Executive's voyage of discovery

19th December 2003 at 00:00
Genies cannot usually be put back into bottles. So it is with the publication of exam results which are here to stay, in whatever form. Their new incarnation on the national parents' website significantly reaffirms the fact that school-level data was initially issued by the previous Tory government as part of its "information for parents" series.

The official intention is to inform parents more generally and, more specifically, to help them choose a school, switch schools, ask questions and maintain pressure on schools to improve. Since the new website is a rather clever attempt to publish but not be damned by the critics of "league tables", it has clearly tried to make it as difficult as possible to construct such tables. Parents, and the press indeed, who attempt to find out how their school is performing against other schools face a hard navigational voyage around the website.

That said, this is only a start, as the Executive itself acknowledges.

Primary schools, for example, have very little information to offer; even when the 3-14 assessment system is reformed following the consultations that end today, there will be no school-level test data and parents will simply have to access it via school handbooks or school websites. It is worth pointing out, however, that the whole intention here is to make exam results more proportionate: surveys of parents tend to show exam performance is not at the top of their priority list when it comes to judging a school.

We now have the potential to load every conceivable piece of information about a school on to the parents' website. The danger is not just about limited access to the Internet but about information overload. There is, of course, an old-fashioned alternative in approaching a school: lift the phone.

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