Schools are being “thrown to the wolves” by league table decision

11/03/2022
The President of the Association of School and College Leaders will today [Friday 11 March] warn that schools and colleges are being “thrown to the wolves” by the government’s decision to publish performance tables despite the disruption caused by Covid.
 
It comes as a survey by ASCL shows that about 80% of school and college leaders are against the move to publish performance tables based on qualifications being sat by students this summer after two years of upheaval caused by the pandemic.
 
In his speech to an audience of more than 1,000 delegates at ASCL’s annual conference in Birmingham’s International Convention Centre this morning, ASCL President Pepe Di’Iasio will say: “The government must rethink its plan to publish Key Stage 4 and post-16 performance tables based on this summer’s exams.
 

“How can it be right to compare the performance of one school or college with another when they have been so differently affected by the pandemic over the last two years?
 
“The government’s answer is to say that it will place a health warning on performance tables and advise caution when considering the data.
 
“Surely, if the data is unreliable, the obvious answer is not to publish it in the first place.
 
“This is not a small matter. Careers and reputations are affected by performance tables. Newspapers publish them.
 
“It feels as though we are being thrown to the wolves by the government’s insistence on going ahead with this misguided and counterproductive policy. That is a pretty terrible way to treat a profession which surely deserves more respect after the last two years.”
 

The Department for Education has decided not to publish Key Stage 2 performance tables, based on SATs taken by Year 6 pupils in primary education, for the 2021 to 2022 academic year (though these may be used in other ways, such as by Ofsted).
 
However, it has ruled that results from Key Stage 4 qualifications, such as GCSEs, and post-16 qualifications, such as A-levels, will be used in performance tables.
 
In its guidance, the DfE says: “We recognise the uneven impact on schools and colleges of the pandemic and will ensure clear messages are placed on the performance tables to advise caution when drawing conclusions from the 2021 to 2022 data.”
 
Students are due to sit formal summer exams in GCSEs and A-levels this year for the first time since 2019 following the cancellation of exams in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
 
Adaptations have been made to this summer’s exams to try to make them as fair as possible for students following the disruption caused by Covid, such as advance information on some of the exam content to help them focus their revision.
 
In an ASCL survey of 1,429 state-sector school and college leaders in England, two-thirds agreed with this approach:
 
Do you think that the fairest way to assess GCSEs and A levels this summer is through adapted public exams (i.e. the government’s chosen approach)?
Answer Choice Response Percent Response Total
1 Yes 65.6% 938
2 No 23.0% 329
3 Not sure 11.3% 162
answered 1429
 
Reasons given by those who agreed with this approach included that externally-marked exams were the fairest way of assessing pupils; the need to return to normality again; there being no perfect solution this year, but the chosen approach being the fairest in the circumstances; and the difficulty in standardising other assessment systems nationally.
 
Reasons given by those who disagreed included it was not a level playing field because of the variable impact of Covid and resulting student and teacher absence; and concern that disadvantaged students had been particularly badly affected.
 
Of the 1,410 respondents from settings which teach Key Stage 4 qualifications, more than 80% disagreed with the publication of Key Stage 4 performance tables.
 
Do you agree with the government’s decision to publish Key Stage 4 performance tables for 2021/22?
Answer Choice Response Percent Response Total
1 Yes 10.4% 146
2 No 82.6% 1164
3 Not sure 7.1% 100
answered 1410
 
Of the 969 respondents from settings which teach post-16 qualifications, 80% disagreed with the publication of post-16 performance tables.
 
Do you agree with the government’s decision to publish post-16 performance tables for 2021/22?
Answer Choice Response Percent Response Total
1 Yes 13.1% 127
2 No 79.8% 773
3 Not sure 7.1% 69
answered 969
 
Among respondents who agreed with the publication of performance tables the reasons given included it being important for parents to know how schools are performing; the public needing reassurance that schools are getting back to normal; and the need to know performance relative to other schools for self-evaluation purposes.
 
Among those against the publication of performance tables, the reasons included settings having been impacted in different ways due to Covid with huge variations in staff and student absence; those with more disadvantaged pupils having been disproportionately negatively affected; and there being a contradiction between measures to make exams fairer for students but not doing so for settings.
 
Methodology
The survey was sent to 13,303 senior leaders in state-sector schools and colleges in England by email from 1-4 March, and the total number of responses was 1,429 – a response rate of 11%.
 
The majority of responses were from leaders in mainstream secondary schools (91%), with the remainder from a mix of FE and sixth form colleges, multi-academy trust central teams, and other types of state-sector settings.
 
44% of respondents are headteachers/ principals; 24% deputy headteachers/ vice-principals; 23% assistant headteachers/ assistant principals; and the rest various other senior post holders including 4% who are chief executives/ executive headteachers.