27th November 2018
Daily summary of the latest news and opinions from the world of independent education brought to you by Education Advisers...
Why school league tables matter - Far from damaging education as critics claim, ranking academic performance has helped to raise school standards
Andrew Halls, headmaster of King’s College School, Wimbledon argues that testing and league tables, however reviled they may be, have probably played a crucial role in the improvement of many schools over the past decade.
I have been teaching long enough to remember the days when how children did was mainly down to them. At the start of my career in the early 1980s, private school teachers may or may not have been any good, but no school seemed to do much about those who didn’t set or mark work, or who couldn’t control a classroom. League tables gave some of these schools a jolt — but also helped them realise what could be gained from focusing on school improvement. Staff appraisal, once regarded by the ancien regime as undignified, is part of the routine of good management; it has also made the classroom a much more supported, and less lonely, place for every teacher. In this way, league tables sharpened our focus and made independent schools, too, much more accountable.
At a time when everything from a meal out to surgery is “rated”, we expect to see some accountability for the services we use. It is hard to imagine school league tables being disinvented. A much more useful mission would be to ensure governments use tables well, not mendaciously; that the tables reflect the most important aspects of our schools; and that we trust people to understand the limitations of particular tables.
I can’t think of a single independent school that has sacrificed its extracurricular provision, its pastoral care or its sense of fun and purpose within and beyond the classroom on the altar of league tables.
Success in music, sport and drama, the way we look after each child in our care and do our best for them and their family: no league table will be able to show these things. However, I think we can trust parents to see their limitations, and to bear that in mind as they look at the rankings. I believe they also have every right to see if we are struggling to achieve results in line with our pupils’ evident abilities.
League tables are just messengers — but sometimes they tell us something about ourselves that we can learn from. We should be ready to listen.
Overstretched councils are failing to look after SEND children'
Last Friday the New School at Butterstone, Perthshire (it chose its name because, when it started, there was nothing like it in Scotland) closed its doors for the last time. Parents, who knew from their own experience the value it represented for fragile pupils who had failed in mainstream education, took to social media to protest about its closure. Their online petition reached 7,000 in two days; like the staff they are heartbroken for the hundreds of children who will no longer benefit from the care the school offered.
It has not closed because of a lack of need: the list of applications is longer than it has ever been. Across Scotland the number of children classified as needing additional support has risen by 80 per cent in five years, just as the number of qualified teachers has fallen. Whether it is because conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are now more widely recognised, or are becoming more prevalent under the stress of modern living, the pressure to find specialist provision has never been greater.
Over the years a handful of mostly private schools have been set up to meet this need. The New School was one of them. Local authorities, reluctant to concede that their own learning support sometimes falls short, funded pupils to go there only as a last resort and under pressure from desperate parents. They recognised, however, that the results were remarkable: children who had dropped out of school, or who had sat isolated at the back of classrooms, emerged from the New School able to cope with the outside world, finding jobs and fulfilment which neither councils nor parents had ever dreamt would be theirs.
Why, then, has it closed just at the point when it is needed most? The reasons are many and complex, but revolve partly around the financial pressures on local authorities, which are increasingly unwilling to find the fees for children at a school that requires a high proportion of staff to students.
13th December 2018
12th December 2018
10th December 2018