Beleaguered tables an own goal for government?

Posted on: 30 Jan 2015

If you had the chance to ask Nicky Morgan about the purpose of the government’s league tables for schools, it is likely she would say that she wanted to make schools accountable, highlight weak areas and help parents make informed choices.

As schools and parents try to make sense of today’s tables, there is much discussion and debate about fairness and accuracy and, in almost equal measure, a lot of misinformed opinion. The facts of the matter speak for themselves – many of Britain’s top performing academic independent (and state) schools find themselves plummeting to the bottom of the tables, raising serious questions about the efficacy and value of the tables system at all.

Much of the brouhaha today surrounds the iGCSEs which, having been championed by none other than Michael Gove, have now been discounted from today’s tables. Yet these are established qualifications, proven to be more rigorous than the current alternatives and selected on that basis by the best schools in the country. I was asked this week by a parent whether the fact that the government is now bypassing iGCSEs in its assessment of education means that the universities will discount them. My answer to that was and is an emphatic ‘no’. You only need to look at the destinations report, also out this week, which clearly illustrates the disproportionate amount of privately-educated students winning places at top universities. That is a topic for a different debate but what can’t be ignored is the fact that a significant majority of these students will have taken iGCSEs.

Qualifications are constantly evolving and we as school leaders have a duty to make informed decisions for the benefit of our students. At Headington we offer a wide mix of iGCSEs and GCSE courses and each subject is evaluated on the rigour and breadth of the curriculum on offer. We continue to do this and indeed will look at the new maths GCSE as it is developed by government – if we feel it offers a better course than the iGCSE we currently offer we may well adopt it in due course and if it doesn’t, we won’t. It’s that simple.

The reaction to today’s tables is not the independent sector screaming ‘poor me’ – far from it. We select the right curriculum for our children, one that will stretch and challenge them and that will set them in good stead for university, and we will continue to do so. It is also a myth that this is only affecting independent schools; under Michael Gove many state schools were encouraged to adopt the iGCSE and they are now not only affected by today’s tables, but also being forced to review their decisions.

Once again it is the parents who lose out here, unable to use the tables to make any kind of informed choices about their children’s education and having to find a way through the smoke and mirrors to get to the reality. It stands to reason surely that any table where the most successful schools – and not only in the independent sector - are those scoring a healthy zero can have little value. We might be a long way from saying come back Michael Gove all is forgiven but, equally, the government is going to have to work a lot harder to win back the trust and respect of those who are at the coal face of education – those who teach our children.

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The ISC Press Office posts blogs on behalf of ISC schools and Associations.