Leading private schools are abandoning ‘irrelevant’ school league tables that fail to recognise the tougher qualifications they use and the wider education they offer.
Wellington College has announced it will no longer participate in the tables to help teachers and pupils concentrate on learning rather than competing for higher places in the rankings.
Julian Thomas, who took over as the school’s headmaster in September, will tell parents this week that the school is withdrawing from league tables. Peter Green, headmaster at Rugby school, also said he would consider exiting the league tables, as he did in his previous school, Ardingly College.
Wellington’s decision follows similar moves by Eton College, St Paul’s and Winchester College, to boycott the ratings by not submitting their A-levels and GCSE results.
Many private schools favour International GCSEs instead of the standard GCSEs taken in state schools. However, they are not recognised by the government for the purposes of rankings, meaning schools appear at the bottom of the tables, despite receiving good results.
Mr Thomas is also concerned that the focus on league tables can distort teaching in some schools by encouraging “teaching to the test”.
“Increasingly the league tables have been irrelevant as they attempt to compare different qualifications. Consider the post 16 qualifications,” he said. “Students take A Level, IB and Pre-U.
“In an attempt to make comparisons, league tables have created artificial tariffs and equivalences that are simply not valid.”
Speaking at an event in London this week, he will argue schools are failing to prepare youngsters for the world of work and life in general.
Writing exclusively for the Sunday Telegraph, he said: “We should recognise that there are exceptional schools outside the top 200 just as there may be mediocre schools inside the top 50,” he will say. “We simply cannot tell from the information provided. Yet we all collude in this harmful merry-go-round through our seemingly unquenchable fascination with measurement and comparison.”
He will add: “It is clear that all schools have to genuinely commit to an education which goes way beyond simply the acquisition of grades A*-C. We have to equip our children with the skills and aptitudes they need to live, thrive and survive in the future.
“Skills such a critical thinking, problem solving, independent thinking and learning, leadership and creativity.”
Rugby head Mr Green said league tables were used by schools to make “extraordinary claims about themselves”.
“The whole sense of ‘hooray, we’ve reached the league tables’ doesn’t fit with me,” he said. “It’s like comparing apples and pears. How can you compare boarding schools with very selective grammar schools, or single sex?”
Mr Thomas is calling for the Government and leading educators to create a new system of school and student assessment which “could evolve to meet the needs of current and future generations”.
“Schools, driven by the need to hit targets, satisfy stakeholders and compare well with their competitors, are often tempted to withdraw to the safest and easiest method of achieving good grades – “teaching to the test”. Worse still, there is often a temptation to make educational decisions which maximise grades at the expense of the students’ best interests.
“All of which makes the school league table – at least in its current form - much worse than an unnecessary distraction but, in fact, a key driver for poor educational practice.”
While Wellington will no longer make data available for compilation in league tables, they will still be available for parents on the school’s website. If people wish to make comparisons they are welcome to do so, but our own focus will be on other, more important, indicators of educational success,” said Mr Thomas.