However, the day hadn't started so well. The Western Mail had published league tables that morning, supposedly this was in order to provide parents with an insight into how well schools in their area are performing. LSP was placed tenth in a mini league of schools in Caerphilly, as you would expect I was not pleased.
I thought long and hard about blogging about this. Anything written would inevitably be open to accusations of bias or defensiveness or an element of "well he would say that wouldn't he!" Even more importantly I wouldn't want any criticism to be taken as a suggestion that other school's did not deserve a particular position. As a new head teacher I have been incredibly impressed by the collegiate ethos of the Caerphilly head teachers, I know that every school locally works incredibly hard for their pupils and I would wish success for every one of them. Nevertheless I cannot let the Western Mail's article pass without a response, so here it goes!
Let me start by saying that I have no objection to league tables, it is always a good thing to judge yourself against other schools, there is always room for improvement at LSP and as the head teacher I'm always looking for new ideas that will help us do better. However, there are several things that concern me with current developments
- There now so many ways of judging schools that the outcome can only be confusion. Currently there is family of school data, banding, the Western Mail's league table and on top of that schools are expected to evaluate their own performance against other schools. All of these often use different criteria to decide how well a school is doing. How are parents supposed to understand what are the most relevant or accurate judgements?
- League tables like the one in the Western Mail reflect prior performance. (in this case performance in 2012) This is a snapshot of school performance that when published is over a year out of date. The pupil's whose performance it refers to are now studying A' levels in year 13. I'm sure all headteachers would agree that schools can change massively in that period of time. We were very happy with our performance in 2012 but since then we have made huge progress. A league table that reflects our results in 2013 would probably look very different. Would that make me happy? Not at all! It would still only be a snapshot. What matters is the trend in performance for a school over 3 to 5 years, something that is certainly true of LSP.
- For everyone concerned with LSP league tables are always frustrating because we are being compared to MIXED school. Most people are currently aware of the gap in performance between boys and girls. It is simply a reality that girls far out perform boys particularly in subjects like English. To compare a school that only has boys to a mixed schools is like trying to compare apples and pears, they are simply not the same. Despite the fact that our results often outstrip those for boys in even the most successful schools, the presence of girls means that those schools will usually edge ahead of us in their overall results. If we had a few hundred girls at LSP I'm sure our results would look even better but that's a topic for a different blog!
- This particular league table also refers to pupil behaviour as way of judging a school's performance. I totally agree. This can be a very useful way to judge how well a school is doing. Although once again there is an issue here for a boys school, exclusion rates for boys far outstrip those for girls. Once again it is impossible to compare a boys school to a mixed school without taking that fact into account. Nevertheless, schools with low exclusion rates tend to have pupils who are more likely to be literate, engaged in innovative lessons and have excellent relationships with teachers. However, the Western Mail uses attendance data to make this judgement? It argues that persistence non-attendance is an indicator of poor behaviour. This could certainly be the case but I would argue persistent non-attendance is far more likely to be caused by severe medical issues, anxiety / depression or profound problems for a pupil at home. These pupils can often be amongst the best behaved in a school!
When I look at this, I know that this group of year 7 pupils will, without doubt, have a future at LSP that will of course include passing exams and improving their literacy and numeracy skills. But perhaps more importantly they will feel safe, they will build life long friendships, they will smile a lot (something not to be under estimated!) and they will know that they are part of a family that values their contribution.
So bring on the league tables of the future! I have no doubt that they will start to show how much we are growing as a school. Luckily, like any good gardener I can tell the health of the my school just by spending time in it. I don't have to pull up the roots every five minutes to check how its doing! No league table can ever beat that first hand knowledge and no league table is ever going alter my opinion that the most important things that take place at LSP, just like the meal taking place above, are the things that nobody ever bothers to measure.