Ngaio Crequer and Lucy Ward find colleges think three-quarters of their work is overlooked by tables. The failure of league tables to cover more than three-quarters of the work in further education has angered most college principals, who say it makes a nonsense of the whole exercise.
Only those with top academic institutions on their doorsteps or who are in areas of close competition gave them any credence. Most did not believe they had a significant impact on parental or student choice post-16.
The Further Education Funding Council is set to introduce performance indicators which, principals believe, will be much more telling about relative performance.
"They will make league tables redundant," said one. The tables, which cover six different measures of performance, were due in September, but have been delayed by data collection problems and are now unlikely to be published before January.
There were no surprises in the results which were extended this year to include successes among students taking intermediate level (GCSE-equivalent) vocational qualifications.
Sixth-form colleges dominated the academic league tables in the further education sector though the top performer was Welbeck College, owned by the Ministry of Defence and training future officers.
Taking the average points score of students getting two or more GCE A levels or AS equivalents, the top six are: Welbeck (26.1); King Edward VI College, Stourbridge (25.3); Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge (23.9); Greenhead College, Huddersfield (22.2); Sir John Deane's College, Cheshire (21.8).
All the colleges performed very well in vocational exams. At five colleges 100 per cent of the students obtained intermediate vocational qualifications and at eight colleges 100 per cent obtained advanced vocational qualifications. Barnet College topped both tables.
In Wales, 45 per cent of students achieved the equivalent of two A levels, grades A to C, and 82 per cent achieved grades A to E. They achieved on average a point score of 14.
But there was frustration and some concern from the colleges who said that the volume of their work was under-represented and therefore the tables were misleading if not meaningless.
Patricia Stubbs, of the Further Education Funding Council, said: "Seventy-five per cent of our students are over 19 and not included in the league table. Council-funded provision accounts for only 17 per cent of the work done, 83 per cent is excluded.
"More than three-quarters of our work is not addressed by the league tables. This is less than helpful to the sector as a whole," she said.
King Edward VI College, Stourbridge, continues to climb. Now second, it was third equal last year. Its points score has shown a steady rise, from 18. 1 in 1992 to 25.3 now.
Philip Eyles, the principal, said: "These are very good results. We have a good intake so we expect good results. We have excellent students from our partner schools, which are mainly comprehensive. I think we do extremely well for our pupils who are mostly inner city children."
The school selects on the basis of predicted GCSE grades and school reports. He admitted that the points score was helped by the large number of pupils taking general studies at A-level.
Jack Tasker, the principal of another high-flying college, Sir John Deane's, is equally sceptical of league tables.
He said: "It is quite wrong to use the scores to rank and compare colleges and schools. Such comparisons are invalid because they only reflect the ability of the students in each institution. It is no surprise that selective schools in the maintained and independent sector come out on top."
"Many colleges and schools attract only the the students that are not acceptable to other, more prestigious institutions, or are located in disadvantaged areas where academic achievements are often lower than average.
"Not surprisingly the scores of these colleges and schools are quite low. Are we to assume that they have poorer standards of teaching and support than the apparently high flying institutions?" He said the league tables were "phoney" and called for statistics which allowed institutions to show, regardless of the ability of their students, their worth and the contribution they made.
"The problem is, of course, that those selective schools may not look quite so good, and that may not be politically acceptable."
This failure of the tables accurately to represent true performance is widely shared across the whole of the FE sector. League tables were not a particular preoccupation of principals meeting at their annual conference in Cardiff. They cast a serious eye over what neighbours were doing but they do not believe parents take notice of them. If they do, the heads have found, it is in a very uninformed way.
Steven Broomhead, principal of Warrington Colegiate Institute, also found the tables "useful as a source of data" but preferred to focus on value added measures. The tables piled more data on a public already saturated with information he claimed. Performance indicators would prove more useful than the schools exams tables because they compared like with like, he said.
Sheffield College principal Ken Ruddiman felt league tables should "either not exist or should be totally comprehensive including costs per student outcome in both schools and colleges, socio-economic groupings and numbers of students with special needs".
