Schools forced to focus on polar achievers

13th May 2011 at 01:00
League table measures aim to prevent high and low attainers being ignored

New league table measures aimed at ensuring that teachers pay attention to high and low-attaining pupils are being introduced by ministers this year.

They are being designed to discourage a concentration of resources on borderline CD GCSE grade or primary level 34 pupils by schools trying to maximise their scores on the main performance indicators.

The plan was unveiled yesterday in the Government's response to the Wolf review of vocational education.

The report's author, Professor Alison Wolf, had called on ministers to use several performance measures because "if a single measure is dominant, it invites gaming or worse".

If this strategy was not adopted there was a "serious risk that schools will simply ignore their less academically successful pupils" and "neglect those at the top of the attainment range", her report said. Many other critics of league tables have made the same point.

Ministers have followed the report's recommendation. A Government source said: "From 2011, the performance tables will show for each school the variation in performance of low-attaining pupils, high-attaining pupils and those performing as expected."

An indicator focusing on the whole distribution of performance within a school, including those at the top and bottom ends, would be introduced.

"Under Labour the league-table system encouraged schools to focus on a small number of pupils on the CD borderline to the neglect of those really struggling and those who could excel," the source said.

"Our new measures will reward schools for doing a good job for children of all abilities."

But Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders general secretary, said: "Every time they add new measures it seems to have a perverse effect."

Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, said: "No amount of tweaking alters the fact that league tables have a distorting effect on pupils' learning."

The Government will also comply with the Wolf review by requiring all young people who fail GCSE maths and English to continue studying the subjects if they stay on in education.

Ideally, this means they will continue to aim for GCSEs. But for those unable to achieve them, the Government intends to identify alternative "high-quality" qualifications.

Ministers will not enforce the Wolf review's suggestion that school pupils should spend no more than a fifth of their timetable on vocational qualifications. But they are seeking to follow her recommendation and remove the statutory duty for schools to provide every key stage 4 pupil with "work-related learning".

Professor Wolf argued this would allow schools to concentrate on supplying "genuine work experience" and "long internships" for 16 to 18-year-olds, reflecting the fact that "almost no young people move into full-time employment at 16".

The Department for Education said schools will be able to continue organising work experience at KS4 if they wanted to.

Schools, colleges, employers and universities are to be consulted this summer on what criteria should be used to decide which vocational qualifications continue to count for GCSE league tables.

WOLF REVIEW: Green light

Ministers accept the whole Wolf review on principle and agreed in March to its calls to:

- Allow qualified further education lecturers to teach in schools on the same basis as qualified school teachers;

- Clarify the rules on allowing industry professionals to teach in schools;

- Allow any vocational qualification offered by a regulated awarding body to be taken by 14 to 19-year-olds;

- Allow non-accredited but established high-quality vocational qualifications to be offered in schools and colleges from September.

Original headline: Schools forced to focus on their polar achievers

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