The figures the others did not print

14th March 1997 at 00:00
The TES is the only national newspaper to print the primary performance tables in full. David Budge explains why

Gillian Shephard is entitled to hail the publication of the key stage 2 tables as the biggest public information campaign since the Second World War. The record tonnage of paper that has been expended on them bears out her claim.

But most teachers regard this week's statistical onslaught as the biggest misinformation blitz since the war. Their view was summed up by Ian Schagen, head of statistics at the National Foundation for Educational Research, who told TES readers last week: "Raw 'league' tables ... tell you an awful lot about a school's catchment area and the ability level of its intakes, but virtually nothing about how good it is at educating children."

So why is The TES deforesting Scandinavia in order to publish even more of this suspect data than any other newspaper in the land? After all, we have long argued along much the same lines as Ian Schagen.

The simple answer is that if such tables have to be published at all, they should ideally be published in as full a form as possible. Otherwise, the light that the tables are supposed to turn on the primary classroom shrinks to the size of a pocket-torch beam.

The national dailies devoted dozens of pages to the tables, but they made them more misleading than they were already by ranking schools according to their aggregate scores in only the externally marked English, maths and science tests.

The class-teacher assessment scores, which were supposed to enjoy parity of esteem with the external test scores, never saw the light of day. But that will not have surprised DFEE officials. "I regard the teacher assessment figures as a waste of space," one journalist told the Department's statisticians at a recent briefing on the tables.

The TES, of course, does not agree with that jaundiced view, and is publishing the teacher-assessment scores that the DFEE has provided for each of the three core subjects alongside the test results.

Unlike other papers we have also printed the percentages of Year 6 children in each school who were disapplied from the national curriculum or were absent on the day of the test (a figure that had an important impact on some schools' overall scores).

In order to enable readers to build up as full a picture as possible we have also given the overall roll of each school and the numbers of children with special educational needs (both statemented and unstatemented).

The only figure supplied by the DFEE that we have not found room for is the number of 11-year-olds that each school had last year.

As that figure is often identical to that which appears under the "Pupils eligible for key stage 2 assessment" heading we thought that little would be lost by leaving it out.

Whether much will be gained by publishing the tables is the real issue, of course. This year newspapers have felt that they must go along with the exercise, albeit in their own way. But given the cost of the operation, and its somewhat dubious value, no one should assume that they will continue to carry on publishing these tables if the Conservatives win the general election.

Education may be the most-talked-about subject after the Spice Girls at present. But its star, like theirs, will surely wane in the relatively near future. When it does, school performance tables may suddenly be seen as an unacceptable and hugely expensive waste of space.

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