No escape route from the Pandas

27th February 1998 at 00:00
OFSTED unveils its antidote to school underperformance. Nicholas Pyke reports

There will be "no hiding place" for under-performing schools, according to the Office for Standards in Education which last week published its Panda profiles.

Standing for performance and assessment, the Panda allows heads and governors to see their inspection results and exam scores in relation to their social context.

Schools are given information about their background levels of poverty and, crucially, how they compare with other schools in similar circumstances. OFSTED describes the initiative as "a full tool kit" for self improvement. It is in the process of issuing Pandas to all 24,000 schools in England.

OFSTED also plans to send out a new booklet called School Evaluation Matters, showing how the official framework for inspection can help schools judge their performance.

The director of inspection, Mike Tomlinson, said: "There will no longer be any hiding place for underachievement." His boss, chief inspector Chris Woodhead, has already attacked a sizeable proportion of affluent schools for "coasting" along, without seeking real advances.

Mr Tomlinson said: "It is not only important for schools in difficult circumstances to compare their performance, it is also important for schools in better circumstances. A like-for-like comparison will show those in leafy suburbs which are not doing as well as they should."

According to the documents issued this week nearly one third of the most prosperous primary schools need to improve.

Mr Woodhead says that the Pandas should be made public. But while governors are free to distribute the results of their individual school profiles, they will not be obliged to publish them.

Launching the Panda, Mr Tomlinson said the documents in their present form would be too complex for parents, although they could be published in future.

In fact, as OFSTED made clear last week, Pandas are largely composed of information which is already in the public domain.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has also produced a national "benchmarking" analysis putting schools' results in their social context. Effectively it places schools into one of five social groups based on the proportion of pupils taking free school meals.

This information is included in the specially-tailored Panda given to each school. It also gives information about inspection grades, attendance, test and examination results. These appear alongside poverty indicators taken from the electoral wards surrounding the school: the proportions of children in overcrowded households and the proportion of adults with higher education, for example.

For a more detailed picture, schools can turn to a separate document - the "Panda Annex". This sets out national charts on exam results, exclusions, the length of the taught week, pupil-teacher ratios, and expenditure patterns.

The National Association of Headteachers said the Panda was a useful management tool. Other teaching unions called it an unwelcome increase in bureaucracy.

Opinion, page 22

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