Meaningless measure of success

12th September 2008 at 01:00

If there were a hit list in this country for crimes against education, our Government would surely come out on top ("Mayhem for heads on schools hit list", TES, September 5).

The way in which ministers have interfered in matters of education is unacceptable. Policies on schools are made without respect or under- standing, even though they have far-reaching and, at times, devastating consequences. The decision to put 638 schools on a National Challenge list and threaten them with being taken over or closed if they do not achieve a 30 per cent A-C pass rate at GCSE was demoralising, ill-informed and confused.

We need to ask what we mean by success or failure, and what constitutes a good school. So many variables shape educational experience and outcome that you can never hope to control all possible outcomes.

Each school is as individual as the next, and concerned all the time with young minds. Targets and tables deal only in statistics and narrow abstracts. They assume talents and abilities can be standardised. They won't tell you what a victory it is that a particular child has turned up for school at all, nor the number of pupils who've been out until 3am the night before and haven't brought a pen to lessons all year. They won't speak of economic and social deprivation, and the impact of these on opportunities and aspirations, and they won't tell you how hard teachers work to give support and stability, or how great an achievement even one C at GCSE can be.

And here's the rub: the Government uses two main measures to judge performance. But they tend to produce contradictory results. More than 30 per cent of "failing" schools are in the top 5 per cent of all the country's state schools. They may not have met the national average on GCSE performance, but they're flying high when it comes to contextual value added scores.

If a school is said to be bad yet good, and then told it faces closure, does that make sense? And how is it meant to improve? Whose interests are being served? No wonder the whole thing has caused mayhem for heads.

Joanne Dwyer, Chelsfield, Kent.

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