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GCSE League Tables Harm Students

Results matter, of course – but when school leaders play the league table game, they risk causing untold damage to the young people, and communities, they serve, says Vic Goddard...

  • GCSE League Tables Harm Students

First of all, I need to point out that I am writing this before the GCSE and A Level results have come out, so I’ve had to use my crystal ball!

Nonetheless, as you read this you will definitely have seen a media headline in a local paper or regional BBC coverage saying “Every school in [your county or town] ranked from worst to best!”

You will also have picked up a statement from the DfE defending league tables stating “the DfE does not produce league tables it simply publishes the results.”

Both of these statements are probably accurate, but suffer from the huge denial of the importance of context.

They also miss the huge damage that can be done to individual young people, teachers and institutions by such claims.

Of course we are all accountable to the wider community, as we are public servants working with the most important and, potentially, vulnerable members of our society (sorry Mr Rees Mogg, Esq, MP but I couldn’t resist the comma).

However, there needs to be a clear understanding of the impact of these actions within the context of an educational system that is short of teachers and money.

Community needs

I recognise that certain decisions taken by school leaders – such as going on the TV, deciding not to enforce the EBacc at options time, and being inclusive when the rewards seem to go to those that aren’t (there’s plenty of Ofsted data available to support this btw) – mean we are often singled out when we are seen to fail from the blunt data released.

This cannot help in our context of 0.24 direct applications per teaching post advertised in the subjects that make up the bulk of our curriculum, and must be taken into consideration when we revisit all of our decisions annually as leaders.

So does that mean we should all comply with the government-driven curriculum, rather than our communities’ needs?

It would make the league table issue smaller, potentially. It could level the playing field somewhat.

However, the other data that is released (although ignored by the media), such as the percentage of young people that go on to be successful when they leave, can often give the picture of a school that is truly serving it’s community.

It is important to say that there is some hope. Damian Hinds’ action to remove ‘coasting’ and ‘floor’ measures will help. The new Ofsted framework could demonstrate the flexibility and maturity to not punish schools working in challenging circumstances that don’t blindly follow the EBacc curriculum. We will have to wait and see about that of course.

Collaboration and support

How, though, do we avoid the hideous divisiveness that exam results season seems to bring? How do we avoid making some young people and the staff that serve them feeling like failures, when they clearly are not?

One thing I’ve seen recently, from my son’s school, is how all headteachers in the area send out a single press release after the results, celebrating the effort of allyoung people without talking about individual outcomes. They basically don’t play the media game!

Obviously if your results place you ‘bottom’ of the local league table this is less of a sacrifice than if you are going to be top, though.

I do think it’s about time we took back control of the narrative around results, but this will take collaboration and support being placed above point scoring and competition.

Sadly, from my own experience, local politics do not always make that possible.

Secondly, we have to lose the annual ‘who’s got the most impressive banner’ competition that seems to run in the gap between results and open evenings.

Every school in the country can spin some part of their results to produce a ‘we are better than the rest’ banner – but what on earth are we trying to do to each other by doing that?

Wasting money and damaging cooperation seem to be the biggest outcomes.

In a world seemingly driven by beating the person/gender/country next to you I think we should be setting a different example; and our behaviour after results would be a good place to start.


Follow Vic Goddard on Twitter at @vicgoddard.

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