School league tables should be taken out of the control of government and handed over to an independent body, according to the head of an exam board.
Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, said the problem with the current system was that the composition of tables reflected policy changes by different governments.
“As a result, what is included or excluded from league tables can vary considerably over time, making them, for all practical purposes, ineffective instruments for the objective tracking of changes in educational standards,” he said.
One of the exam boards Mr Lebus’ organisation runs – Cambridge International Examinations – has been hit by the government’s latest league-table decision, which will mean its flagship qualification the IGCSE disappears from school rankings as reformed GCSEs are introduced.
Mr Lebus recently accused the Department for Education (DfE) of trying to “rig” the tables in favour of the new GCSEs that ministers had demanded.
In an article published online by TES today, he said the lack of “any reliable measure of improvements in educational achievement” was a “real handicap” in determining which policies are most effective.
“The last government introduced primary legislation to set up Ofqual as an agency independent of government in order that it could be guaranteed that the government does not control the public exam system,” he writes.
“Is it not time that the compilation and publication of league tables, with all the judgements and decisions that are involved, was also handed over to an independent body?”
Headteachers' unions, an academy chain and the PiXL club grouping of schools have set up their own alternative league tables in response to recent government changes. But critics have claimed they are also unreliable as they allow schools to “pick and choose” the data they publish.
A DfE spokesman said: “Our plan for education is to ensure children of all backgrounds are leaving school prepared for life in modern Britain. Our accountability measures recognise gold-standard qualifications which will help young people secure a good job, apprenticeship or university course.
"We have taken steps to make our league tables clearer and more transparent and, in addition to our data, all schools must publish extensive information on their website – including pupil progress – to ensure that parents have the information to best inform their decisions.
"We have made important changes to a system that rewarded the wrong outcomes, making sure pupils take exams when they are ready, not before.”
'League tables should be taken away from government' – 4 February, 2015
IGCSEs would have encouraged 'race to the bottom', say ministers – 16 January, 2015
IGCSEs to be scrapped from league tables in exam overhaul – 1 July, 2014