Government performance tables

by therealityofschool

The government performance tables of exam results are published in the January after the previous June exams and are misleading – some of the schools with the best exam results appear low in the league table. The reason for this is that the Department for Education uses performance tables to force state schools to behave in certain ways.

Only the first sitting of a GCSE ‘counts’ for the performance tables. This is because the government was (rightly) annoyed with schools putting pupils in early for exams and then resitting if necessary. So the performance table results of many schools understate how well they have actually done – many pupils took a GCSE early (the one which counts in the table) but went on to gain a higher grade thereafter.

The International GCSE is not counted in the government league tables and so the most ambitious schools, who put pupils in for iGCSEs because they are more stretching than GCSEs, are penalised. Many top schools, such as Harrow, Winchester and Eton, put pupils in for iGCSE maths and English and are recorded as having no passes in those subjects! The reason most iGCSEs are not counted is that the government wishes to discourage state schools from offering them. They are worried that if state schools opt for the iGCSE this will undermine the take-up of the reformed GCSEs, the first exams for which are in 2017 and 2018.

The government chooses to score vocational courses as having the same value as academic GCSEs. They are recorded as if they were GCSEs which they are not.

The performance tables for GCSEs and A-levels have a score for value added, or progress, which IS very valuable and partly a reflection of the quality of teaching (except in the case of schools doing iGCSEs in which case it is meaningless). Progress or value added is measured by comparing a child’s Key Stage 2 results in reading, writing and maths (tests taken at age 11) with their GCSE results. Value added at age 18 is measured by comparing GCSE results with A-level results.

I say ‘partly’ a measure of quality of teaching because the data shows that more able children tend to make better progress than those with a lower ability, so a school’s intake affects this measure too. In the performance tables there is a Progress 8 measure (progress in your best eight GCSEs) which is valuable although it gives a double weighting to English and maths because Ministers think these are twice as important as other subjects (which they may be, who knows?).

The government also uses measures of the proportion of pupils doing well in what at GCSE they call EBacc subjects (maths, English, sciences, computer science, modern languages, history and geography) and at A-level they call ‘facilitating subjects’ – those which are those favoured by the Russell Group of good universities. These are both an attempt by the government to nudge schools towards mainstream subjects and in the case of the EBacc it has worked.

So the performance tables published by the Department of Education are in part information for prospective parents, in part a tool used by the Department to influence state school behaviour.