Headlines: May 29th, 2008

Parents are being warned today not to rely on school league tables to judge how good or bad a school maybe. In an article published in ‘Significance’, the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society, researchers from the University of Bristol conclude that Government use of league tables is unjustified.

Statisticians from the University looked at GSCE scores from secondary schools in England and compared the value added scores with straight forward GCSE averages. Their study shows these can differ substantially.

The study’s lead author, Professor Harvey Goldstein, from Bristol’s Centre for Multilevel Modelling, said, “By publishing both sets of data, schools can pick and choose which version they use and parents need to be aware of what they are looking at.”

The research concludes that the most important factor in choosing a school is future performance as those about to go into secondary education will take their GCSEs six years later.Taking these predictions into account, the researchers say, shows that fewer than 5 per cent of schools could be significantly separated from the average or from one another.

Professor Goldstein said the use of league tables, whether for schools, police forces or hospitals, rested on shaky scientific foundations and current evidence suggested that they could not safely be used for the purposes put forward by the government in terms of institutional choice or accountability. “From the results of our study itis clear that the government should take note of the evidence and cease the production and present use of school league tables, “ he added.