Schools to be judged on Oxbridge success

19th August 2011 at 01:00
League tables of pupils progressing to elite universities branded `misleading' by critics

Schools are to be officially ranked in league tables by the proportion of sixth-formers they send to Oxford and Cambridge universities under Government plans.

The proposed measure, already being condemned as "very misleading" by heads and "extreme" and "unfair" by social-mobility campaigners, is revealed in a Department for Education presentation seen by The TES.

Given to local authorities last month, it suggests that the Government's new "destination measures" will include a column showing the percentage of pupils that every college and school with a sixth-form sends to one of England's two elite ancient universities.

The DfE told The TES there is "no reason" why the percentage of pupils at every school going to Russell Group universities should not also be included.

The news comes as another year of record A-level results this week intensified the competition for top university places.

More than 70,000 entries achieved an A* - a prerequisite for a growing number of top degree courses.

In November's schools white paper, the Government said it intended to introduce a measure of "how young people do when they leave school".

But this is the first suggestion that schools will be publicly judged according to the percentage of pupils winning places at specified elite universities.

Martin Ward, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There is a very great danger it will give very misleading information.

"A school or college that is working very hard to persuade young people to go (to Oxbridge) could still have much less success than one that is doing very little but has a lot of middle-class pupils who will instinctively want to go to university anyway."

The DfE presentation said the destination measures would be a "powerful tool for accountability and self-improvement".

But the Oxbridge measure will prove of little use in ranking most state schools - last month the Sutton Trust revealed that pupils from just four elite independent schools and one sixth-form college had, between them, secured more places at Oxbridge over a three-year period than the combined efforts of pupils from 2,000 other schools.

The social-mobility charity produced school-by-school figures on general university progression, but decided against doing the same for the 7,000 or so Oxbridge undergraduate places available every year.

Sutton Trust research director Lee Elliot Major said: "The numbers were going to be so low that they could fluctuate very dramatically from one year to the next.

"Our view was that it would be unfair to measure schools by such an extreme measure. For the majority of state schools you find that less than two or three pupils go (to Oxbridge) over a five to 10-year period, and for many schools none go at all.

"There is a challenge for schools in encouraging pupils to consider Oxbridge, but we would be wary of using it as an indicator in itself."

The DfE presentation suggests the Oxbridge measure would be used alongside more general school performance indicators showing the proportion of pupils progressing to university, further education and employment.

Mr Ward said: "A destination measure in any form is largely going to reflect the social composition of the families of students and not really give you much information, if any, about the work that the institution is doing."

A DfE spokesperson said: "Our plan is to publish all destination data where we have it. Oxford and Cambridge are just two possibilities we hope to have available, and data will not be specific to these universities alone.

"While we haven't yet decided on the exact breakdown of destination by specific institution, our aim is to give parents and students all the evidence available."

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