Glee at league table snub;Briefing International

5th March 1999 at 00:00

Teacher unions have welcomed research which says that ranking schools in league tables would be inappropriate.

The study by Dr Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute says that ranking schools on the basis of their aggregate exam scores says little about how a particular institution works or about how to enhance results.

Dr Smyth, who scrutinised 10,000 students and 116 schools, says that most of the variation in exam performance is due to differences in the gender, social class and ability mix of the pupils. When these differences are taken into account, any ranking in terms of exam results changes.

Dr Smyth agrees that information on pupil outcomes can be a useful tool for schools in their own planning and development. Schools could, for example, monitor their own attendance and drop-out rates as a basis for introducing or adapting programmes.

He agrees also that information collected at the school level is likely to be of limited use without comparable data on the national context. An investigation of the possibility of providing value-added analyses to schools would be worthwhile, says Dr Smyth. This would require information on pupils' ability and background when they start school.

"It would be an absolute requirement that any such information should be confidential, with schools provided with their own results along with the national pattern. This information could be used by the school itself in setting targets for improvement and in monitoring the introduction of new programmes or teaching methods," says Dr Smyth.

School league tables have been banned in a new education Act. However, newspapers have sought details of last year's exam results under the Freedom of Information Act. Their request was rejected by the Government, but an appeal is being considered.

Irish newspaper editors look with envy at their UK counterparts who published primary league tables on the same day Dr Smyth's study was released.

However, no major educational body in Ireland favours league tables, though Richard Bruton, education spokesman for the opposition Fine Gael party, says parents should be involved in setting targets for schools and be informed of the progress made.

Do Schools Differ? by Emer Smyth, published by Oak Tree Press in association with the Economic and Social Research Institute

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