Anyone who wants to make a snap judgement on the performance of their local school can find exam results and expenditure at the click of a button. But this isn't a sophisticated enough way of judging a school's effectiveness, according to the boss of the country's biggest science charity.
Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, has an alternative proposal: that headteachers and governors produce an annual report that tells the public about the people involved in the school, its ambitions, targets and ethos.
Sir Mark also argues that schools should follow a new code of practice, as charities and businesses do, to which governors and teachers would be held to account - and they would have to "comply or explain" in the annual report if they failed to follow it. The trust, which has a major education element to its work, is drafting just such a statement.
Sir Mark has discussed his idea with officials from the Department for Education and plans to start a pilot in the future.
"These (codes of conduct) are not rule books - they are guides. This concept is terribly important. Exam results matter, but other things matter as well, and you are only going to achieve good results if you look after all aspects of the functioning of a school," he said. "The statement will not be detailed, just a skeleton. It will leave plenty of room for judgement, common sense and leadership.
"Schools should also consider producing an annual report, which would provide a rounded description of school performance. This could provide transparency and accountability to all of the many stakeholders who are legitimately concerned to have schools and colleges performing to the highest possible standards."
Two years ago, Sir Mark wrote a report for the government on secondary science and maths education, in which he recommended "stronger local governance of the educational process within schools and colleges".
The previous Labour government had planned to introduce a new "school report card" to help parents gauge performance, but the scheme was not embraced by coalition ministers.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, said that school leaders would welcome Sir Mark's plans as an opportunity to give a rounded version of their work.
"This model seems to strike a good balance if the concept is comply or explain, and is more nuanced than just using the five A*-C GCSE grade," he said. "It will be a chance to provide more qualitative details, to sell your vision to parents and pupils."
However, Dr Rebecca Allen, senior lecturer in the economics of education at the University of London's Institute of Education, said that school governance would be better improved by appointing "new governors with greater skill and time to devote to the role, rather than provision of extra data that (are) unlikely to be effectively acted upon".
"To be useful, this report is going to have to make useful comparisons about the school. How is the school going to get these statistics? They are not easy to produce," Dr Allen added.
"Parents may well have neither the skill, the time nor the inclination to read what is written in the report, and to identify where information shows problems at a school. Parents appoint governors to do this job of assessing school performance for them."
How schools are judged around the world:
- In New York, schools are given report cards and graded from A-F. Scores are based on pupil progress (60 per cent), pupil performance (25 per cent) and school environment (15 per cent). To determine its final grade, a school's results are compared to a peer group of up to 40 schools with similar student populations, and to all schools citywide.
- In Alberta, Canada, schools are judged using an "accountability pillar". It is compiled using: data on student achievement; surveys of pupils, parents and teachers; drop-out rates; high school completion rates; and numbers staying in education after secondary school.
- In the Netherlands, schools are visited by the Dutch Inspectorate of Education. Inspectors assess pupil outcomes, the curriculum, the amount of time pupils have to "master the curriculum", teaching quality and whether there is "respectful interaction".