Statistics review raises schools productivity

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The Independent Online

An attempt to find a better way of measuring public sector output could transform a marked slump in state school productivity into a robust improvement, it emerged yesterday.

Official figures showed that productivity in state schools had fallen in every year of the Labour Government, declining by an average of 1 per cent a year since 1995. Input costs rose 2 per cent a year while the quality of output rose just 1 per cent, the Government's own statisticians said yesterday.

But an interim report by the Office for National Statistics, which attempted to gauge output based on exam results, found that productivity could be as high as 2 per cent a year. The report is part of a major review of public sector accounts to meet new European-wide rules.

The ONS said the output measure was based on the number of pupils with an adjustment of 0.25 per cent to reflect improved GCSE results. "This needs updating and revising, particularly as recent GCSE results show continued improvement over the period 1995 to 2004," it said. "Moreover there are further benefits to education than just pupil attainment. The economic benefits include increased income from higher employment and wages and education helps build human capital."

As a result the ONS has used a measure of the number of pupils achieving five or more GCSE passes at A* to C grade, which has risen from 40 to 52 per cent over the past nine years. It said it had also included an assumption that improved standards of education boosted real earnings - wages growth over and above inflation - by 1.5 per cent a year. This left productivity showing a 2 per cent annual gain. But using results from the four key state tests at ages seven 11, 14 and 16 showed no gain over the past decade.

The ONS acknowledged that the Government's figures for A* to C did not carry its own "quality mark" but denied accusations of political interference over its choice of the measure. Karen Dunnell, the national statistician, said: "We are trying to demonstrate what happens to productivity measures when we use measures that are common currency. Most people are interested in five A* to Cs as that is the Government's target."

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said the ONS acknowledged the current measure needed to be improved. "Education isn't like producing cars on a production line," she said. "Increased investment by this Government and better teaching has seen record increases in results for 11 and 14-year-olds in national tests, and the best-ever GCSE and A-level results."