There is a human obsession, almost a reflex reaction, to do the opposite of what you are told if it is said with urgency. Tell a pupil, or colleague, “Don’t look out that window!” And there is an almost certainty that they will. Someone emailed me that window this week and told me it was too disgusting to read: those cobbled-together league tables, claiming to show the list of Scotland’s schools from the best to the worst.
On a statistical basis, it got me irritated before we even began. For example, there is a primary school in Edinburgh which, the paper claimed, sees 17 per cent of its pupils achieve five Highers before the end of P7. Wow! Other schools were missing and another few primary schools were added in, too. Hmmm, something tells me the reliability of this paper’s report was somewhat in question.
Pupils at one of the schools who were missed off the list were despondent: “Are we not good enough to even make the list?” Other teachers took to Twitter to offload their frustrations of pupils suddenly feeling they were in one of the worst schools in Scotland. It must be true, it was in The Sun!
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Parents would, obviously, look at the list too. Why would they not? Can they move their child to a school three miles away just to bump a few places up the list? Maybe. But is that a move to a better school?
Does a school’s position in that list really reflect their status as a good school? I am sure we all know the answer to that one. Were there any caveats placing a school’s SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) data? In fact, was there even the most simple of contexts added to the report? Nope – nothing at all.
Collective voices across the education world in Scotland took to social media in disgust. In one single cheap headline there were errors, omissions, lack of context but, even more, absence of context and massive negative effect on families and pupils in particular. What does a 15-year-old preparing for his or her first exams think when they read that their school is 20 places lower than their neighbouring school? Should they move schools?
A perpetual question surrounds education: is education an art or a science? Perhaps believers in this uncontextualised listing of schools believes that we do, indeed, live in a scientifically provable education puzzle. More fool them.
For my own blood pressure, I have come to try and find the good in all the efforts that are produced in connection to our schools. What good can we find in this crude attempt at a league tables? Solidarity? All the teachers, at all positions on the magic list of goodness, came together to disown it. It gave us all a chance to growl at the root source of the trouble: people’s obsession with league tables.
At least, then, this month’s school league tables brought the profession together – so they are good for something after all.
Eddie White is a maths teacher in Scotland