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League tables 'misrepresent up to 40% of secondaries'

Information published in school league tables provides an inaccurate picture of as many as four in 10 of the country's secondary schools, according to leading academics.

The problem is that league tables only give a picture of a school's performance based on the average number of students achieving the threshold target of five good GCSEs including English and maths. However, many schools are either "substantially" better or worse than their averages suggest, according to Institute of Education research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The paper states that having a single measure for school league tables is often misleading for parents.

"If able students do very well but less able students do poorly, using the average is a poor guide for parents as to what to expect of that institution for their child," it says.

Schools should instead be made to publish attainment data that shows whether a child is academically strong, average or weak before entering the school, the study argues. This would give parents a better idea of how a school is performing and would also prevent schools from "gaming" league tables.

Teaching unions have long complained about the use of data in league tables, arguing that it paints an unfair image of schools and leads to teaching to the test.

The research chimes with some of the reforms being brought in by the Government, which wants to introduce a range of league-table performance measures, such as a child's prior attainment.

However, education secretary Michael Gove has said that the five A*-C GCSE measure will still be considered the main indicator.

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