William Eichler 30 October 2019

School league tables ‘misrepresent’ performance, northern leaders say

School league tables ‘misrepresent’ performance, northern leaders say  image

Secondary school league tables misrepresent the performance of schools by failing to show the difference when pupil background is taken into account, according to leaders in the North.

Research shows that once factors such as pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special educational needs are taken into account, a fifth of schools saw their national league table position change by over 500 places.

Using the Fair Secondary School Index, which takes background into account, the research also found that more than half (51%) of schools across England currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ would no longer fall into this category.

The research, published by Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein from the Centre for Multilevel Modelling at the University of Bristol, looked at ‘Progress 8’, the headline measure used by the Department of Education to assess progress made by pupils during their time at secondary school.

Analysing the 2018 data from all 3,165 state-maintained secondary schools in England, Dr Leckie and Professor Goldstein found that while many secondary schools in the North are still lagging behind the rest of the country, when using the Fair Secondary School Index, many of these schools perform considerably better than the Government’s own league tables would suggest.

In the North East, for example, schools on average were ranked 361 places higher using the adjusted measure. In the North West, schools of average were ranked 107 places higher.

‘The League Tables and data that we use to judge schools are often more a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of teaching, learning and real progress being made in that school,’ said Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central and member of the Education Select Committee.  

‘Indeed, Ofsted themselves often reward these same measures, and therefore a school’s intake, when giving their judgements as headteachers and others have warned.  

‘This independent Fair Secondary School Index uses much more detailed data and analysis to arrive at fairer and deeper understandings of what makes a good school, often turning League Table standings on their heads.

‘We can see from this that some schools operating in the most challenging contexts are doing an outstanding job. Other schools that may have previously escaped scrutiny actually require support.’ 

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, commented: ‘The Government hasn’t had a consistent focus on improving education standards in the Northern Powerhouse.

‘Unless we devolve more powers and funding, establishing a new Northern Schools Board to oversee currently unaccountable Schools Commissioners and a centre for what works in schools in disadvantaged areas, we will not be able to close the skills gap even with much more devolution and increased funding for Further Education to our Metro Mayors and combined authorities.

‘Following the publication of this Index, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership will make recommendations to all parties on what must be done to deal with the underlying causes including in the early years of the disadvantage gap, with commitments for funding education needing to include at least £1bn each year for five years to support the long term disadvantaged in the North in particular. That must be our priority if we are to close the North-South economic divide, alongside investing in transformational transport infrastructure for instance.’  

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