Research claims that school league tables are 'meaningless'

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

The Government will publish its annual school league tables tomorrow, amid criticism from experts who have dismissed them as meaningless.

A report to be published shortly in a Royal Statistical Society journal will argue that the figures are flawed. Its authors say the vast majority of schools do not have enough pupils taking GCSEs and A-levels to provide a reliable statistical base.

Harvey Goldstein, of London University's Institute of Education, who led the study and presented it to the society last week, found that in one local authority, the margins of error were so wide that the schools could have been ranked in almost any order.

His findings will add weight to the view of almost the entire educational world, that social factors play a much larger role in examination performance than schools. Professor Goldstein does say, however, that the schools at the very top of the list are better than those at the very bottom.

But most parents who are looking a school will examine the tables before choosing on the basis of other factors, most commonly the child's opinion.

The tables will show that , once again, girls' schools are achieving higher results than boys' schools and that the gap between the lowest and highest-achieving pupils is continuing to widen.

Another study published today will show that the league tables have forced local authorities to work on improving pupils' examination scores at the expense of essential literacy projects in primary schools.

The research, carried out for the Association of London Government, also claims that London's schools have improved their exam results by a third since 1990.

It shows that school improvement programmes are now weighted heavily in favour of secondary schools, and that they concentrate largely on GCSE and A-level scores.

The association gathered information from two out of three London authorities about the work they were doing to raise standards in their schools.

The most popular type of scheme was aimed at interpreting exam results, usually in order to analyse an area's league table scores. The second and third most common were aimed at raising GCSE and A- level performance.

Schemes to improve literacy among primary school pupils came 13th in order of popularity. Other widely used measures included studies of parental perceptions of a school's strengths or weaknesses and programmes to combat truancy - also measured in the league tables.

The report suggests that local authorities should place more emphasis on raising standards in primary schools, as well as helping schools to set targets for their future performance.

A second study in the same report analyses GCSE scores in terms of how many pupils gained a pass grade from A-G instead of looking at percentages of A-C grades, as most analysts do. It shows that when the performances of less able pupils are taken into account, London's schools can be shown to have improved steadily.

The tables, which will be published in a special supplement in the Independent, include GCSE and A-Level scores.