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How to Count Success

The last two months have been full of league table judgement for schools, with first the PISA international performance tables followed last week by the publication of the 2013 performance data by the Government.  Whilst politicians are regularly harangued by many in the teaching profession and the media for creating the ‘league table culture’ it is perhaps worth knowing it is in fact the media that creates the league tables from statistics that are organised by area and alphabetical order.

The data released last week by the Government is undoubtedly of use and interest to parents and the wider public but suffers in the fact that there is no one accepted way of reaching a ‘valid’ judgement.  Imagine the arguments created in the football Premiership if there was no agreement over whether the title was awarded on points earned, goals scored, goal difference, away victories or a complex calculation based on points per pound spent!

Dependent on the priority of the School, needs of the pupils, or which tune of their political masters the School is currently dancing to, will determine which measure of success is used.

If the ‘average points per student’ was the key measure, then all Schools would increase the numbers of GCSE’s sat by each candidate on the basis of width rather than quality.  If Schools were only judged upon the percentage of the cohort that passed 5 GCSE’s or a specific set of GCSE’s (the Ebacc), then schools would be more likely to concentrate on those just below the C grade borderline at the expense of other pupils, or they would limit and define the subject choices of pupils in the case of the Ebacc.

In many ways, all of these outcomes are understandable but are not necessarily desirable in a rounded, balanced education system. Some form of aggregated assessment (*) combining all of the significant data would at least produce a system that was less susceptible to being played, providing evidence of consistency across all areas.

The official Government data produced last week for our local area showed that Derby and southern Derbyshire are lucky to have some top class educational providers.  DGS was consistently ranked at the highest levels compared to local state and independent schools.  What is also clear is that we, Derby High School, and Repton, perform consistently well by national comparisons.

More important than any league table success is the clear evidence that our pupils enjoy the process of learning and achieving excellence. The PISA data in 2013 showed that three of the five top performing countries academically were the bottom three when ranked for pupil welfare and happiness, whereas the bottom two countries of the academic standings were number one and two for pupil happiness.

As ever, balance in life is necessary and I hope that last week’s data and the atmosphere at DGS shows that we can both excel and enjoy education at one and the same time.

*Combining the data on 5A*-C GCSE success, the % Ebacc success, and the average points per candidate with the A Level data on the average points per entry, average points per candidate and the % success of students reaching AAB grades will give a good indication of the academic strength of the cohort.