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Beware school league tables

By Danny Harrington

We are often faced by parents based in Asia looking to choose UK schools for their children who base almost all of the decision on school ‘league table’ position. It is very difficult to change, or at least balance out, this mindset. People have used it as the starting basis from which to begin considering schools and have heard it referenced by others. It seems, at face value, to offer a solid factual basis from which to begin making choices. So parents often find they are unwilling to let go of this information as a solid basis on which to make decisions. And yet, to many educators, it is so fundamentally flawed as to be worse than useless.

This has been highlighted once more in today’s Guardian which addresses one of the key problems with the tables – the issue of ‘off-rolling’. Under this process, pupils who look like they are not going to gain grades necessary to uphold a school’s place in the league tables are not entered for examinations thus reducing the total population of a school’s exam taking cohort and increasing its success percentage.

There are other corruptions that the current system has led to since its introduction in 1992. Some relate to the quality of teaching such as teaching ‘to tests’ rather than a broad and rich curriculum of learning, and a concentration of effort into pupils predicted marginally ‘failing grades’ in an effort to get them above the line. Some, like ‘off-rolling’, are a more direct and cynical attempt to game the system, such as entering pupils for ‘easier’ subjects. In addition, the stress on both staff and pupils of making such an effort to address the collective position of the schools exam outcomes takes away from everyone quality of school life. These issues are dealt with in extreme depth by an excellent study from the University of Bristol Graduate School of Education published in late 2016.

So what should parents do? Well we cannot discount exam results entirely and it is important to see significant quality in exam outcomes. The simplest questions that can be asked is how many pupils took exams and how many subjects they took on average. One might also ask about results in key academic subjects such as Maths, English and Sciences. But at the end of the day, even these figures are only a small element of the decision making process. We must never lose sight of the fact that our child is not someone else’s child. Other people’s exam results are not a very accurate measure of how our own children will perform down the track. We need to pull together all the information we have, both qualitative and quantitative, to make decisions on the best learning environment for our children. Giving them a broad set of both academic and non-academic learning experiences for as long as possible provide the best possible basis for a healthy, well-balanced and successful individual to emerge. That is what we should be looking for when choosing a school or a non-traditional educational pathway into adulthood.

ITS Education Asia provides alternative pathways and experiences leading to global qualifications from secondary school to degree level. Visit our website for more.

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