Ministers 'move goalposts' for league tables

THE NUMBER of schools failing to meet Government targets in Yorkshire could surge under tough new measures being introduced with today's league tables.

New figures will show how every secondary school in the country performed in last summer's GCSE and A-level exams.

This year the coalition Government has introduced a tougher new minimum standard for GCSE results which every school is expected to reach.

Under Labour, secondaries were expected to get 30 per cent of pupils to achieve five good GCSE grades including English and maths. However the coalition has increased this benchmark to 35 per cent of pupils.

Ministers say their new target is more sophisticated than the last system because schools who fail to meet the figure will only be classed as under-performing if their pupils are also failing to keep pace with the national average level of progress that is being made across the country by all children between the ages of 11 and 16.

A Yorkshire Post analysis of the previous year's league tables shows the new Government target would lead to a sharp increase in schools being classed as under-performing.

In 2009, 45 state secondary schools in the region failed to meet the old 30 per cent target. Using the new tougher targets with the same results, however, 74 secondary schools would have failed to hit the benchmark - an increase of 64 per cent.

The new tables will also include for the first time information on how many pupils at schools have achieved the Government's new English Baccalaureate – awarded to those who achieve at least five good GCSEs including English, maths along with passes in a language, science and humanity subjects.

The move has attracted opposition from teaching unions who claim it is unfair to judge schools on a target which did not exist when the exams were sat.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "Today's secondary school league tables are going to achieve something quite remarkable in being even more meaningless than usual.

"In no way will they show how well schools perform. In fact, it is quite irresponsible to publish the league tables at all since the Government has moved the goalposts after the exams, to which they relate, were sat.

"Publishing this data will damage students' education. Schools are being ranked on a measure which is arbitrary and downgrades vocational education. This is not the way to provide a well-rounded education to fit young people for life in the 21st century."

The National Union of Teachers' general secretary Christine Blower said: "Teachers and head teachers will be dismayed that not only has the Government once again changed the goalposts for school accountability but also made it retrospective.

"You can't have schools judged against criteria that were not previously in place. This will significantly disadvantage some schools, as they will not have been geared up to doing, for instance, a modern language.

"Schools deserve better from the Government. This is just political manipulation of students' educational outcomes which has nothing at all to do with the real purpose of education.

"The Government should start to work more closely with educators to devise a testing and accountability system which works in the interests of students and their parents."

A left of centre thinktank has also warned that producing league tables based on how many pupils achieved the new English Baccalaureate gives schools an incentive to recruit more affluent children and flies in the face of the Government's flagship pupil premium policy designed to encourage the teaching of poorer pupils.

The coalition Government's premium is set to provide an extra 2.5bn by 2014/15 to schools which take on pupils who receive free school meals.

The policy is aimed at boosting the academic achievement of children from the poorest backgrounds by giving schools an extra incentive to take them on.

But the Institute of Public Policy Research believes that the new English Baccalaureate will make it less likely that schools would want to recruit poorer pupils as they typically perform less well in sciences and languages.

According to the thinktank in last year's league tables only 13.9 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved an A* to C grade at GCSE in a modern foreign language, compared to 30.4 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals – an attainment gap of 16.5 per cent,

And 34 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved two A* to C grades in science subjects, compared to 57 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals, a gap of 23 per cent.

Nick Pearce, institute director, said: "Schools that have tumbled down today's league tables will now be encouraged to focus their resources on better-off children likely to get the English Bac, undermining well intentioned policies like the pupil premium.

"Michael Gove is pushing schools in two different directions. On the one hand he is measuring success according to how many of their pupils get the English Bac, and one the other hand he has set a floor target that 35 per cent of all pupils in a school should get five A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths."

How schools in region are rated

The Department for Education will produce league tables today based on the exam results of students at both GCSE and A-level last summer.

Tomorrow's Yorkshire Post will include figures for every secondary school in the region along with tables showing which local education authorities are the best and worst performers.

The tables, which are published this morning, also show which schools are delivering year-on-year improvements, which have added the most value to their children's education and which schools have the highest number of pupils regularly absent. Local results will be available from this morning on the website.