Performance league tables seem to be here to stay, but how much do they reveal about what schools have achieved and how can they be made to do this job more effectively? The TES reports.
The league tables confirm trends detected in previous years of highperforming schools that are either sited in affluent neighbourhoods or can select their pupils from a wide catchment area.
For the second year running, the average figure for the number of pupils gaining the benchmark of five or more higher grade GCSEs has increased. The average for schools is now 43.3 per cent, compared with 41.1 per cent last year and 38.3 per cent in 1992.
As in previous years, independent schools, particularly girls', and grammar schools, top the list of those with all their fifth-formers gaining at least five GCSEs at grade C or above. However, over-subscribed comprehensives such as Bexley Grammar in Kent and Liverpool Bluecoat School managed to get 97 per cent of fifth-formers through at least five or more higher grade GCSEs. Eleven state comprehensives achieved above 80 per cent.
Although there has been a general improvement in results, there remain almost 100 schools where fewer than 10 per cent of the age group achieved five or more good GCSEs. The schools in the bottom 15 tend to be concentrated in inner cities. Liverpool has four secondaries - two community comprehensives and two Catholic schools - that record a five 4 to C pass rate of less than 2 per cent. Two Leeds schools and a Bradford school are in the bottom handful.
Schools with poor results often have high rates of both authorised and unauthorised absence. Holmfield School in Calderdale - where only 2 per cent of the age group got five good GCSEs - records an authorised absence rate of 20.1 per cent of half-days missed, almost treble the national average of 7.8 per cent.
The newest indicator, length of the teaching week - introduced at the special request of the Prime Minister - does not appear to be linked to exam performance. The poorest schools tend to put in a working week of around 24 hours, a similar figure to schools with good academic results.
The publication of the tables has led to renewed criticism that they do not take account of social background or prior attainment of pupils. However, both the Labour party and the Labour-controlled Association of Metropolitan Authorities are now in favour of tables, though they want to see modifications to show the added value of schools.
The local authority league table shows little variation in ranking over the years. Both the top and bottom tends to be dominated by small local authorities that have a relatively homogeneous population. Areas such as Sutton and Kingston-upon-Thames (second and third) are generally affluent. At the other end of the scale are boroughs like Southwark (bottom) and Tower Hamlets (next to the bottom), with high levels of deprivation.
However, Manchester ranks only 101st out of 107 and Liverpool is ranked 100th.
The top counties are West Sussex at fifth; Buckinghamshire (which retains grammar schools) at seventh and North Yorkshire at tenth.
Performance tables centre pages