National league tables should take pupil background into account, says study

As reported by the BBC, a report by the University of Bristol has said that factors such as ethnicity, free school meals (FSM) and special needs should be considered in national league tables

The research by researchers at the Centre for Multilevel Modelling, Bristol University, says that a fifth of schools would see their national league table position change by over 500 places if such factors were considered.

Secondary school league tables in England used to be based on the percentage of pupils getting five GCSEs, including maths and English, at grades A*-C, but in 2016, the Department for Education changed the accountability measures to Attainment 8 and Progress 8.

Attainment 8 measures pupils’ grades across eight key subjects, while Progress 8 looks at their progress between the end of primary school (age 11) and the end of Key Stage 4, when they sit their GCSEs (age 16).

It is a “value-added” measure which means that pupils’ results at age 16 are compared nationally with the results of other pupils who had similar levels of achievement at age 11, to look at the progress individual children have made.

However researchers say this measure does not go far enough and that schools should be judged on a more contextual Progress 8 measure that takes into account other factors that can play a part in a child’s achievement.

Using state school GCSE data for 2018, the study authors compared the government’s current Progress 8 measure with an “adjusted” measure that also accounted for the following pupil criteria:

  • gender
  • age
  • ethnicity
  • residential deprivation
  • whether they are eligible for FSM
  • whether English is their first language
  • and whether they have special educational needs.

It found that adjusting for these background factors meant that a fifth of schools would see their ranking in national tables – which show school performance based on government accountability measures – change by over 500 places.

London advantage

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Just over half (51%) of schools judged to be “underperforming” against current accountability measures would move out of this category if these external factors were also taken into account.

“The high-average Progress 8 score seen in London halves when we adjust for pupil background,” the report says. “This is principally due to these schools teaching high proportions of high-progress ethnic groups. In contrast, the low-average Progress 8 score seen in the north-east improves substantially after adjustment, due to the high proportion of poor pupils taught in this region.”

The report concludes: “Given the importance of pupil background in driving schools’ scores, the government should revise their current school league tables to include an adjusted Progress 8 measure side-by-side with Progress 8 to present a more informative picture of school performance.”

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