School League tables -yeuk!

Is there anything more insidious than a league table? The glory of being at the top, the shame of being at the bottom. Those at the top will happily declare it’s a fair system and clear for all to see; those at the bottom will try to explain why their circumstances skew the figures. League tables never seemed to matter unless of course you were of a sporting persuasion but over the last decade league tables have sprung up everywhere. Who has the best council, best hospital and best school? At least in a football match the league table made sense; scored goals, go to the top, failed to stop goals, go to the bottom. But league tables for schools? How can you judge how one school is better than another?

At first it was simply done on who got the most children passing the most amount of exams. Already widely flawed and open to interpretation. Then they added a “Value Added” column this indicated how much progress a child had made from their previous school. Unbelievably nebulous. Now they’ve decided that the initial measure of how many exams they were passing failed to show the right sort of passes, so they’ve brought in something called the English Baccalaureate.

The EB is achieved if a pupil passes 6 subjects with an A* – C grade, these 6 subjects must be English, Maths, 2 sciences, a language and Geography or History. Previous exam grades had been 5 passes A*-C in Maths and English and any three others. These three others could include ICT, Child Care, Health and Social Care.

So what has been the effect of this new column? Well it seems that schools that had a pass rate of 50% now have a pass rate of 18% suggesting that the majority of schools and pupils are taking more of the modern subjects. Some critics are up in arms about this apparent slump in attainment, some seem to be suggesting rather quietly than these modern subjects are easier than the standard history or chemistry but I don’t agree. All exams and syllabuses are set to the same standard, to suggest otherwise denigrates the efforts of pupils and teachers to get students to pass. Maybe more children take and pass child care than chemistry because it seems more relevant and easier to get a handle on? If I had been offered photography or physics at school it would have been no contest.

But what is the long term cost to our society? Shouldn’t we be educating our future generations in as broad a spectrum as possible before they start to settle into their career subjects? A population that hasn’t studied history is doomed to repeat past mistakes, knowledge of geography helps people to understand the world around them; the same is true of science, by knowing how things work helps people to look at issues and problems with greater clarity. A foreign language helps to broaden the horizon and consider other cultures as well as our own. I have no issue with the modern subjects but I believe the traditional ones give us a population that is more roundly educated about their heritage, the community they live in and the world around them. After 16 they can then continue down an academic path or a practical one but on either path they will be more roundly educated.

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