Secondary School League Tables Aren’t Fair Bristol Researchers Say

Progress 8 Measurement is too ‘Simplistic’:

Researchers from the University of Bristol, say secondary school league tables aren’t fair because they ‘punish and reward the wrong schools’.

Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein, published their findings in ‘Should we adjust for pupil background in school value-added models? A study of Progress 8 and school accountability in England’. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The report found that the school league tables fail to take pupil background into account, finding that 40 per cent of schools currently considered to be ‘underperforming’ would no longer be doing so if they were.

If pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special educational needs were taken into consideration, a fifth of schools would see their league table position change by more than 500 places.

Dr George Leckie, from the University of Bristol’s School of Education, said: “By factoring in vital information about a pupil’s background, we have seen a dramatic change in the league tables. This leads to very different interpretations and conclusions about education in England.

“It seems clear from our results that the higher the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school, the more it will effectively be punished for the national underperformance of these pupil groups. On the flip side, other schools are rewarded merely for teaching educationally advantaged intakes.”

For the study, Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein analysed the 2016 data from all 3,098 state-maintained secondary schools in England, especially Progress 8.

Progress 8 was introduced in 2016 and is the way the Department of Education assesses progress made by pupils during their secondary education. It compares GCSE results to Key Stage 2 test results, but critics believe the measure is ‘too simplistic’ and ‘punishes schools’ with a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

Because children with special educational needs may not make as much progress at secondary as school as those without disadvantage, critics believe schools may game the system by not admitting them.

Including information on pupil background, language, special educational needs and free school meal eligibility would give a more ‘informative’ picture of a schools performance, the researchers say.

Free School Meals (FSM) eligibility and pupil ethnicity were the most important characteristics to take into account. Pupils entitled to FSM make up 27 per cent of all pupils, with those making nearly half a grade less progress in each subject than their peers.

The researchers want the government to publish a pupil background adjusted Progress 8 measure to give a better picture of school performances. Without this, they say the results are too ‘simplistic’.

Dr Leckie continued: “There are many well-known statistical issues with all attempts to measure school performance. While Progress 8 currently uses prior attainment at Key Stage 2 as an important predictor of progress at secondary school, we’ve shown that adding seven pupil characteristics improves these predictions and changes interpretations.”

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