School league tables are only part of the story

The publication of the annual school performance tables invariably provokes a media frenzy and this year was no exception.

Reforms to the way in which the performance tables are compiled made it impossible to make meaningful comparison with previous years, leading to universal criticism. If the figures are taken at face value the number of schools apparently underperforming has more than doubled since last year, while many leading independent schools have plummeted to the bottom of the table.

The main issue in the independent sector was the omission of the iGCSE from the tables, which left many of the country’s leading schools registering 0% in key indicators.  Whilst the aim of the tables is laudable, ie providing greater transparency for parents to help them choose the right school, the effective exclusion of so many schools provides a highly distorted picture.

One of the benefits of being the head of an independent school is that I am able to take a long term view on determining the curriculum and examinations that best meet the needs of our students, universities and employers.  This is why we strongly support the iGCSE at The Grammar School at Leeds; we choose iGCSE where we think it best suits the needs of our pupils in studying that particular subject, for example we feel that in the sciences and maths the iGCSE is better preparation for A-level. Given that virtually all our students move onto A-level and to leading universities, and we have studied iGCSE for a number of years now, that decision would appear to be vindicated.

We are very proud of our students’ excellent results in iGCSEs so we are of course disappointed that their achievements are not reflected in the league tables. However we won’t be deterred from using these qualifications.  We will continue to review our curriculum and qualifications framework to make sure that it’s fit for purpose and in the best interests of our students. The potential impact on our league table position is not a consideration - our duty is to our students and preparing them for the future, not trying to second guess government policy.

We know that parents will do their utmost to make the right choices for their child, and while league tables remain a useful source of information when they are looking for a school, the latest furore has highlighted that there are flaws in their construction. As well as omitting valid examinations data, the tables do not reflect the baseline abilities of pupils, the progress that they make or the pathway of study that best suits them. Neither can they reflect the value added in a school that supports each child in reaching their full academic potential and offers them a rich experience outside the classroom too.

When comparing schools, we always recommend looking beyond the statistics. It’s only by visiting schools, meeting staff and pupils and talking to other parents that you will fully understand the environment where your child is most likely to flourish.

By Mike Gibbons, Principal and Chief Executive, The Grammar School at Leeds