Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Letters

Found - A use for school value-added scores

As Tony Neal pointed out in his thoughtful and informative article on CVA data (March 06), trying to sum up a school's effectiveness by a single number is only surpassed in naivety by the folly of basing a system of accountability on each school doing better than the others. However, these school value-added scores do become much more useful if we focus on the overall range rather than trying to rank them.

Looking at the 2005 measures based only on prior attainment, the DfES website tells us that last year the difference between schools just in the top quartile of the 11-16 tables and those just in the bottom quartile was one GCSE grade in each of the eight subjects. While this is a significant difference in the statistical sense, it is hardly enormous.

The difference between a school with average value-added and one in the bottom or top five per cent is only slightly larger at ten grade points. Moreover, these differences have not been adjusted for the well-known effects of socio-economic factors on educational progress, which would surely narrow them further. Yet the government, Ofsted and the media talk as if the 'best' and 'worst' schools are worlds apart.

The message that any dispassionate observer would take from value-added league tables is that the vast majority of schools are really quite similar in their overall effectiveness. Only a tiny minority can be genuinely poor schools or truly outstanding, and even in some of these there may be special factors that have more to do with the students than the school. Perhaps this is why only four per cent of parents who filled in the Ofsted questionnaire at the time of inspection said that their child's school was unsatisfactory or poor.

The relative closeness of school value-added scores also shows how difficult it is to bring about really big improvements in students' progress across the board. The government is therefore foolish to talk as if the next initiative is going to usher in a new dawn. Perhaps it would do better to encourage schools to offer an educational experience that is more interesting to students, more relevant to the modern world and more broadly based.

In track events in athletics, the percentage difference between winners' and losers' times is equally small. Better training can alter who wins but only reduces the times by tiny amounts. Why should we expect education to be any different? Is it just possible that we may all be doing a pretty good job, albeit in very different circumstances?

John Critchlow
Former headteacher in North Yorkshire

Help is at hand

In the March 2006 Leader you had an article written by Jill Ireland about a year 10 boy with a mental illness. I am currently the headteacher of a school located in a hospital working exclusively with adolescents who are patients in one of two psychiatric units - one medium stay and the other dealing with young people in crisis.

When I started here just under three years ago I had no idea that this type of facility existed (even though I discovered that one student at the school where I was deputy was a patient).

The patients come into one of the clinics, depending on their circumstances, and as part of their recovery process, attend my school. We offer a regular curriculum with some slight adaptations.

Over the years we have become increasingly successful in terms of GCSEs and reintegration back into the community but I am very well aware that our success stems from the fact that we are a small school (maximum 33 students) taught in group sizes of no more than six in an informal way (the students do not wear uniforms and they call all staff by their first names) and have the capacity to be very flexible in our approach to teaching and learning.

If you are interested in exploring what we can offer by way of information or advice, please feel free to contact me at head.northgate.barnet@lgfl.net

Sue Howe
Head, Northgate School, Middlesex

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