Exam tables mislead parents, study shows

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GOVERNMENT exam league tables to be published this week mislead parents because they fail to reveal bad schools and make average schools look good, according to research to be released tomorrow.

David Jesson, of Sheffield University's department of education, argues that league tables adjusted to allow for pupils' ability or background give a completely different picture from the raw results presented by the Government.

He says the weakness of some schools is disguised in government tables because they have an above-average proportion of able children. Other schools, which appear mediocre, are doing very well, given their intake.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, has mounted a determined offensive to lessen the impact of the commission's report by announcing a new 'starred' A- level for brighter students, and this week will produce the exam league tables.

In a paper to a conference tomorrow, organised by Nottinghamshire County Council, Mr Jesson will argue that fewer than half the schools that in last year's government league tables appeared to be performing well were actually doing so. Government tables picked out only a minority of the bad schools.

'Of those they missed, most had middling results and so would not show up in the (government) league tables as particularly good or bad but in fact many of these schools were under-performing, providing less good examination results for their pupils than if they had gone to more effective schools,' Mr Jesson says. 'Pupils attending these schools were at a real disadvantage. They should be doing better but the league tables had manifestly failed to detect such a need. Parents need this information.'

By contrast, some schools that the league tables had classed as middling were doing extremely well by their pupils, he says.

In some authorities, measuring schools by looking at pupils' attainment at 11 and again at 16 is well established. In Shropshire, for instance, pupils' GCSE performances are compared with the result of a standard test taken at 11. If pupils at one school consistently achieve higher scores than might have been predicted by the result of the test at 11, then that school is performing well. If they achieve a lower than expected score, the school is under-performing.

Mr Jesson said: 'This week's tables are being presented as part of the Government's commitment to giving parents full information. They are not. They are constituted in such a way that they misinform parents. They should be abolished because they are clearly not doing the work the Government intended them to do.'

The Department for Education said that Sir Ron Dearing, head of the Government's curriculum and testing review, had commissioned research on the best way of measuring school performance. Value-added league tables were being considered but would not be possible until arrangements for national testing were fully in place in five years' time.

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