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Bog-standard comps do as well as the specialists

'Value-added' scores seem fairer to those with tougher intakes - but are they too complex to be useful? Julie Henry reports.

SPECIALIST schools are no better than "bog-standard" comprehensives at helping their pupils progress, a new government measure shows.

The new "value-added" scores are based on the progress pupils make between 11 and 14 and between key stage 3 and GCSEs. Scores above 100 represent schools where pupils made more progress than average and vice versa.

Statistics from the Department for Education and Skills showed that its flagship specialist schools scored on average 100 between 11 and 14, while non-specialist schools scored 99.8. The difference between the two at GCSE was also negligible.

In the 5 per cent of schools that added most value, comprehensives, including specialist schools, dominate at GCSE. But grammar schools appear to get more out of their 11 to 14-year-olds. Girls' schools seem to do a particularly good job in pushing pupils forward, in both key stages.

But the sheer complexity of the measure, which even ministers acknowledge, has angered some experts who say it is useless as a tool for measuring improvement or for parents trying to choose a school.

The Government claims that one point on the KS2 to KS3 measure equates to a term's progress, or a sixth of a national curriculum level. For instance, a score of 101 means the school's pupils made one term's more progress than is usual for pupils with similar KS2 scores. Conversely, a score of 99 means that the school pupils made a term's less progress. From KS3 to GCSE, one point equates to pupils gaining, on average, one grade higher than expected at GCSE.

However, Professor David Jesson, of York University, condemned the tables as unnecessarily complicated and misleading.

"If you do badly at KS3, you can look like you are a good school between KS3 and GCSE, which you might not necessarily be."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:

"There are lies, damn lies and league tables. The value-added tables that purport to place schools in rank order are perpetuating the damaging myths of the crude and unfair tables based on five A* to C pass rates."

However, schools that have done well in the value-added tables have defended them.

Peter Allan, head of Whitmore high school, Harrow, which was one of the best value-added state schools at both key stages, scoring 101 and 104, said: "Our five A* to C score is 66 per cent so there are schools with higher league table positions. This shows the difference we make to pupils across the ability range."

An 11 to 16 value-added measure will be used in the league tables next year.

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