Lower achievers to be given chance to shine

4th October 2013 at 01:00
New benchmarking system will judge on more than exam results

Schools in Scotland will no longer be judged on the proportion of students passing exams, but on a new range of measures including how well they tackle inequality and what happens to students after they leave, TESS can reveal.

The key measure of how many students secure five Highers will be scrapped next year after criticism that it focuses too narrowly on the academic performance of bright students and ignores wider achievement.

Schools will instead be judged on four new areas relating to S4 to S6 students: how successful they are in boosting attainment for all; how they have improved literacy and numeracy; what they have done to tackle disadvantage; and what students do after leaving school.

Schools have been censured for not doing enough to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students. It is hoped that, by shining the spotlight on lower-attaining students and those from poor backgrounds, more progress will be made.

But while the government used to publish data on exam results and the proportion of students passing qualifications, it has not decided what parts of the new information will be made public.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, welcomed the overhaul of the old Standard Tables and Charts (STACs) system.

"It was a start, and it created an awareness of how you could compare schools in terms of their results," he said. "But it's past its sell-by date, because we now have a whole range of qualifications and wider achievement that needs to be taken into account to give a fairer picture of how a school is doing."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said that the problem with the old system was that it drove a "target-setting agenda". He questioned whether that would now change. "Any system that factors in exam scores could be used to create league tables," he said. "And unless there is a culture change around what success in the senior phase looks like, the system will remain exam-focused."

Under the old system, institutions were provided with "comparator" schools against which they were supposed to benchmark their performance, but Mr Cunningham said that the schools often bore no relation to one another.

Now, however, a computer-generated virtual school will be created to take into account different student characteristics and background information. Schools will be able to judge their performance against it to see if they are reaching appropriate standards.

The new system - known as the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool - will suggest partnerships between schools working in similar contexts in different parts of the country. It will also allow schools to filter information so they can look at the performance of particular groups of children.

"If a school has been trying to tackle boys' attainment and wants to know how boys got on, it would go to the `gender' filter," said Colin Sutherland, a former headteacher and the professional adviser on the project.

Schools will be able to see at a glance how their performance compares with their virtual comparison school, their local authority and the country as a whole.

The previous system was a management tool, according to the designers of the new system. But their ambition is for the new version to be used by everybody, including classroom teachers, who will be able to scrutinise how the students in their own subject are performing.

However, at a session at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow last week, not everyone was satisfied that sufficient account was being taken of wider achievement. For example, students who gain accolades such as the John Muir environmental award will not have their achievement recorded.

But project manager Eileen Gill stressed that the benchmarking tool was just one way among many of looking at performance. "The tool will not include all aspects of wider achievement," she said. "Not because these are not valuable, but because, in a number of instances, outcomes are specified in terms of the individual learner rather than a bar everyone gets over. Personal learning and achievement are harder to benchmark."

The Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool will replace STACs from August next year. Ultimately it will be available to all staff, although access to the preview edition launched this week will be limited to three individuals per school.

Made to measure

Four national measures will become the new basis upon which a school's performance is judged. They are:

The proportion of school-leavers attaining level 4 and 5 (equivalent to National 4 and 5) in literacy and numeracy within the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework.

The percentage of school-leavers going on to positive destinations.

The average total tariff score - where students' achievements earn a range of points - of the lowest-performing 20 per cent, the middle 60 per cent and the highest 20 per cent.

How well all students are doing, from those in the most deprived areas to those in the least deprived.

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