League table information based on the percentage of Year 11 pupils who gained five or more A* to C GCSE is “frequently misinterpreted as a measure of the quality or educational effectiveness of schools. Such an interpretation is invalid as no recognition is made for intake differences between schools in pupils’ academic abilities: the highest-scoring schools are largely those that already had the highest-achieving pupils when they entered secondary education.” So says a report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS)
about Contextual Value Added (CVA) scores which factors in such things as socio-economic disadvantage. The IFS hopes that its report will encourage debate about the presentation of CVA scores by the Government and the media, and about how to increase public understanding of the uncertainty surrounding school league tables.
It’s a pity that the report will not be heeded because the Government decided to scrap CVA while the IFS report was being compiled.
A further IFS report
listed problems with league tables:
1 They only focus on academic achievement measured in a limited manner.
2 Schools are held “accountable for outcomes over which they have little control”.
3 Because there is little “statistically rigorous evaluations of specific interventions”, schools face a deluge of “conflicting and poorly-grounded advice” about which practices to adopt.
4 Data used for accountability purposes is not the same as that required by parents when making choices about schools.
5 Schools may be “differentially effective for different types of student”. This factor has not been taken into account sufficiently.
6 Teacher performance is the most important factor in pupil achievement but the tables focus on school performance.
7 Non-cognitive skills (eg attitudes and behaviours) risk being neglected when the focus is on “a narrow academic measure of performance”.
8 League tables encourage “undesirable behaviours” by schools which could have a negative impact on pupils.
The Government should take heed of this report. However, similar warnings from the OECD about league tables and the undue emphasis on raw test results have been ignored. The IFS and the OECD are not telling the Government what it wants to hear so their research will be brushed aside.