A new report says that 40% of schools that are poorly rated would rank higher in league tables if their pupils’ backgrounds were taken into account.

The findings from researchers at the University of Bristol highlights that league tables are penalising schools in white working class areas and are unfairly benefiting faith and grammar schools.

In a report, the researchers say that one in five schools see their league placing rising or dropping substantially once the backgrounds of the pupils, including special educational needs, poverty and ethnicity, are taken into account.

The report highlights that 40% of schools that are considered to be underperforming would not fall into this category if their pupil backgrounds were taken into account.

They also point out that faith and grammar schools perform poorly in league tables with the revised criteria, as do London schools.

Move up the league table rankings

The researchers say that schools in white working class communities tend to move up the league table rankings.

The research looked at data for 500,000 pupils in every state maintained secondary school in England.

They also considered the Department for Education measure, Progress 8, that is used to assess the progress being made by pupils in their secondary schooling.

The measure compares GCSE results with the SATS that were taken at the end of primary school.

Critics of the measure say it is too simplistic and may lead to some schools not wanting to admit pupils who they believe are not as likely to progress.

The researchers also used pupil information such as gender, age, deprivation and eligibility for free school meals and applied this to Progress 8 results.

‘We have seen a dramatic change in league tables’

One of the report authors, George Leckie, said: “By factoring in pupil background information, we see a dramatic change in league tables. This leads to different conclusions and interpretations about education in England.”

He added: “The higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school, the more it will be punished in effect for the underperformance nationally of these groups. On the flipside, some schools are rewarded for teaching educational advantaged intakes.”

The data also sees that the average progress shown by pupils in London will halve when data is adjusted for their backgrounds, mainly down to the high proportion of ethnic groups who make good progress while in secondary school.

The report’s authors say that the government needs to publish an adjusted Progress 8 measure that will help give a better picture of a school’s performance.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The measures for school accountability reflect the high expectations for pupils, whatever their background.”