Dalton's Diary

31st May 1996 at 01:00
I am glad the National Association of Head Teachers has launched its determined rearguard action against primary league tables. I had assumed that external marking meant that the information needed for their compilation would be available to the Department for Education and Employment without reference to schools. If, as seems to be the case, governors have the statutory responsibility for forwarding the information, then my governing body for one will lose little sleep over the decision.

Hardened criminals that we are, we have for years ignored our obligation to forward the key stage 1 results for the league tables of LEAs. We have not published results in our annual reports or our prospectus either, in common with our neighbouring schools. Strangely, no one has challenged us on this. Parents and the Secretary of State could do so, but parents do not care and I expect Mrs Shephard's busy.

The arguments against publication this year have been well rehearsed and are indisputable. To assert that the key stage 2 tests have "bedded down" is clearly nonsense. We all know that tables based on test results are simplistic, divisive and unfair. But beyond all this, there is a fundamental unanswered question - could someone please explain what the proposed national league tables of individual primary schools are for?

If my own school is anything to go by, they are of little interest to parents. We held a pre-Standard Assessment Tasks information evening for parents early this term. We were armed with last year's school results and comparative national statistics. No one asked about them. What they wanted to know is, "Will my child pass?" They wanted to see last year's papers, and take them home to practise. They were reassured but a little bemused to be told that the outcome of the tests had no effect on children's subsequent secondary schooling. What are they for?

Prospective parents perhaps, but do many parents actually make the choice of a school for their child on a national basis? Realistically, most parents' choice is limited to half-a-dozen nearby schools. If they want to know about test results, they can ask when they visit the school, meet the staff and pupils, look at the buildings and resources. There is always a suspicion that schools who are unwilling to publish are those with something to hide. Pupils at my school did extremely well in last year's SATs, but we would not take telephone bookings of out-of-catchment children on the basis of our results. They are not all we would want to be judged by.

League tables, I suspect, are for the media, who like simple tales of triumph and disaster. They are also for politicians.

There is clearly some politicalelectoral reason for wanting league tables this year. The fact that the SATs have changed from last year and that the Level 4 norm has still to be established means that the figures can be manipulated to show whatever is politically expedient. A sudden pre-election reversal of educational trends perhaps, in order to demonstrate that the pain inflicted on education for the past 17 years - death by a thousand cuts - has been worthwhile? I don't know what the game is. I just know I don't want to play.

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