Jane Devine: League tables teach us nothing

Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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School league tables tell us nothing about schools outwith exam results, and as such are pretty useless, writes Jane Devine

WE SCOTS are a very competitive lot. And, it seems, no more so than when it comes to the schools our children attend. Just look at the amount of media coverage the publication of league tables for Scottish secondary schools get; and, if your friends and colleagues have school-age children, the amount of conversation it seems to generate.

The league tables rank schools according to the numbers of children leaving with the most amount of highers, and parents across the country regard them with a certain degree of either smugness or envy.

I’ve always thought that league tables were a pointless waste of time. Possibly because I was influenced by my parents, both of whom were teachers and especially a father who was active for years in the EIS. But, I think the thing that shaped my thinking the most was my own experience of school. The secondary school I attended was ranked, well pretty rank, according to the league tables, yet it seemed to me, as a pupil, a pretty good place to learn. And it was.

When the then Grampian Regional Council carried out an audit of its secondary schools which looked at the value schools added to the education of all children; which factored in levels of deprivation; and which assessed pupil’s success on the basis of the outcomes that were right for them, Milne’s High School in Fochabers was the best school in the region.

That’s why league tables are meaningless. They are a very crude measure, telling us about one aspect of a school, an aspect that could be argued is as much influenced by parental support and encouragement as it is by the establishment providing the education. League tables tell us nothing about the success of a school, because success in Scottish education, and for children as individuals, is about much more than a first-past-the-post count of qualifications.

Children in Scotland have a legal right to be assisted by our education system to reach their full potential, no matter what that is. And, for each child it will be different. For many children of course it is about being able to get the highers they need for university, but for others it is not. For some children, just getting to school and making it through the day is an achievement; for others it’s about learning enough in school to allow them to live on their own or to hold down a job, and nothing to do with highers; and what about the huge numbers of kids who are not academic, but are nonetheless hugely successful?

We shouldn’t punish schools for being inclusive or for meeting the needs of all their pupils, by judging them on the success of just some. And, if we took more notice of the meaningful information that we have on schools, which does not easily lend itself to being presented in a league table,we’d be in a better place to celebrate and highlight the schools that are genuinely top of the pops.