League tables will always leak

18th November 2005 at 00:00
The Scottish Executive, as might have been predicted, is caught between a rock and a hard place. The Sunday Times Scotland seized on freedom of information legislation to publish 5-14 results from every primary in Scotland for the first time, then sat back and gloated along with the usual suspects. The Executive has been at pains to devise a system which tried to avoid exactly that, so league tables could not be constructed but still have compliance with the freedom commissars. Its solution for Standard grade and National Qualifications was to place exam results on the scottishschoolsonline website, where they are available for each school but not in collated form.

The problem, as Sam Galbraith, the former education minister, appears to have recognised, is that, if the information is going to seep out through the media, it might as well be published. That way the authorities can take the initiative, decide how the information is to be presented and issue all the usual caveats. The embarrassment for Glasgow issuing the wrong results under media scrutiny might then be avoided.

The first results from the new Scottish Survey of Achievement next month may be more reliable, but they will be susceptible to the same pressures.

The figures will be available for each authority and schools may have no option but to publish their own internal scores when the media comes a-calling.

The obvious answer is to put primary test results on the same online footing as those for secondary schools, which will still make them accessible and will not lay the Executive open to the charge that it is wilfully concealing information. The policy up to now may have appeared to be plain sailing, but it has been torpedoed.

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