Why league tables will never add up

21st March 1997 at 00:00
The media is flooded with arguments for and against league tables but I believe that all concerned are showing a lack of basic skills in mathematics.

The main argument for primary league tables says that they have been used in secondary schools for five years and are raising standards. This ignores the mathematical fact that most secondary schools are large enough to be statistically significant. If there is one child with extreme special needs at a secondary school with a cohort of 100, the results will show that 1 per cent of children are performing well below average, a reasonable result. Three years before, that same child might have been at a village school as part of a cohort of 10. The results for the village school will show that 10 per cent of pupils are failing; surely special measures are needed?

The main argument against says that the results do not show pupils' progress and that, to be useful, primary league tables must show value-added measures. This still does not take into account the undue influence that special needs children will have in a small school. Many children with special needs make less progress through primary school despite huge efforts from staff and the pupils in question.

If the Government wants to display a basic understanding of number, it needs to abandon the idea of primary league tables or radically revise them to show a school's average results for three or five years. The latter is still not ideal but it would give a fairer picture and would indicate that the Government has achieved level four in mathematics by showing that its members can "check the reasonableness of their results by reference to their knowledge of the context or to the size of the numbers"!

ASHLEY COMPTON

Bishop King Primary School Lincoln

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