A central complaint common among British teachers is the dramatic increase in regulation in recent years. Time, taken up in the forms of paperwork and inspections, is traded for accountability. Part of this over-regulation are the school league tables published each year by Ofsted: while they offer choice to parents in terms of finding the ‘best’ school possible for their child, they conversely have put pressure on teachers across Britain to conform to standards which some feel are disconnected from the real classroom environment.
But next year the system is changing: will we finally see the right balance between the needs of teachers, and the needs of parents and students?
The system as it stands
It may not be common knowledge- but this is actually the last year of the league tables system in its present form. Head teachers and teachers alike are ‘welcoming changes’ to the system which mean that schools will be judged on raw GCSE results for the last time. Until now, schools have been measured based on the amount of pupils who achieved five or more ‘good GCSEs’, i.e. between A* and C grades.
Head teachers have ‘long complained’ of a problem with this particular metric: it fails to account for a school’s intake. Selective schools score highly compared to comprehensives, but how much of their success is down to the school and how much down to their selection of the pupils who were already ahead? Rather than a school’s position in the league table being a measure of its excellence, then, critics argued that it instead reflected little more than a school’s socio-economic status.
What changes will be brought in?
The government typically responds that while a deep analysis of the school system would be useful in its own right, parents need a simple, easy to understand metric that they can use to judge their school. Not only that, but league tables keep schools accountable for their failings: research by Prof. Simon Burgess of Bristol University found a ‘significant deterioration’ in GCSE results after the Welsh government halted the publication of league table data.
Therefore rather than scrap the system and the benefits that it can bring, the government are modifying it to instead measure schools based on the ‘Progress 8’. This measurement analyses GCSE results against KS2 test scores (taken at the end of primary school). The subjects used in the measurement include English and Maths and are supposed to reflect the pupil’s core competencies.
Will these changes actually be positive?
Rather than giving a like for like comparison of schools using GCSE results, then, the new system will measure how well schools help their pupils progress- eliminating the bias inherent in measuring selective and non-selective schools using the same data. We therefore- hopefully- will see a system with the benefits that the old league table system introduced, but with a more nuanced understanding of the intricacies of what truly makes a school ‘excellent’.
At the very least the new metric will therefore give parents a clearer idea of how much a school could actually teach their child, and while the publication of GCSE results will still put pressure on teachers who underperform, remember that accountability is not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, whether the new system will ease the ‘regulation burden’ on teachers remains to be seen.