It will take some time to make good use of the inclusion of information about vocational qualifications, although this was widely welcomed.
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research said: "This will be a lot plainer once we have got a national framework. Once we have had an overhaul and improved the content, then their equivalence to other exams will be established over time."
Jenny Hoyland, principal of Hendon College in Barnet, North London, said she would pay close attention to the tables, whose top eschelons contain many of the borough's schools, though she would look mainly at other colleges with comparable student profiles.
She said: "In college we are concentrating more on setting ourselves performance targets which we think represents scope for improvement and are more sophisticated value added exercises than tables."
Top 25: average points score of students entered for fewer than 2 GCE AAS levels
8 Askham Bryan Col of Agric Horti 7.8 Woodhouse College 7.5 Hills Road Sixth Form College 6.7 Cumbria College of Art Design 6.7 Herefordshire College of Art Design 6 Plymouth College of Art Design 5.8 Hackney Community College 5.7 St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College 5.5 Holy Cross College 5.2 Haywards Heath College 5 North Trafford College of FE
4.9 Bilston Community College 4.8 City of Leeds College of Music 4.8 Woking College 4.7 Penwith College 4.6 St Charles Catholic Sixth Form College 4.6 Southwark College 4.6 East Devon College 4.6 Royal Forest of Dean College 4.4 Kendal College 4.4 Cannock Chase Technical College 4.3 Christ The King Sixth Form College 4.3 Oldham Sixth Form College 4.3 Hereford Sixth Form College 4.3 Farnham College
Top 25: average point score of students entered for 2 or more GCE AAS levels.
26.1 Welbeck College 25.3 King Edward VI College Stourbridge 23.9 Hills Road Sixth Form College 22.2 Greenhead College 21.8 Sir John Deane's College 20.3 King George V College 20.2 Shrewsbury Sixth Form College 20.1 York Sixth Form College 20 Prior Pursglove College 20 Evesham College
19.4 Woodhouse College 19.1 Farnham College 18.8 Carmel College 18.8 Selby College 18.7 Aquinas College 18.6 Godalming College 18.5 The Sixth Form College 18.3 Runshaw College 18.3 Notre Dame Sixth Form College 18.2 Bede College 18.2 Winstanley College 18.2 John Leggott Sixth Form College 18.2 Truro College 18 Alton College 17.9 New College Pontefract
Top 26: % of students obtaining advanced vocational qualifications
100 Barnet College 100 North Bolton Sixth Form College 100 Brackenhurst College 100 Walford College 100 North Birmingham College 100 College of Care Early Education 100 Lackham College 100 Hadlow College 99 Shrewsbury College of Arts Technology
98 Hartpury College 97 Reaseheath College 96 Greenhead College 96 New College Pontefract 96 Cambridgeshire Coll of Agric Hortic 96 Cannington College 96 Woking College 95 St Francis Xavier Sixth Form College 95 Broxtowe College Nottingham 94 Scarborough Sixth Form College 94 Broomfield College 94 Evesham College 93 Stockton Billingham Coll of FE 93 Stamford College 93 Berkshire College of Art Design 93 Barton Peveril College 93 Esher College
Top 25: % of students obtaining intermediate vocational qualifications
100 Barnet College 100 Woodhouse College 100 Stockton Sixth Form College 100 Coalville Technical College 100 East Norfolk Sixth Form College 95 Cadbury Sixth Form College 95 Cambridgeshire Coll of Agric Hortic 95 Lackham College 94 Hartlepool Sixth Form College 94 Chesterfield College 94 Shrewsbury College of Arts Technol 94 North Hertfordshire College 94 Strode's College 93 Kirkley Hall College
92 Manchester College of Ats Technol 92 Brekenhurst College 92 Hartpury College 91 Cannington College 90 St Dominic's Sixth Form College 90 Scarborough Sixth Form College 90 Moulton College 89 Park Lane College 89 Long Road Sixth Form College 89 Woking College