Improving the school league tables

December 2012

Recommendations from the ESRC Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) to improve school league tables were adopted by the Department for Education and implemented in 2011.

"It is still the percentage of students achieving five A* to C grades that is the focus of attention for each group, but now schools will have to pay attention to improving this metric for high and low ability groups as well as simply the marginal children with the highest chance of getting that crucial fifth C grade." (Professor Simon Burgess, Centre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol)Information on school performance is so important it can change the decisions and outcomes of families - particularly those on low incomes. But how functional, relevant and comprehensible are school performance tables? How useful are they for parents wanting to predict their own child's likely exam performance? Not as good as they could be, according to researchers from Bristol University's Centre for Market and Public Organisation.

Standard school league tables, used by parents to identify the school in which their own child would do best in, previously simply recorded the proportion of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C. However, this just reflected the ability of the current school intake, and not the effectiveness of the school.

CMPO researchers Professor Simon Burgess and Dr Rebecca Allen proposed an alternative approach: adding a performance measure which would show parents the expected GCSE performance for a child of similar ability to theirs, for all schools in their local choice set. This would improve the functionality of the table, while still being simple to understand. This approach was adopted by the Department for Education and implemented for the first time in the school league tables in England published November 2011.

The new measures are making it easier for parents to make informative choices on their child's education. Parents have better information on the likely academic attainment of their child in a range of schools, which allows them to see more directly whether school choice actually matters a great deal for them.

The new measure is also giving schools more of an incentive to focus their attention on pupils across the whole ability spectrum, rather than just the pupils in the middle of the spectrum.

Impact

  • New school league tables released in November 2011 adopted the key component of the researchers' proposal, changing the form and content of the league tables that have formed the backbone of school accountability for more than 20 years.
  • On the recommendation of the research, the tables now include a new performance measure which shows the GCSE performance of students with differing levels of initial ability (defined by their Keystage 2 scores), thus capturing some aspects of the progress students make in different schools.
  • For each school the tables now report the percentage of pupils attaining at least five A* to C grades (including English and maths) separately for low-attaining pupils, high-attaining pupils and a middle group.

Further information