Chalk Talk: The latest on league tables? You don't want to know

As with television programmes that are shown after the watershed, this story comes with its own health warning: teachers of a delicate disposition should look away now. Researchers at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University have come up with what they claim is conclusive evidence that exam league tables do improve schools' performances.

A study they carried out show that scrapping league tables in Wales had led to a fall in performance of almost two GCSE grades per pupil per year.

The fall is also more marked in schools serving disadvantaged areas – where it rises to three GCSE grades per pupil. In the top 25 per cent of schools, the decision to axe them has made little difference.

The figures are likely to be seized on by ministers to support their argument that league tables are here to stay.

I told you that you wouldn't like the story, but just think on this: if performance is going down, surely it nullifies that argument of the traditionalists that exams have been "dumbed down".

Otherwise, we are all going to hell in a handcart.

* There have been somewhat mixed messages from students protesting about the planned rise in tuition fees over the past fortnight.

When Business Secretary Vince Cable cancelled a meeting he was due to address at Oxford University because of a student protest, the reaction from the students organising it was: "Coward, he should come here and defend himself!"

Yet when, a week later his fellow Liberal Democrat minister Chris Huhne went to attend a meeting at the London School of Economics, the response was: "How dare he come here when he's back-tracking on his pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees."

Both cannot be right.

For what it is worth, I would rather see a minister defending himself in an awkward situation – as indeed the Universities Secretary David Willetts did at a University of London seminar a fortnight ago.

Maybe, though, the Conservative coalition ministers are quite the bête noires in this situation in the eyes of students.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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