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Research reports pupil background 'should be part of league tables'

29 October 2019

Research conducted at the School of Education reports that more details about pupils' backgrounds should be taken into account when compiling data for secondary school league tables in England.

As the deadline for secondary school applications closes this week, latest research from the School of Education, University of Bristol, shows that 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.

The research was conducted by Professor George Leckie, Professor Harvey Goldstein and Dr Lucy Prior from the School of Education’s Centre for Multilevel Modelling. 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.

Prof. George Leckie said,

"Progress 8 does not sufficiently recognize the educationally disadvantage nature of many schools' intakes and so is biased against schools teaching in these challenging settings. Thus, if Progress 8 is to continue it should be adjusted to better reflect school differences in pupil background."

“More generally, however, the comparison of schools in public league tables, whether adjusted for educational disadvantage or not, will always result in crude overly simplistic rankings and statements about school differences in pupil performance. So what is needed is a move away from deterministic accountability via high-stakes school league tables and a move towards using the data in a more careful and sensitive manner as a way to start collaborative conversations with and between schools about what is working well and less well and what can be improved in their different unique contexts."

The report has been published today (29 October 2019) by Northern Powerhouse.  The report discusses the importance of this research.

Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central and member of the Education Select Committee commented:  

“The League Tables and data that we use to judge schools are often more a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of teaching, learning and real progress being made in that school. Indeed, Ofsted themselves often reward these same measures, and therefore a school’s intake, when giving their judgements as headteachers and others have warned.  

“This independent Fair Secondary School Index uses much more detailed data and analysis to arrive at fairer and deeper understandings of what makes a good school, often turning League Table standings on their heads. We can see from this that some schools operating in the most challenging contexts are doing an outstanding job. Other schools that may have previously escaped scrutiny actually require support. 

“This is ground-breaking work by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership with Bristol University and I hope it is taken up wholeheartedly by the Department for Education, Ofsted and all those working on improving schools.” 

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership also commented:

“The government hasn’t had a consistent focus on improving education standards in the Northern Powerhouse. Unless we devolve more powers and funding, establishing a new Northern Schools Board to oversee currently unaccountable Schools Commissioners and a centre for what works in schools in disadvantaged areas, we will not be able to close the skills gap even with much more devolution and increased funding for Further Education to our Metro Mayors and combined authorities.”

“Following the publication of this Index, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership  will make recommendations to all parties on what must be done to deal with the underlying causes including in the early years of the disadvantage gap, with commitments for funding education needing to include at least £1 billion each year for five years to support the long term disadvantaged in the North in particular. That must be our priority if we are to close the North-South economic divide, alongside investing in transformational transport infrastructure for instance.”

Further information

BBC Education article

Schools Week article

Chronicle Live article

TES article

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