Thanks to OFSTED, schools can now compare their performances. But should these profiles be made public? Geraldine Hackett reports on a growing controversy.
Headteachers may be forced next month to decide whether parents should receive information on how their school's educational and teaching standards compare with similar institutions.
The Office for Standards in Education has drawn on data from inspections to give schools information that rates their performance against others that take children from similar backgrounds.
However, the National Association of Head Teachers does not believe that the profiles, or Pandas (an abbreviation of Performance and Assessment reports), should be given to parents, on the grounds that such detailed information would not be useful.
The Pandas grade schools according to the standards achieved by pupils; the quality of education; and a category that includes efficiency and management. In the secondary sector, Pandas run to 26 pages. For primary schools Panda reports average 16 pages.
The reports have been developed by OFSTED in order to help heads and governors set targets, but in an interview in the Guardian, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools, said Pandas should be made available to parents.
In the main, the Pandas use publicly available information to construct an analysis of a school and the extent to which it compares with the national picture.
Schools are told how they relate to the national average in terms of size, children eligible for free school meals, and numbers of children with special education needs.
Information is provided from census data on the proportion of adults in the surrounding area with higher education qualifications; children from high social class households and children from overcrowded households.
The statistics include comparisons of attendance figures and national curriculum test results against the national average and the test results of similar schools. (The benchmark figures are provided by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.) More controversially, the Pandas rate schools against others with similar intakes under the headings "standards achieved by pupils" and "quality of education". (Schools are grouped on the basis of the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals.) The ratings are reached by taking assessments from reports prepared during routine inspections. Schools are given one of four grades, ranging from very good to "substantial improvement required".
David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, believes that Pandas have a key role to play in assisting schools to set targets. "Heads are enthusiastic about Pandas. They are a wholly desirable management tool. It is important that bench-marking and target setting is carried out in a positive climate," he said.
However, some people are concerned, he said, that the amount of information could lead to confusion. In addition, headteachers did not believe the Pandas are appropriate documents to pass on to parents.
"It is not necessary to deluge parents in this way. It is right that they be informed of the targets set by a school and the progress that is being made," he said.
However, the Pandas allow schools for the first time to compare standards achieved by pupils and the quality of teaching with other schools that have roughly similar proportions of children from disadvantaged homes. The Pandas will clearly identify schools considered by inspectors to be under-performing.
The final shape of the Panda has yet to be agreed and there is criticism in Whitehall of the amount of material schools are to be sent. Ministers want the focus to be on the targets that schools are legally obliged to set.
Management, page 26