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Stars may mark out the good neighbours

League tables could soon highlight a school's community work and creativity. Warwick Mansell reports

EXAM league tables could be changed to give "star ratings" on the quality of a school's support for the community, its extra-curricular programme or work to promote pupils' creativity.

In potentially one of the biggest alterations to the tables since they were introduced more than a decade ago, schools could be given ratings to supplement information about their exam results.

The plans, under investigation by 15 local education authorities, are still at an early stage and would need government approval.

However, Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, has said he backs the principle.

"I'm very keen on this generally because I think the presentation (of schools' achievements) to parents has to be very balanced. League tables only give a very partial picture," he said.

"It's very important that parents can know and understand the state of affairs in schools."

The authorities are investigating how such a scheme might work after Graham Badman, director of education in Kent, approached the Government's innovations unit with a proposal.

Although the unit has yet to approve funding for a pilot project formally, Mr Badman said it had encouraged him to contact other authorities to investigate taking it further.

The councils will start working with headteachers next term to see how a scheme, in which schools could be rated on community support, creativity and extra-curricular work as well as academic results, might work.

Kent has more grammar schools than any other authority and Mr Badman said the project had been inspired in part by the good work done by non-selective schools which often languished near the bottom of the tables.

Value-added scores, introduced recently by the Government, were one approach to this problem but were complicated for parents to understand.

He said: "When you look at how parents judge a school, they look for a whole raft of things beyond academic attainment, such as the school's values and ethos and what it offers, for example, in sport and the arts. We want to look at those other factors that enrich a school, asking whether it is possible to quantify them and get an index of achievement in these other areas."

A range of potential pitfalls present themselves, such as how activities like supporting the local community would be quantified, and who would assess schools' work in these areas.

Mr Badman acknowledged that the move could be interpreted by schools as loading on yet another extra layer of bureaucracy. But he said the response from heads in his own authority had been positive.

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "I'm not the world's biggest fan of league tables, but if local authorities are thinking outside the box and volunteering information other than exam and test results, that sounds worthwhile."

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