The responses to our announcement on Tuesday of our project to publish alternative league tables have been illuminating. They fell into three broad categories:
The first and by far the most widespread was a warm welcome to this initiative. School leaders – deeply frustrated by the government’s decision not to include final GCSE results in official tables – wanted us to do this. They would not have had a problem if the government had published both first and final entry, but not to include the actual outcomes students achieve was an extraordinary decision.
It was not only school leaders who welcomed the initiative. They were joined by stakeholders from all parts of the education system who applauded the decision by the profession to step up and be agents of its own accountability – a move which they saw as a real step towards a self-improving, school-led system. Many saw this initiative as a way of protecting schools from the vagaries of political whim by moving some of the control over what is published back to the professionals.
The second type of response, which was much smaller in volume, was to question whether the tables would be a cynical move by the profession to mislead the public with inaccurate data. The low trust culture was alive and well in such responses. Of course we will have to rely on schools to upload their own data but the whole point of this initiative is to provide full and accurate information. We have no interest in doing anything other than that. We wish the government had done that, but they haven’t, and the official data from DfE will be added to the website when published.
The third response was the most interesting to me. During the large amount of radio coverage, including several phone-in programmes, the discussion focussed on what makes a good school. Numerous parents and members of the public expressed frustration at the constant emphasis on examinations to the exclusion of other aspects of a good education. Many were quite exasperated at the focus on academic results that has dominated government policy. I found myself in the somewhat unexpected situation of arguing along the lines of: "Yes, I agree with you entirely. Exams are only part of a good education, but they are important and it is essential that you know what outcomes the school is achieving.” What then followed was a really worthwhile and valuable discussion about what makes a good school. What parents valued included the following:
excellent relationships between teachers and students
a climate of mutual respect and trust, excellent teaching which motivates students, raises their aspirations, encourages them and enables them to take the kind of risks in their learning which extend the boundaries of their understanding
a broad and balanced curriculum offer which prepares them for life as well as further study
opportunities for young people to develop character and resilience
a range of wider opportunities such as music, drama and sports.
Above all there was a strong agreement that while data is important and these performance tables will help, they are no replacement for visiting a school, talking to teachers and students and experiencing the ethos at first hand.
All of this echoed strongly the feedback we received throughout the discussion about the purpose of education during the Great Education Debate that has been running over the last year.
This year the alternative tables will focus solely on GCSE. Our data will be published well before anything official comes out, making it really useful to parents during the admissions process. After that we want to consult parents about what other information they might find useful. Many would rightly point out that a vast amount of information is already available elsewhere about individual schools and there is certainly no wish to produce unnecessary duplication or bureaucratic burdens which bring no benefit. However, if we are providing a useful service to parents and other stakeholders then what could be wrong with the profession taking a lead?
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