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League tables provoke uproar

Teachers and parents say performance rankings will be misleading.

Teachers and parents in Victoria are outraged at plans by the Conservative state government to publish league tables of secondary schools based on the results of students in their final year.

The uproar will evoke a sense of deja vu for those in the UK. Under the plan, the government will publish the names of the top 10 per cent of students in Year 12 and the schools they attend. It will be the first time in Australia that such a list has been published, although some states do release the names of their top students but not the schools.

The scheme has been bitterly condemned by private and public schoolteachers who say that ranking schools by students' grades will only give a false and misleading picture of school performance.

While the Opposition Labor party warned that a league table would pit school against school, the government said the aim was to reward achieving students. Publishing a list would recognise students' academic and sporting success and also programmes for disadvantaged students.

The state president of the Australian Education Union, Mr Peter Lord, said recognising student achievement was not the real point of the plan. "That's just a nice way of saying you will allow invidious comparisons of the schools those students went to," Mr Lord said.

He said the lists would not accurately reflect the quality of teaching. League tables did not take account of any of the known research about the advantages in terms of resources and family background that students and schools started with. Academics also condemned the idea, saying that to list the best students and their schools would merely reflect socio-economic factors known to influence educational performance.

Dr Tony Townsend, director of the South Pacific centre for school and community development at Monash University, said if the government wanted to recognise achievement it should provide the full picture. When listing the student's name and school, it should also list the fees paid by parents so a judgment could then be made about value for money.

"The government seems to be squeezing state schools of the resources they need while trying to blame them for any lack of success this might cause," Dr Townsend said. He predicted that eight in 10 of the top 10 per cent of students would emerge from high-fee, non-government schools. "So why bother doing it in the first place?" . A process of promoting some schools to the disadvantage of others would result in a two-tier system of education and this was not in Victoria's interests, Dr Townsend said.

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