Letters extra: The wrong sort of improvement curve

30th January 2004 at 00:00

Opening the papers last week to study the league tables for secondary schools, I was very pleased to note so many colleagues receiving praise for their achievements. However, our experience at The BRIT School suggests the limitations of league tables.

A year ago I furiously telephoned the DfES to complain that we were not featured for our superb improvement at KS4. In 1999 only 29 per cent nbsp;of our students achieved 5+ A* - Cs and in 2002 this figure rose to 87 per cent, making easily the largest increase of any school in the country. Alas I had not realised that a further small dip in 2000 before our improvement made us ineligible for the title or even to feature in a list. We had made the mistake of not following an appropriate improvement curve!

The helpful DfES spokesperson said I should look to next year to feature, not that people took too much notice of them anyway, I was informed.

Come 2003 and our students achieved 84 percent, no mean feat. 84 percentnbsp;minus 25 percentnbsp;(our 2000 figure) equals 59 per cent, 12 per centnbsp;above the `most improved school' as listed, but of course we dipped 3 per cent nbsp;from 2002 to 2003 so are again ineligible not just for this year but for several years to come!

We also measured 105.1 on the value added indicator, slightly down on 2002 but which would still have put us in the top 10 nationally for this measure, save that they don't include 14 - 19 schools in this table!

The serious point in this farago of statistics is not whether we feature or not. No school needs to be informed by any table whether its students are doing well or not, however annoying the absence may be. What is misconceived is the underlying notion that schools improve in a linear fashion and only this pattern deserves mention. The reality is much more complex and less convenient.

Nick Williams
The Brit School for Performing Arts and Technology
Croydon CR0 2HN


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