League Tables – What Pressure?

The omnipresent Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb, the poor man’s Gove, won the award for the blindingly obvious when he admitted that policy makers sometimes put ‘too much pressure on headteachers’.  The fact that he carried on digging a gaping hole of self awareness by continuing with the analogy of headteachers’ having a ‘football manager type pressure’, at a time of recruitment crisis, perhaps should not surprise or disappoint but it does alarm.  Much of the external change is directed by his office and therefore the pressure comes from him.

Our local paper led with the sensationalist headline, ‘School compared to Nazis for segregating purple hair pupil’. This was accompanied by an edifying picture of the scowling mother and daughter with predictable emotive quotations.  Fortunately for me, this was not our school’s turn for headline debate, although it had been the week before with the August fight and accompanying video being front page news at the end of September.  Secreted away in the paper were the GCSE league tables under the helpful headline, ‘How did your child’s school do in the league tables?’.  For the Worcester headteacher, the pressure is clearly there but uniform and controlling behaviour 24/7 throughout the year would appear to be the priority, with school league table performance not a newspaper priority, something too complex to unpick and not a good sales pitch.

Nevertheless, league tables do provide an unwelcome tightening of the stomach and an unnecessary comparison with nearby schools, not helped by the paper’s annual inability to record results properly!  As always, eager reporters want a quotation and I always fail to sound impressed and pleased at what I believe is a flawed process that schools are foolish to continue to take part in.  This year’s embarrassing comment on the league tables was the not so eloquent, repetitive rant, “I think they’re potty, absolutely potty!”.  I continued with, “We’re budgeted like a Ryman Football League club, but we perform like we’re in the Premier League”.

Football analogies are not only the preserve of Gibb!

Emotive language apart, what do league tables tell us?  They were published ridiculously early, before our annual battle to get correct grades established from the exam board.  Scandalously, 45% of our remarked GCSEs have gone up a grade with 80% shifting in mark not grade.  We still await all of science and music remarks and our £3,000 budget for GCSE put aside to ensure remarking can occur looks pitifully inadequate in comparison to other schools who allocate £12,000 for remarking.  Therefore, we have a broken system; exams that are inadequately, wrongly marked, often by untrained, first time exam markers and tables that are published for parents to make flawed judgements of which school to send their child to.  Furthermore, we continue to dance to an educational system which does not recognise the value of some vocational subjects such as hospitality or animal care.

A minister at the recent Conservative conference laughingly decried the lack of vocational subjects offered by beleaguered schools who are desperately trying to ensure they stay in the positive results column, often undertaking subjects that do not necessarily suit their children rather than putting them through the vocational curriculum that suits so many.  We have created a one size fits all curriculum and have a laborious exam system that no one has confidence in.  Why then report it?  And, crucially, why allow this system to be such a central part of how we are judged?

To continue the football analogies, Graham Taylor, England Football Manager in the infamous documentary, ranted at the incompetent linesman, “You’ve cost me my job”.  Headteacher’s could equally rant at Nick Gibb’s obsession of academic subjects to the exclusion of worthy vocational subjects.  For some he is costing them their jobs and we continue to comment on a potty, flawed system.