a top school. This prices out a lot of mums and dads who can't afford the high rents and house prices and can cause resentment.

Siobhan Freegard

  • Founder of Netmums parenting website
  • Says parents should always visit schools

Banning them wouldn't improve the situation and schools which do well in the tables would claim they are being penalised for their success.

Parents should remember league tables are simply one of a number of tools to help them select the right school for their child. It's much more important to visit the school with your child and see if they will be happy there.

Russell Hobby

Russell Hobby
  • General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers
  • Says league tables are too crude a measure
Russell Hobby, National Association of Head Teachers

While transparency can be uncomfortable, it is hard to argue against it in principle.

However, the use of league tables in England is so crude and of such high stakes that it distorts the basic values and principles of education. The disaster of GCSE English marking this year demonstrates this starkly. Our accountability system is killing our assessment system. The cost may now outweigh the gain.

Some parents do use league tables, but the vast majority rely on local information and conversations with other parents. Visiting the school is vital. I think parents also have questions that our crude league tables do not answer - Will my child by safe, happy and stretched?

We need to abandon single statistical measures of school performance and use more qualitative judgements of a range of measures.

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