League tables which ignore disadvantages ‘punish and reward wrong schools’ in the North

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Photo: JPI Media
Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. Photo: JPI Media
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A Bradford school would be the best secondary in England if performance scores were adjusted to take pupil background into account.

Those are the claims made in research from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) and the University of Bristol, with a new ranking table published today.

The NPP says the disadvantages faced by children in the North are ignored in the current system of school performance, and that in their new table - called the Fair Secondary School Index - Yorkshire schools moved an average of 82 spots higher in the league table when factors such as pupil ethnicity, deprivation and special educational needs were taken into account.

In the North East, schools on average were ranked 361 places higher; in the North West, 107 places higher.

More than half (51 per cent) of schools across England currently judged to be underperforming would no longer fall into this category and Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford would be the best school in England.

Lucy Powell, MP for Manchester Central and member of the Education Select Committee, said: “The league tables and data that we use to judge schools are often more a measure of the school’s intake than the quality of teaching, learning and real progress being made in that school. Indeed, Ofsted themselves often reward these same measures, and therefore a school’s intake, when giving their judgements as headteachers and others have warned.

“This independent Fair Secondary School Index uses much more detailed data and analysis to arrive at fairer and deeper understandings of what makes a good school, often turning league table standings on their heads.

“We can see from this that some schools operating in the most challenging contexts are doing an outstanding job. Other schools that may have previously escaped scrutiny actually require support.

“This is ground-breaking work by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership with Bristol University and I hope it is taken up wholeheartedly by the Department for Education, Ofsted and all those working on improving schools.”

Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, added: “The Government hasn’t had a consistent focus on improving education standards in the Northern Powerhouse. Unless we devolve more powers and funding, establishing a new Northern Schools Board to oversee currently unaccountable Schools Commissioners and a centre for what works in schools in disadvantaged areas, we will not be able to close the skills gap even with much more devolution and increased funding for Further Education to our Metro Mayors and combined authorities.

“Following the publication of this Index, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership will make recommendations to all parties on what must be done to deal with the underlying causes including in the early years of the disadvantage gap, with commitments for funding education needing to include at least £1bn each year for five years to support the long term disadvantaged in the North in particular.

“That must be our priority if we are to close the North-South economic divide, alongside investing in transformational transport infrastructure for instance.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We want all pupils to fulfil their potential, regardless of their background, and we introduced Progress 8 to provide a fairer measure on how schools are supporting pupils to achieve their best.

“Progress 8 helps parents choose the right school for their child, specifically recognising those schools that make good progress with lower attaining pupils, and identifying those schools not doing enough with a high performing intake."

The figures come from the latest study by Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein from the Centre for Multilevel Modelling at the University of Bristol who analysed the 2018 data from all 3,165 state-maintained secondary schools in England.

They looked at Progress 8, the headline measure used by the Department of Education to assess progress made by pupils during their time at secondary school. It was introduced in 2016 and compares GCSE results to Key Stage 2 test results, which the Government argues takes prior attainment into account when judging progress.

The findings are consistent with previous research published by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership from Education Data Lab which showed many working-class girls and boys from less well-off homes and groups including those from white ethnic backgrounds do worse overall currently.