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Tables didn't tell the story

Parents will have more information, not less, writes Education Minister Peter Peacock

Few things are more important to parents than their children's education.

The main thing they want to know is how their own children are doing and how they can support them. But they also want good information on their local schools.

Last year's national debate on education showed that many parents are worried about too narrow a focus on testing and exam results. They worry that this puts too much pressure on children, and that the breadth, richness and joy of learning are lost.

They want to know about exam results, but they also know that a school's position in a simplistic "league table" of exam results doesn't tell them all they really need to know.

In response to these concerns, I have recently set out why national "league tables" as a single measure of school performance are largely meaningless.

That is, of course, why the Scottish Executive has never published "league tables" - they are created by some elements of the media using national statistics.

It is also why we will no longer be publishing school exam results nationally in the same way as we have in the past.

Some have sought to portray my analysis of what is wrong with "league tables" as a signal that I am opposed to parents having information about the performance of pupils and schools - nothing could be further from the truth. As set out in our Partnership Agreement, we are committed to providing access to more meaningful information about schools' performance by reference to a range of factors, not exam results alone.

I want parents to be able to find out easily how their school is doing, how it compares to schools of a similar size or background and what sort of learning and support it offers pupils.

Such information allows communities to satisfy themselves that their local school is doing well, or to ask questions if it appears not to be. School managers can compare their own performance with that of others in similar circumstances and question how well they are doing and where improvements can be planned.

Simplistic "league tables" don't assist this cause, they hinder it by perpetuating a view that it is only exam results that determine how well a school is performing in serving the diverse needs of its pupils.

I don't believe that a school which is working with vulnerable or disadvantaged youngsters or equipping those with additional support needs for learning with literacy and numeracy skills is a failure if it doesn't get as many Highers as another school down the road. The reverse can also be true.

There is a wealth of information currently available on how schools perform - HMI inspection reports, pass rates, school handbooks, local authority plans - but it comes from a variety of sources. I want to make it easier to access key information, using website technology to provide it in a new format designed around the needs of parents.

The best information about schools is local information. School handbooks and local authority reporting tell parents a huge amount about schools in their area. But parents can find a national source helpful as a starting point.

Our aim is to give parents key facts about a school - including exam results, attendance figures and what happens to leavers - alongside school contact details, and a link to the school's website where that is available. Parents should be able to access information for all schools in one place, and make comparisons with national and local authority averages, if they want to.

Parents should be able to access other information, such as HMI's website where they can read inspection reports. We will also make arrangements for people without easy internet access to receive the same information. We plan for this to be in place by mid-December as a start to bringing better information to parents, and we will build on it in future years.

Across Scotland there is a great deal of truly excellent work going on in our classrooms, much of it unsung. Our plans will help teachers gain recognition for this work, not see their efforts diminished by league tables.

I want to see all schools reach the levels of the best. We put arrangements in place for continuous improvement in schools through the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000, and we monitor progress against all five national priorities in education, not only achievement and attainment. We plan to make these progress reports publicly available soon as another rich source of information on how Scottish education is doing.

Schools and education authorities will be able to use data to reflect on their performance and plan improvements. Teachers will see the bigger picture of their work reflected in the data made available. This will highlight the great work going on in schools that adds to the wider success of our schools, not just exam success.

Peter Peacock is Education Minister in the Scottish Executive.

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