Reforming league tables

Posted on 21-01-2012

In my last post, I blogged about how league tables are neither the problem nor the solution. They do have some value, however. Teachers will tell you they are flawed, and we are right to do so. But they do give some information. I was speaking to a friend recently who is a teacher and also a new parent. “It’s funny,” she said “as a teacher I hate league tables and I am always complaining about them. But now I am a parent they are the first thing I look at when thinking about schools.”

The way I would reform league tables is not to abolish them but to expand the amount of information that goes into making them up.  We have seen twice in the past decade how English schools have gamed the system by trying hard to achieve one particular metric. First, it was the 5 A*-Cs metric. Then the Labour government included English and Maths in that metric, which led to a lot of previously high-performing schools falling down the league tables.  Something similar happened last year with the publication of the English Baccalaureate metric, which was 5 A*-Cs in English, Maths, History or Geography, MFL and Science. Although I do agree in principle with the academic content of the E-Bacc, it is still the case that the government are monopolising the metric by which schools are measured.

I think there are two problems with this: one, it is essentially not transparent. Parents and taxpayers deserve the right to see all the data on a school and to make up their own view of it. If a parent would prefer to send their child to a school that excels at art and drama, not the E-Bacc subjects, then I do think they should be able to see information which helps them make this choice. Likewise, parents with pupils at the bottom or top of the ability range might like to see information about a school that isn’t just about how well it boosts D grade students to C grade students.

Secondly, the E-Bacc is still one measure. And we know from the experience of previous metrics I have outlined above that Goodhart’s Law holds true in education – that is, the minute a measure becomes a target, it ceases to have any value as a measure. So how do we get reliable targets? I would argue for as many different measures as possible. Thus, if a school try to focus all their energies on one, to the detriment of others, then that will quickly become apparent.