Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Minister Bids to End the 'Gaming' of League Tables: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Minister Bids to End the 'Gaming' of League Tables: News

Article excerpt

Nick Gibb announces reforms to prevent focus on C-D boundary.

Ministers came clean on one of education's worst-kept secrets as they published GCSE league tables this week. They admitted that the annual ritual can lead to schools behaving in ways that benefit the institution rather than pupils.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said that the government wanted to "stamp out" incentives for schools to "game" the system and had reformed the tables to "iron out these idiosyncrasies".

He identified two problems with league tables that are based on the indicator of five A -Cs at GCSE (or equivalent) including English and maths. First, the inclusion of "equivalent" qualifications can lead to some pupils "being entered for qualifications more in the interests of a school's league table position than the child's own prospects". Second, the measure has encouraged "weaker" secondaries to focus only on pupils on the C-D borderline, neglecting other children.

But can this kind of behaviour ever be halted while the measure still exists? "I don't think it can," warned Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "While the key indicators relate to A -C grades, schools will be bound to focus on getting as many young people as they can through the C-D border."

The Department for Education is already acting to counter the first problem: from 2014, it intends to remove league table incentives for schools to use vocational qualifications of dubious value. Ministers took more immediate action on the second issue this week by publishing league table data for all secondaries on a new series of measures (see box, page 20), under a plan first announced in May.

But Mr Lightman thinks it unlikely that the achievements of all ability groups and disadvantaged pupils will supplant the importance of the current headline GCSE measure in the eyes of the media. "Newspapers will continue to publish what the public are used to and can understand," he said. "Vast amounts of additional data are not going to make that more comprehensible."

The new measures may mean that schools experience additional pressure from prospective parents. But if media rankings are the main reason for schools' perverse behaviour, then this latest ministerial wheeze stands little chance of stopping it.

It is not just publicity that gives the main GCSE measure its huge significance, but also the importance that the government and Ofsted attach to it when assessing schools. …

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