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Don't dither over tables

The Scottish Executive has confirmed that it "has no plans" to produce value-added measures of school performance, along the lines now available or being considered for all other parts of the UK.

As secondary exam tables in England were published with value-added scores for the first time last week, the Executive's stance drew a critical response from Brian Wilson, the former education minister. "I find it pretty shocking that crude league tables continue in Scotland and nothing else," he told The TES Scotland.

Mr Wilson, the UK Energy Minister, called for the work undertaken by the action group on school standards which he chaired in 1997-98 to be developed quickly, a move supported by the Educational Institute of Scotland and the Association of Directors of Education.

He revealed that he would have axed league tables as soon as Labour came into office in 1997 but said "the best deal that I could strike was that they would be phased out while value added was being phased in".

In January 1998, Mr Wilson set up a joint steering committee of his own department and the education authorities to work on value-added approaches but nothing appears to have emerged publicly from its deliberations.

The publication of value-added scores in England means that Scotland risks being left behind in the analysis of school performance- although work in this area started in 1992. The other home countries have now caught up and are moving towards value-added measures of pupil progress, away from reliance on "raw" exam results.

Wales stopped publishing individual school results in July 2001 and began piloting a value-added model in secondary schools last year. Northern Ireland scrapped performance tables in January 2001.

In both cases, teachers and parents were consulted. Information on exam results will still be available to parents, but directly from schools not via nationally published tables.

In England, primary school scores to be published in the autumn will show the progress pupils have made between the ages of seven and 11.

But the Executive currently has no plans to scrap publication of raw exam results or to extend value-added work. Its education department sends schools what are known as STACS (standard tables and charts software).

These include value-added measures such as the predicted performance of pupils in Highers against their Standard grade results, thus providing a measure of how much schools have added between S4 and S5.

A spokesperson said: "This is not a published product, but is made available to schools and education authorities as a tool for self-evaluation purposes. "It includes a number of value-added measures but there are no plans to extend that work into published school level information. Its usefulness is at the individual school level, in allowing a school to look in a considered way at the performance of individual departments and of the school as a whole."

The reliability of the STACS information to generate value-added tables nationally was questioned by Mike Doig, president of the Headteachers'

Association of Scotland. Mr Doig said it worked well at subject and department level but was not "robust enough" even at school level.

In his opinion, the performance of schools in delivering the various national priorities was a more positive way forward. "More reams of data on exams would simply reinforce the impression that schools are just about attainment and we are about much more than that," Mr Doig said.

The only hope of any changes to the exam tables themselves appears to lie in the outcome of the ScotXed project (Scottish Exchange of Educational Data) which will collect census details on individual pupils for the first time.

This approach is currently being piloted and will allow the attainment of pupils to be related to other characteristics and to factors in their home areas.

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