Performance tables: ‘handle with care’

Without a doubt, performance tables are interesting and useful when helping to form a bigger picture but, this year, it is not possible use them to make accurate comparisons with previous tables in order to track progress.

No lines can and should be drawn between data in 2013 and 2014. This was a period of unbridled change; in this period alone we saw rules on only counting the first GCSE entry introduced, the English speaking and listening grade was removed, there were changes to the way vocational qualifications were counted, and some English GCSEs were not included.

Therefore, as Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) both agree, it would be comparing apples and pears.

Performance tables should always be used with caution. They help parents to ask informed questions but they don’t give the full picture. They highlight qualifications and aspects that the Government considers important, but which may not be relevant in a school’s context.

In addition, by only counting the first GCSE entry, for example, they may give a skewed picture of a school’s performance.

That is why ASCL and other partners have launched alternative performance tables. These will fill in the gaps and give a more holistic picture. Schools have been voluntarily submitting their own data to the tables and, in time, this will build up a more accurate picture of performance across England.

It is about moving ownership of data away from Government and focusing on what schools think is important; presenting a full picture and allowing them to tell their own story.

Schools can take the lead on publishing and presenting the data they feel is important, including but not limited to, the best GCSE results students achieve and, also, results from qualifications that are not included in Government tables.

More excitingly still, we can turn this into a system which helps make benchmarking information available much earlier than at the moment. If schools upload their electronic exam files there is no reason why there couldn’t be a populated set of data available within a few days of results coming out.

This would then establish a set of national averages in the key indicators (C+ in English for example) so schools could draw some conclusions about their performance, rather than waiting until October for the statistical first release, November for invalidated RAISEOnline and January for the performance tables.

It also would help schools that have inspections during the autumn to speak with some authority about the strength of their results because they could at least compare them to something.

And it would help organisations like ASCL because it would alert us to significant changes in results rather than relying on dozens of individuals emailing us separately.

Ultimately, this is about schools taking ownership of the measures by which the public, including parents, hold them accountable. We want parents to have as much information as possible, but it needs to be presented in a way that is genuinely useful and gives a clear, full picture of the quality of education that schools provide and the outcomes that young people achieve.

That is what really matters.

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