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Making sense of the data

Neil Munro explains the ins and outs of this year's school performance tables

The Education Management Information Service, based within East Renfrewshire Council, provides the detailed information on performance that schools really value.

Its analysis of exam figures continues the system set up by the former Strathclyde Region and allows comparisons between schools of similar performance and their subject departments. Eleven of the 12 former Strathclyde authorities (South Lanarkshire is the exception) have contracts. Clackmannanshire and Stirling have also signed up.

Bill Coyle, the region's former chief inspector, who helps run the service, believes that smaller authorities will come under greater pressure to explain schools' performances. "The smaller the school and the smaller the number of schools in any council area, the greater and more obvious will be the swings from year to year," Mr Coyle says.

"It will be important for them to know that, for example, their maths results are down this year compared with other similar schools."

Bob Tennent, who heads the team, says its contribution is to help schools see behind average scores.

While the socio-economic backgrounds of a school's intake are analysed along with the proportions of free meals and clothing grants, they are only one of four measures - and, Mr Coyle adds, the least important one.

The other three are average scores in English, maths, science and the social subjects, the "within school" performance profile and the assessment of departments in a sample of 10 similarly performing schools.

Schools are then placed on a scale of one to seven showing which are performing above, in line with or below expectation. It is this analysis which gave St Mungo's in Glasgow its "dramatic" Standard grade improvement (whereas the Scottish Office tables consign the school to 14th place out of Glasgow's 39 secondaries for Standard grades 1-2 and 13th for Standard grades 1-4).

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