Revamped school league tables published

The DfES have published the 2005/06 school league tables.

Making is debut is the new measure of ‘threshold performance’ – out with 5 A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, in with a level 2 threshold that must include English and mathematics. The threshold is reached when a student has sufficient level 2 passes. This sufficiency is still achieved by 5 GCSEs, and level 2 when the GCSEs are A*-C. In this respect the only change is the mandatory need to pass Enlish and mathematics. It had been feared that making these two subjects a necessary factor in including student ‘success’ in a school’s figures would mean a drastic reduction in average levels of success. The percentage of students reaching threshold fell to 46% – down from 59% under the old measure of 5 A*-C GCSEs. Whilst a significant drop it may not be as bad as some feared.

For my own part, and for ICT, I was interested to see how the change had affected the pioneer of GNVQ IT for all (or at least the majority). Thomas Telford School was lauded a few years ago because of its dramatic increase in 5 A*-C percentage. I had always suspected that this was because of the GNVQ counting for four of them. It is interesting to note therefore that the school registered 95% in the new measure where English and mattics have become compulsory. So maybe 80% (or 4 GCSE-equivalent) qualifications didn’t distort the tables as much as seemed likely. This despite the headlines and horror stories as in this from the BBC:

A few canny pioneers realised that there was a vocational qualification, the GNVQ, which was worth four GCSEs at grade C or above. Add one more GCSE, in any subject, and, hey presto, you meet the target. To be fair, many of the original followers of the GNVQ route felt it offered the best educational option for their pupils. Others, though, realised it was an effective way of avoiding the consequences of falling below government targets. Eventually the government realised that large numbers of schools were achieving the threshold without their pupils achieving GCSE passes in maths and English.

Hence this year’s new requirement that the five GCSE passes must include maths and English. The effects on some schools have been dramatic. One school went from a score of 82% passing the equivalent of five A*-Cs to just 16% when maths and English were included. Many other schools, which had been climbing up the tables in recent years, found themselves slithering back down again. Presumably they will now find new ways of targeting performance in maths and English, no doubt at the cost of something else.

The more significant change though may be use of the phrase ‘ level 2 threshold’. GCSEs are no longer explicitly mentioned in the language of the threshold (even thought the DfES’s own link still says GCSE tables). A GCSE at A*-C is now just a 20% contribution to threshold. Many other qualifications can also contribute, as they could before. But now DIDA, for example, is not described as equivalent to 4 GCSEs but a level 2 DIDA pass is described instead as 80% of threshold.

The list of accredited qualifications, their level, and contribution to threshold is maintained by QCA at the Openquals website (soon to be renamed NDAQ: National Database of Accredited Qualifications). For level 2 ICT/IT, Openquals lists 71 qualifications across the awarding bodies. The market is wide open. The gold standard at 16 has changed.

Also this year saw a change in the value added measure include other factors other than just improvement on performance compared to level 3. Now the profile of the school’s students is taken into account and a figure based on a notional national baseline of 1000 is reported in the Contextual Value Added measure (CVA). Schools such as Greenwood Dale in Nottingham are lauded, quite rightly, for reasons of value-added and not just level 2 performance. This contextual value added doesn’t tell the whole story though, and Leicestershire’s relatively poor performance might have something to do structure in the county. The 14-19 colleges certainly seem poor relations to Nottinghamshire’s comprehensives in respect of CVA even though,  in my opinion, 14-19 is a much more coherent age range. Maybe it is not measuring like with like when there is a change at 14? A classic case of measuring soemthing other than what is puported to be measured?

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