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In a tangle over tables and data

ave Peter Peacock and his education department lost the political plot with 5-14 performance tables? We ask because the best laid plans to make it impossible to publish league tables of schools and local authorities are being undermined by freedom of information legislation. Whether data is collected nationally or locally, in almost every case it must be made available. Next year's Scottish Survey of Achievement results are therefore likely to be a test of will between the media, which loves league tables and hammering education, and ministers and the education industry, which do not.

What the media must realise is that any kind of performance data based on the current means of assessment in primary and the first two years of secondary are entirely unreliable. That is why ministers changed the system to emphasise formative, not summative, assessment. But even if we accept the unreliability of 5-14 as a school performance measure, there is a trend, not a snapshot, of improving standards over a longer period (rather than the narrow comparison of a year on which the media concentrated).

As researchers confirm (page three), there is no simple, coherent and regular way of giving parents and others a true picture about performance across the country. And as we pointed out last week, parents do not necessarily want that. They want to know how their own child is doing and appear to want less assessment, particularly in primary. The new SSA will hope to establish baselines of performance, yet there is merit in the suggestion (page one) of reviewing what the basic standards should be.

There has to be a better explanation of why secondaries continue to complain of sizeable numbers who enter S1 unable to cope with the curriculum. Solutions lie in the classroom, but there is a need for more clarity. Current 5-14 levels do not provide that.

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