Heads say figures for truancy do not add up: School League tables: Backlash follows release of results, published in a special 'Independent' supplement today

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MINISTERS were yesterday struggling to defend new school league tables which give truancy figures as well as examination results, saying that parents were being given more information about schools than ever before.

Their critics, including two Conservative authorities, said the Government had got its truancy figures wrong and head teachers said they would mislead parents.

The tables, which include 5,239 state and fee-paying schools, show wide variations between schools in both GCSE and A-level results and in truancy figures. They cost pounds 1.9m and were compiled for the Department for Education by private contractors.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said: 'The tables I am publishing today take forward the information revolution promised in the Parent's Charter. Well-informed parental choice and informed questioning from parents give schools an incentive to improve.'

Few educationalists support the publication of the tables, and the new truancy figures have met with particularly strong criticism. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the collection of the figures was fraught with difficulties.

'These tables tell you absolutely nothing about the reasons for absence. Some unauthorised absence is condoned by parents. Children who are late are sometimes marked absent. Some pupils are adept at registering at the beginning of the session and then walking off,' he said.

Last night, Labour's education spokeswoman, Ann Taylor, said two Conservative-controlled authorities had spoken out against the truancy tables. Westminster had complained that its truancy figures were too high, and Kensington and Chelsea, with the country's worst truancy figures, was also highly critical of the exercise.

Mrs Taylor said: 'Parents want information, but not if it is misleading as these league tables clearly are.'

Manchester also complained that its truancy figures were far too high. The city said the department had miscalculated its pupil numbers by more than 10,000. The city's chief education officer, Roy Jobson, has written to Mr Patten to ask for an explanation. 'If they can't get the basic numbers right, what trust can you put in the whole exercise?' he asked.

In some areas, state schools such as the Coopers Company and Coburn School in Upminster, Essex, outclassed all the local independent schools. Other top comprehensives included St Albans School for Girls in Hertfordshire, with 90 per cent, and Old Swinford Hospital School in Dudley, West Midlands, with 89 per cent. However, the only schools where 100 per cent of the pupils gained five or more A-C grades at GCSE were either selective or independent. The top independent school was King Edward's, Birmingham, where the average A-level points score was 37.4, giving 10 points for an A and two points for an E.

Many independent schools were unhappy with the way they were represented in the tables. Those that put large numbers of pupils into the GCSE exam a year early found that these results were excluded, leading to anomalies. For example, it appeared that St Paul's Girls School, one of London's leading independent day schools, had only 94 per cent of pupils passing GCSE with five or more A-C grades, when many had done the exams at the age of 15.

A spokeswoman for the department said that all figures were checked with the schools, but that a number of schools in Manchester, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea had not supplied information.

------------------------------------------------------------------------ % of secondary school pupils missing one or more half days - best 9 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Isles of Scilly 0 2 Kingston-upon-Thames 3 3 Suffolk 3 4 Somerset 4 5 Enfield 4 6 Harrow 5 7 Buckinghamshire 5 8 Bury 5 9 Sutton 5 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ % of secondary school pupils missing one or more half days - worst 10 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (National average - 12) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Kensington and Chelsea 46 2 Manchester 45 3 City of Westminster 44 4 Hammersmith and Fulham 41 5 Lambeth 40 6 Southwark 39 6 Tower Hamlets 39 8 Islington 37 9 Hackney 35 10 Newham 33 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Top 10 authorities ------------------------------------------------------------------------ (Based on the percentage of pupils gaining five GCSEs at grades A-C) - Last year's position in brackets (England average: 41.1%) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Isles of Scilly 75 (1) 2 Kingston upon Thames 52.4 (3) 3 Sutton 50.1 (5) 4 North Yorkshire 47.4 (9) 5 West Sussex 47.2 (4) 6 Surrey 47 (7) 7 Buckinghamshire 46.8 (12) 8 Bury 46.2 (17) 9 Stockport 45.8 (18) 10 Barnet 45.4 (10) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Bottom 10 authorities ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1 Knowsley 16.6 (105) 2 Southwark 18.2 (108) 3 Tower Hamlets 18.9 (106) 4 Barking and Dagenham 19.3 (107) 5 Islington 20 (101) 6 Manchester 20.5 (103) 7 Lambeth 21.1 (104) 8 Newham 22 (100) 9 Sandwell 22.1 (98) 10 Hackney 23.7 (102) ------------------------------------------------------------------------