New York has a solution to league table overload

19th September 2008 at 01:00
`Scorecard' model for schools could provide a simpler formula for accountability

Government officials are enthusiastic about a new US model for giving parents information about schools, and say it could replace league tables with a simple grade for each institution, The TES has learnt.

New York city's "balanced scorecards" use a formula that takes into account everything from pupil opinions, attendance and comparisons with similar schools, alongside test results, to calculate an annual overall grade from A to F.

Introduced to schools in the Big Apple last year, it allows parents to see all the data used to calculate the grade in a clear, simple format.

It is understood that advisers from 10 Downing Street visited New York to see the system and came away "very taken with it".

The Department of Health is already introducing balanced scorecards for primary care trusts this autumn. The idea of using them in education is put forward in a Cabinet Office paper on the long-term future of public services that includes a box explaining the New York system.

The balanced scorecard idea was first developed in the 1990s for businesses that wanted to assess non-financial factors in their success alongside traditional balance-sheet measures.

For schools, it would have the advantage of combining a wide range of factors and indicators with raw test results into one simple measure.

Robert Hill, who was an adviser to Tony Blair and former education secretary Charles Clarke, argues that the scorecard is particularly attractive because of the huge expansion in indicators used in school league tables in England.

Nine extra columns are about to be introduced to the annual school rankings.

Writing in The TES this week, Mr Hill said: "It's clear that performance tables cannot continue as they are. Consent for them is shrinking."

Heads have warned that the success of scorecards would depend on the balance and weighting of the indicators used to calculate the grade.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, backed the principle. "Schools have long regarded league tables based on a single examination measure as unfair," he said. "Their main fault is that they reflect such a narrow aspect of school performance.

"A balanced scorecard has the potential to reflect a wider range of performance, and thus a much fairer judgment on the whole breadth of the job that schools do."

In New York, teachers, parents, community leaders, heads and academics all collaborated on developing the formula.

Mr Hill believes a similarly broad-based coalition would help to gain consent for scorecards in England. He also thinks the media should have a say because of their central role in publishing school league tables.

"I think what newspapers want is transparency, and I think this is very transparent," he said.

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