Standards rose before tables

13th February 1998 at 00:00
Yet again the Government has proclaimed the general publication of primary league tables has driven standards up, when, if anything, the evidence is to the contrary.

The annual percentage point increases in the proportions of those attaining level 4 or better at key stage 2 in English and maths between 1996 and 1997 were six and eight percentage points respectively, whereas their previous annual increases for 1995-96 before primary tables were first published in 1996 were 9 and 10 percentage points respectively, a decline in their previous annual rates of increase of 33 per cent and 20 per cent.

And the averages of the percentages of those achieving level 3 or better in English, maths and science together at KS2 were 85.7 per cent in 1995, 88.3 per cent in 1996, and 90 per cent in 1997, only a 1.7 percentage point increase for 1996-97 compared with a 2.7 percentage point increase for 1995-96, a decline in the previous annual improvement rate of 37 per cent.

The first publication of secondary tables was in 1992. Improvements in percentages of those attaining at least i) five grade Cs ii) five GCSEs and iii) one GCSE were 2.3, 2.3 and 0.8 percentage points per annum for 1988-1992, but only 1.5, 1 and 0.2 points per annum for 1992-7, according to the reply to a recent parliamentary question.

Ministerial conclusions that league tables have contributed to improvement are apparently based on the false assumption that standards were not already improving prior to their publication, possibly due to the sterling efforts of teachers and the effects of the national curriculum.

CHARLES BELL

BM Bell, London WC1

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