Low level of league tables

11th April 1997 at 01:00
We await the publication of a bestseller next year entitled How to Master the Primary League Tables, or How to Get Them All to Level 4. The prospective authors may be interested in a range of data gleaned from this year's experience, and punters who run schools should look out for the following 10 factors: * Ensure that parents live in a reasonably well-off area

* Avoid children on free meals

* Don't take in any special needs children

* Be wary of pupil turnover, especially if the smartest children move out to leafier suburbs while low achievers move in

* Be small rather than large

* Be a church school that allows an element of selectivity on intake

* Narrow your curriculum to 90 per cent language and maths in key stage 1 and restrict it at key stage 2

* Have a nursery school with places for most of your children

* Teach to the test

* Ensure the children do practise tests throughout years 5 and 6

* Focus all your attention on children who've got a chance of making it to level 4

Feel sorry then for the school which appeared at the bottom of one league table with a 30 per cent turnover of pupils every two years. Or the school whose class had 10 per cent of its level 4-5 children away on the day of the test. Or the school with 10 per cent of its children in a special on-site unit. Or the large number of children at the top end of level 3 classified (wrongly) as backward and two years behind.

Take all this into account when applying for headships and ask yourself: can you improve things in your school by addressing some or all of these indicators?

The optimistic line to take is that people are strange and life is full of surprises. Some teachers are still entering the profession prepared to face the front line. Some parents penetrate the fog and understand (for example) that the tables are not indicative of quality teaching for (say) a lively minded child who ought to hit level 5 or 6 with ease. Some realise that only the thinness of a razor blade separates Level 4 from the high end of Level 3 (thousands of children).

All this will be seen by some as reactionary nonsense but shouldn't our major concern at the moment be with those children at the lowest end of the spectrum, entirely unrevealed by the published figures? If we could get all children to the high end of level 3 wouldn't this be a major achievement for many schools?

It is, of course, interesting to consolidate our football league loving culture with a programme of public shaming in education but if we have to have league tables, let's be clear what we're doing: we could greatly extend the information to parents to make them truly useful and then back it up with the kind of support the teachers are crying out for.

Otherwise we should not be surprised if teachers learn to play the game by spotting the key factors that make for public success against narrow criteria.

David Winkley is head of Grove primary school in Birmingham and director of the National Primary Trust

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