Are we thick up North?

26th September 2003 at 01:00
I don't like statistics, I hate league tables, I cringe when I hear friends, colleagues or parents quote the relative position of this or that school in one of those lists - yet I find myself surreptitiously checking them to see where "my school" sits this year.

They are rather like horoscopes, pieces of meaningless nonsense which do no harm as long as one does not take them seriously. But we do take them seriously, even though we know that "so-and-so's college", far from being a truly open, cross-ability comprehensive, is effectively more selective than most independent schools - and that if we changed our admissions criteria, we could be up there among the "greats" too.

Yet beyond the petty jealousy (and self-righteousness) there appears one certainty: league tables throw into stark relief the enormous differences in performance across the country. More importantly, what really confounds me is what appears to be yet another instance of the northsouth divide.

Why (for example in the latest Times survey of GCSE performance) are there less than a handful of northern schools in the top 50, and less than 20 per cent in the top 100?

Are we duller in the North? Are our children blighted by being born away from the South? Can our teachers not cut the mustard?

Clearly we have our unfair share of deprivation up here, some pretty inhuman areas to live, a history - if relatively short - of low aspiration for further and higher education and high unemployment.

Yet we had all of this years ago and were still able to hold our heads high in the world of education, satisfied that those who could and would achieved their potential.

I cannot find any logical or coherent reason for this disparity, and I have not seen the issue raised anywhere in print or on radio or TV, or indeed in any of the numerous study days, seminars and symposia to which we are invited.

At least there is one consolation - politicians have not noticed it yet and hitched yet another educational issue to their bandwagon of concern.

But if anyone out there has a theory, or even a solution, perhaps they could let me know and I will take it to my school and make us not just a good school but one to rival the premiership champions. Or maybe those league tables really are worth no more than the daily horoscope.

Michael McDade is a new governor in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.Are you a head, school leader or governor with a burning issue? We pay for all Sounding Off submissions we print. Contact Susan Young at the TES or

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