The era of publishing raw examination data is officially dead, following the first meeting last week of the action group on school standards. The group, meeting under the chairmanship of the Education Minister, was unanimous in dismissing league tables as irrelevant to improving pupil performance and positively harmful to morale in those schools propping up the tables at the bottom.
Brian Wilson believes that publishing raw figures is counter to the Government's policy of developing "clear, realistic and achievable targets" for each primary and secondary school.
The Scottish Office will publish this year's Standard grade and Higher results in the normal way in November but "in a value-added context". Mr Wilson told The TES Scotland: "It would be perverse for anyone to extract crude league tables from this since they will be subordinate to the value-added information. In the light of the way the information is handled this year, I will review the position for next year."
From the start of next session schools will be set targets over a three-year period, concentrating initially on literacy and numeracy at the 5-14 stages and on performance at Standard grade and Higher. In 2001, new targets will be set for 2004.
Mr Wilson has already made clear that he accepts the case, pressed to no avail on the previous administration, for social and economic circumstances to be taken into account in setting the targets which would link current performance to that of similar but better performing schools.
The action group will consider how a "school characteristic index" developed by the Inspectorate can be applied to each school. The initial preference is for the index to be compiled on the basis of the number of free meals and the proportion of parents with higher education qualifications. Free meals are already widely used by councils, along with clothing and footwear grants, to determine levels of deprivation and assess need.
Parent qualifications are not normally used as a measure in analysing school performance. But research carried out by Edinburgh University's Centre for Educational Sociology, notably with the former Grampian Region, established educational background as one of the most reliable predictors of children's performance.
But ministers are anxious that schools should not use the figures as an alibi for poor performance. Arguably, the new system will put even greater pressure on schools since the index will compare how they are expected to perform with how they actually do. This will identify schools in comfortable settings which might be "coasting" as well as schools in less advantaged areas which may be performing beyond expectations.
Data collected by the Inspectorate's audit unit, building on the pioneering work carried out by the former Strathclyde schools inspectorate, shows schools in very similar situations turn in vastly different results. Inspectors will increasingly focus on these major variations.
The Scottish moves are in line with proposals issued last week by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority for England and Wales. A consultation paper on Target Setting and Benchmarking in Schools suggests schools should be grouped according to the number of pupils taking free meals and whether a majority of pupils speak English as a second language.
* The full membership of the action group on standards is: Andrew Cubie, former chairman of the CBI in Scotland; Anne Dean, assistant director of human resources at the Royal Bank of Scotland; Joyce Ferguson, head of Abercromby primary, Tullibody; Alison Kirby, convener of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council; John MacBeath, director of the Quality in Education Centre; Elizabeth Maginnis, education convener in Edinburgh; Bruce Malone, head of St Andrew's Secondary, Glasgow; Andrew Miller, principal of Stirling University; David Miller, chairman of the Scottish Qualifications Authority; Douglas Osler, senior chief inspector of schools (vice-chairman); Ann Reeve, senior teacher at Kinloch primary, Carnoustie; Iain Rose, principal teacher of history at Lochaber High; Bill Speirs, deputy general secretary of the STUC; John Travers, president of the Association of Directors of Education; John Ward, chairman of the Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets.
New fortunes, TES2, page 23