January 30: League tables must be clear

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THE PURPOSE of education league tables is to give parents clear and accurate information, not to make schools feel good about themselves.

For schools to complain, therefore, that their position in today’s secondary-school tables has slipped because of changes to the rules – changes deliberately aimed at producing more accurate information through the imposition of more exacting standards – is clearly disingenuous.

Of course, considering that these latest league tables no longer include many vocational qualifications, nor the results of resits, means that it is pointless trying to make a direct comparison between this year’s results and last year’s.

But the new tables arguably give a far more accurate picture of pupils’ performance and offer a better idea of which schools are struggling to help pupils to reach their potential.

And although it is impossible to make direct comparisons with past tables, the fact that the number of failing schools has doubled is a sure sign that there is no room for complacency.

These latest changes may have made it easier to spot where the failings are, but they also show there is scant evidence of the Government’s education reforms bearing significant fruit.

On a local level, too, the fact that education authorities in Bradford, Hull, Doncaster and Barnsley are still among the worst performers also suggests that the drive to improve struggling schools is not producing success on the scale that the Government envisaged.

Of course, regardless of how schools see it, if these latest tables help to give parents a more revealing picture, that is progress of a sort. Yet they clearly have their faults. The fact that many leading schools have sunk to the bottom of the tables simply because some of their international GCSE qualifications are not recognised, for example, is manifestly an absurdity.

The position is not helped by schools threatening to publish alternative tables, based on the old criteria, which might make them look better but which can only succeed in confusing parents further.

School league tables should be as simple and as transparent as possible and, at the moment, that is still far from being the case.

A slim chance

Hope for combating obesity

TO THOSE perturbed and astonished by continual reports of obesity among children, some welcome clarity is provided by a comprehensive new set of figures.

An exhaustive, 20-year study of the health records of more than 370,500 children at general practices across England shows that more than a third are now overweight or obese and illustrates how this alarming problem has grown worse over the years.

However, the figures also suggest that, after a rapid rise, the increase is starting to level off, at least among younger children, perhaps because years of intensive public-health campaigning are starting to bear fruit.

Also revealing are the patterns which show that, for both boys and girls, the prevalence of obesity is greater in 11-15-year-olds, the age at which so many teenagers start to reduce activities such as school sport and adopt a far more sedentary lifestyle.

Clearly, then, despite the improvement in the figures over the past decade, there is no cause for complacency. More work is needed to discover exactly why this improvement is happening and how it can be sustained, particularly in older age groups.

Obesity, in all ages, is a modern scourge that is putting yet another unnecessary burden on the health service and it is crucial that successful methods of combating it are accurately identified and acted upon as soon as possible.

FA Cup own goal

BBC’s failure of vision

FOR FOOTBALL fans across the country, if the FA Cup is about anything, it is about unpredictability and magic, about the matching of lowly teams with the superstars of the Premier League and about the possibility, however unlikely, of a huge upset.

Unfortunately, the nation’s broadcasters seem to have forgotten this. For that is the only conclusion to be drawn from their astonishing decision not to select Bradford City’s tie against Fulham or Sunderland as one of the televised fifth-round matches.

City’s magnificent 4-2 humbling of mighty Chelsea sent shockwaves across the soccer world and caused a huge increase in viewing figures for Match of the Day. This courageous League One team is the very embodiment of the FA Cup’s magic and it is a huge pity that the BBC does not understand this.