Scrapping School League Tables 'Has Raised Educational in Equality' for Welsh Children; ACADEMICS FIND DECLINE IN STANDARDS IN POOR AREAS
Byline: GARETH EVANS
THE Assembly Government yesterday stood by its decision to scrap school league tables after figures revealed results inWales have suffered since they were abolished.
According to the University of Bristol, the publication of league tables raises school performance and "significantly improves" academic ratings.
Researchers compared the educational outcomes in England, where secondary schools are ranked, and Wales, where they are not.
Since league tables were scrapped in Wales, following devolution of powers in 2001, figures show there has been a fall of almost two GCSE grades per pupil per year.
The decline in performance is strongest among schools with the most students eligible for free school meals. The findings are concentrated in the lower 75% of schools, with levels of poverty and ability contributing factors.
Schools in the top quartile of the league table suffered no ill effect, while those in the bottom 25% show a fall of three GCSE grades per pupil per year.
Despite pressure to re-introduce the controversial system, an Assembly Government spokesman said there were more effective ways of presenting information to interested parties.
The report, conducted by Bristol University's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, said policy reform in Wales reduced average performance and raised educational inequality.
"Our results suggest that school accountability policies hold promise for raising school performance, particularly for students in disadvantaged schools and neighbourhoods," it said.
"If uniform national test results exist, publishing these in a locally comparative format appears to be an extremely cost-effective policy for raising attainment and reducing inequalities.
"We find systematic, significant and robust evidence that abolishing school league tables markedly reduced school effectiveness in Wales.
"We show that the effect is robust across levels of competition between schools, and across rural and urban areas."
Research exploits the "natural experiment" created by the abolition of secondary school league tables in Wales and compares the impact of removing them on two near-identical education systems.
The study accounted for different resource levels and funding regimes to maintain consistency.
Professor Simon Burgess, director of Bristol University's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, presented the research.
He said: "School accountability policies such as league tables seem to be a costeffective way of raising school performance, particularly for students in disadvantaged schools and neighbourhoods."
In the light of the findings, Professor David Reynolds, an expert on Welsh education, called on the Assembly Government to reassess its position on league tables.
"This data is based on individual pupils and they have been able to follow a cohort of children through in both England and Wales," he said.
"It seems the schools at the bottom of the achievement hierarchy in Wales are performing poorly because they just don't face the pressure faced by schools in England.
"This is a slap in the face with good data. League tables were abolished for the best possible reasons but now they should have another look."
But the academic analysis last night attracted a mixed response from Wales' teaching unions.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of ATL Cymru, said the findings were "disturbing" but considered league tables stressful and counter-productive.
"Naming and shaming is too crass and a new system of accountability must be sought," he said.
"The vast majority of headteachers, teachers and pupils would not welcome the reintroduction of league tables. …