‘Good’ schools add little more value than ‘bad’ schools

Academics also find that increased use of performance-related pay and performance monitoring is ‘ineffective in schools’

Martin George

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The school a child attends only accounts for a “relatively small fraction” of the variation in exams results achieved by secondary school pupils, researchers have found.

Today’s report, Better Schools for All, also says that the increased use of performance-related pay and performance monitoring are “ineffective” in schools.

The authors used an analysis of large scale data, such as the annual school census of pupils and the school workforce census, to examine how much the choice of school affects academic attainment, and whether human resource management matters for school performance.

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When they looked at Progress 8, they found that in 2015-16, schools account for around 9 per cent of variance in pupils’ attainment.

Co-author David Wilkinson said: “Following a huge overhaul in state-funded education in the last decade or so, the proportion of variance in pupil attainment accounted for by schools has remained largely unchanged over that period, at around 10 per cent.

“Overall, while some school-led initiatives may have a part to play in attainment levels, it is likely that parental investments in children’s education and early years interventions could have significantly more influence on pupil attainment.”

Another co-author, Alex Bryson added: “This means that, although schools are clearly important for improving pupil attainment, attending a ‘good’ school only adds a small amount more value than attending a ‘bad’ school.”

The report concludes that “school choice may not be as important as the policy debate sometimes suggests”.

It also finds that management techniques that improve results in schools are different from those used in other sectors of the economy.

It says: “Schools benefit from increased use of rigorous hiring practices when selecting new recruits, employee participation mechanisms (such as team briefings), total quality management and careful record-keeping, none of which seem to improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy.

“By contrast, increased use of performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which do improve workplace performance elsewhere in the economy, are ineffective in schools.

“The only [human resource management] practice that benefits both schools and other workplaces is more intensive provision of training.”

The report also finds:

  • A change in headteacher has “no impact” on attainment in the time frame examined;
  • Headteacher characteristics “generally explained a relatively small part of the variation in school performance”;
  • A higher number of teachers in middle management was associated with better school performance, apart from schools in multi-academy trusts.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Standards are rising and we will always strive to make sure this remains the case. The gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has narrowed, we have record number of disadvantaged 18 year olds going onto universities and the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in education or apprenticeships is at its highest ever.

“We note that this study points to the benefits of becoming an academy. Thousands of pupils are benefiting from higher standards in their schools after converting to become academies and converter academies are performing well above the national average.

“Teaching is a popular career, and we want it to remain as such. That is why we are already taking wide-ranging action to strengthen the work-life balance and improve the wellbeing of teachers.

The report was published by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the UCL Institute of Education, and funded by the Nuffield Foundation.


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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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