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Headmaster’s Blog 1 February 2012 League Table comment

February 2, 2012

This past week has seen the publication of the Government’s exam league tables. They have been widely reported on in the Press and excited a lot of discussion both locally and nationally.

We were pleased to see Ballard so well placed in the Bournemouth Echo’s tables – we remain the best-performing non-selective school in our area – but we retain a healthy scepticism for the tables themselves. Statistics disguise many things in tables designed to be as simple as possible. For example, at GCSE the Government insists on including pupils of 16 years in their statistics whether or not they sat the exam and oblivious to how many subjects were taken. There are all kinds of reasons why pupils of ‘the right age’ don’t sit GCSEs (or who take only a few) and this varies from being out of their ‘correct’ year group because of being a summer baby and occasionally accelerated into a higher year group; others have returned from overseas and decided to repeat a year and find themselves still in Y10 when their cohort are in Y11; still others are overseas’ nationals and may sit only a limited number of our exams. Some schools do iGCSE (international GCSEs), as we did when I was in India, and these exams are not recognised at all in the tables. Furthermore, some independent schools refuse to submit their results!

My greatest concern with these league tables, however, is that they cannot possibly reflect on the success and effort of individuals many of whom at a school such as ours greatly exceed their potential. For example, we had a couple of Y11 pupils last year who, according to their CATs indicators (a means of testing pupils as they move through the school and giving ‘predictors’ for their Key Stage and GCSE results), were likely to achieve only three or four ‘passes’ at GCSE (A*-C grades) and who, instead, achieved quality grades in eight or more subjects. These tables don’t show the pupils who secured a fabulous range of A*s and As in multiple subjects and they skew the overall percentage passes for schools with relatively small numbers in their Y11 – often something parents want as they look for the personalised approach in a school such as ours – because it takes only two or three pupils not to achieve at least five ‘passes’ to have a significant impact on their overall positioning.

I would encourage all those seeking to know the true worth of a school and its results to visit and enquire about the ‘value added’ nature of the curriculum and to seek to understand the ability levels of the school as well as the school’s specialisms. Our outstanding 2012 ISI inspection report commended us on a having a curriculum ‘rich in creative subjects’ and displaying ‘outstanding work in the creative and performing arts and technology’.  It also stated that, ‘The curriculum is well-balanced and effectively covers the requisite areas of learning at each stage and offers additional breadth’. It is comments like these which put us in ‘a league of our own’.

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