Government league tables ‘punish’ schools by failing to take pupil background into account

'The higher the proportion of disadvantaged pupils, the more a school will be punished'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Thursday 24 January 2019 01:07 GMT
The study comes ahead of the secondary school performance tables being released
The study comes ahead of the secondary school performance tables being released

Government league tables “punish” schools by ignoring pupils’ backgrounds, a new study says.

A fifth of secondary schools saw their league table position change by more than 500 places once pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special needs were taken into account, researchers found.

The new study, from the University of Bristol, suggests that 40 per cent of schools currently judged to be underperforming would no longer fall into this category if these factors were considered.

It comes ahead of the publication of the government’s secondary school performance tables today.

Researchers say that the ranking system has led to the “wrong schools” being rewarded.

The analysis, of the 2016 data from all 3,098 state secondary schools in England, adds that league tables punish schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students.

Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein, both from the University of Bristol, looked at the government’s headline measure, Progress 8, which assesses pupil progress across eight GCSEs.

Progress 8, introduced in 2016, has been deemed a fairer league table measure by the government as it takes prior attainment into account and removes the focus on the C/D grade borderline.

But critics have argued that it punishes schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

The new report warns this could lead to schools gaming the system by not admitting pupils, such as those with special educational needs, as they are less likely to make progress during their schooling.

The researchers combined Progress 8 information with information on student background - age, gender, ethnicity, whether pupils speak English as an additional language, special educational needs, free school meal eligibility and deprivation.

Dr Leckie said: "By factoring in vital information about a pupil's background, we have seen a dramatic change in the league tables. This leads to very different interpretations and conclusions about education in England.

"It seems clear from our results that the higher the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school, the more it will effectively be punished for the national underperformance of these pupil groups.”

Under the current Progress 8 measure, researchers say there is a risk that truly effective schools in disadvantaged areas are going undetected.

Eligibility for free school meals and a pupil's ethnicity were shown to be the most important characteristics to consider.

Dr Leckie added: "The Department for Education's decision to ignore pupil background when comparing schools is in stark contrast to both the academic literature and feedback from teachers.

"At the moment, the simplistic nature of Progress 8 as a measure places too much emphasis on schools rather than the government or society as a whole.”

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Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "League tables have lost their credibility.

“Everyone understands that test and exam scores are only part of the picture when judging a pupil's performance or a school's effectiveness, so we should stop using them on their own,” he added.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We publish a wide range of performance data, including Progress 8 scores and what pupils go on to do after school or college, to help parents decide on a school for their children and for schools to measure their performance.

“We do not put schools into league tables.

"Our school accountability measures reflect our high expectations for all pupils, whatever their background."

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