League tables 'can mislead', claims head at Orchard School Bristol in Horfield
A BRISTOL head teacher claims secondary school league tables are over-simplistic and sometimes misleading for parents.
On the day the Department for Education published a raft of school performance data, Helen Holman said the presentation of results was partly to blame for parents snubbing city secondaries in favour of schools outside of Bristol or the independent sector.
Dr Holman, head at Orchard School Bristol in Horfield, said the performance figures only painted a clear picture if parents were willing to dig well beyond the "headline" figure of the proportion of students achieving five or more good passes at GCSE.
According to Dr Holman, pictured, evidence on the DfE website shows that children of similar ability in Year 7 often achieve similar academic outcomes, with choice of school not always a significant factor.
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The explanation for the wide gap in the "headline" figure, she said, was due to some schools having higher numbers of high achievers coming from Year 6.
Dr Holman said: "Unfortunately, there is a huge focus on the 'headline' figure yet this tells us very little of significance and, in fact, can cause a lot of confusion.
"We want to stress to parents that the figures they should look at are those which relate to their own child, not a whole year group.
"Parents are looking at the stark contrasts in the headline figure when the reality is that their individual child will likely do just as well wherever he or she goes."
Dr Holman said that while she welcomed the inclusion of 'prior attainment' figures, the Government needed to look at a better measure for its headline figure – or drop it altogether.
Sarah Baker, head teacher of Redland Green School, agreed. She said: "The headlines are simplistic and only tell part of the story about students' performance in a school.
"Although our intake is different, we have a very high proportion of higher achieving pupils, like Orchard we analyse our students' results carefully to find out which groups of students have done well."
Last year, the Government said all schools needed to achieve pass rates of 40 per cent at A*-C but did not give weighting to schools with different intake profiles.
Bristol University professor Simon Burgess, who was instrumental in persuading the Government to include prior attainment in the published figures, said: "The new information compares the performance of schools for children of different abilities and has the potential to be much more useful to parents than the simple average."