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New research shows league tables ‘punish and reward wrong schools’

31 January 2019

Secondary school league tables, published on 24th January, ‘punish and reward the wrong schools’ by failing to take pupil background into account, according to new research from the School of Education, University of Bristol.

Once factors such as pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special educational needs are taken into account, a fifth of schools saw their national league table position change by over 500 places.

Critically, 40 per cent of schools currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ would no longer fall into this category. These are the striking findings from a new study by Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein, from the School of Education, who analysed the 2016 data from all 3,098 state-maintained secondary schools in England.

They looked at ‘Progress 8’, the headline measure used by the Department of Education to assess progress made by pupils during their time at secondary school. It was introduced in 2016 and compares GCSE results to Key Stage 2 test results, which the Government argues takes prior attainment into account when judging progress.

Critics have previously argued that the measure is too simplistic and punishes schools with a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils. This may lead to schools ‘gaming’ the system by not admitting pupils, such as those with special educational needs, as they are less likely to make progress during their secondary education.

To present a more informative picture of school performance, the researchers incorporated Progress 8 results with information on pupil background - age, gender, ethnicity, whether pupils speak English as an additional language, special educational needs, free school meal eligibility and deprivation.

Dr George Leckie, a Reader in Social Statistics, said: “By factoring in vital information about a pupil’s background, we have seen a dramatic change in the league tables. This leads to very different interpretations and conclusions about education in England.

“It seems clear from our results that the higher the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school, the more it will effectively be punished for the national underperformance of these pupil groups. On the flip side, other schools are rewarded merely for teaching educationally advantaged intakes.”

“We hope our research will encourage the Government to provide users with greater insights as to why schools achieve the scores they do.”

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

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