Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A league table of their own

The Tories like to talk about giving citizens more information about public services so that change can be driven from below, rather than by ministerial diktat. But their policies don’t always manage to resist the top-down lure of we-know-best. So in a spirit of bipartisan helpfulness, I’d like to make a suggestion about this:

The Conservatives are proposing to give more weight in the exam league tables to "hard" A-level subjects, such as maths and science. Nick Gibb, the party's schools spokesman, said: "The disappearance of core academic subjects in many state schools is extremely worrying. We need to reverse this trend and ensure more children at least have the opportunity to take these subjects at A-level. That is why we are going to change league tables so they give more weight to the most valued subjects, more closely reflect the priorities of universities and employers and therefore prepare young people better for the future."

What puzzles me is how it will be decided (and by whom) what the “most valued subjects” are. The implication is that the government will decide. Poor show. Why not publish separate subject-based league tables and ignore the overall rating? There could even be a website that lets you input which subjects you’re interested in (chemistry, psychology and double maths, if you're me in 1993) and then produces ratings for local schools personalised to your needs.

Of course, this won’t get round the problems of overly narrow ‘teaching to the test’, of schools encouraging weaker candidates to drop out halfway through, and of the fact that raw exam scores reflect the quality of the intake rather than of the teaching, but these are pathologies endemic to the standard league tables. (On the third point, value-added and contextual value-added ratings are also produced, but these seem to be scorned as a leftist plot to do down ‘good’ schools, i.e. the schools that better-off parents send their kids to.)

1 comment:

Liam Murray said...

Agree they need to be clearer on the detail but 'Most Valued' would be determined with reference to university weightings which are pretty common place at the moment.

The days of entry requirement being as bland as '3 A grades' are long gone and the vast majority of universities now rank subjects according to difficulty and align requirements depending on that. I'm assuming to Tory proposals would reference some sort of national standard built on that.