Try harder, Balls: head teachers reject plan for 'scorecard'

At an annual conference, not one delegate backed the Secretary of State's big idea to grade schools
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Head teachers yesterday rejected a government proposal to grade every school in England and Wales. Ministers want to introduce a new "scorecard" for schools along the lines of a scheme being pioneered in New York – where every school is given a grade from A to E based on exam performance and pupil well-being.

The plan will be included in a government White Paper to be published in May and is likely to be the Schools Secretary Ed Balls's "big idea" for education at the next general election. However, on a show of hands at the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) – which represents secondary school head teachers – in Birmingham yesterday, not one delegate voted in favour of the single grade idea.

Delegates heard that in New York, those schools with A or B grades became eligible for rewards or bonuses for their teachers. Those with Ds and Fs – or even with Cs three years running – were subjected to a review that could lead to a replacement of the school leadership or even closure.

The "scorecard" will assess schools on a range of measures from exam performance to pupil well-being and discipline. If it follows the New York plan, these assessments will be averaged to give a single grade.

John Dunford, general secretary of ASCL, said the single grade would be analogous to the star rating system for hotels. "If you know a hotel is three star, it doesn't tell you anything you want to know about the hotel – what the food is like, what facilities it has to offer," he added.

Jane Lees, the union's president and head teacher of a comprehensive school in Wigan, Lancashire, said a school could be marked down for having a high detention rate – but this could improve behaviour and, consequently, exam results.

The union is in favour of introducing a scorecard assessing schools, provided it does not have a single grade and replaces controversial government exam league tables.

Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, one of the Government's most senior advisers, told the conference he backed the idea. "The existing system of accountability is simple, easily understood and very, very misleading," he said.

Dr Dunford told the conference he was concerned "we might be moving much too quickly to the New York report card".

Simon Everson, head teacher of the Skinners' School, a grammar school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, said: "In view of the overwhelming lack of enthusiasm and very real concerns, why aren't we simply opposing this?"

Mr Balls said at the conference that he "would not pre-empt" a decision on whether to introduce the single grade. All would be made clear in a White Paper expected in May.