Performance misinformation

26th July 1996 at 01:00
The Education Secretary's decision to publish school performance league tables for key stage 2 has led to a consultation exercise from which schools have been excluded. As a family group of nine primary schools in the Weald, had we received an "official invitation" to comment on an issue of such great significance, we would have posed the following questions.

Does the Secretary of State really believe that statistical data can be compiled on a database of just five pupils, as is suggested in the consultation document? Even schools with year groups of twice as many are faced with ridiculously misleading "information". Two children missing level 4 by one mark each will reduce a "school's score" by 20 per cent.

Does the Secretary of State feel the inclusion of absent pupils, as not achieving level 4, is a fair and informative base for parents? One of the schools in our family has 12 children in the year group, two of whom were absent during the test week. Under the proposal, if seven children were to achieve level 4 or above, the school's score would be 58 per cent. If the fairer system of not including absent children were adopted, its score would be 70 per cent.

Has the Secretary of State considered the effect of transient pupils on "schools' performance"? At the end of last year one of our schools had two exceptionally bright Year 5 children who transferred early to the local comprehensive. In the summer term of this year the school admitted two Year 6 children with special educational needs. Yet again, the effect on crude "league tables" based on small samples is enormous and the school estimates a total "loss" in percentage terms of about 30 per cent.

Has the Secretary of State considered the impact that this misinformation could have on smaller schools?

Our local education authority and many others, has a "banding arrangement" to protect the financing of its smaller schools. If just three or four families don't select their local school on the basis of the misleading statistics presented in league tables, it could easily lead to school dropping to the lower financial band, thus losing thousands of pounds and being faced with very difficult staffing decisions.

If the Secretary of State is not prepared to jettison the concept of performance tables for primary schools, she should at least consider very carefully the size of the sample she uses. Five or 10 children is just not enough from which to produce anything of value to parents.

All it will produce is bitterness and disillusionment in many schools.

J PEARSON (Headteacher Loxwood county primary school Billingshurst, West Sussex) and eight other headteachers of Weald primary schools

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