The New Right introduced league tables into the UK education system in 1988, and today they are part of the ‘education furniture’, but what are the pros and cons?
Arguments and evidence that league tables have benefitted education
- Politicians say that accountability keeps the teaching profession on its toes and drives up standards.
- According to Prof Simon Burgess there is some evidence to support this – In 2001 the Welsh assembly stopped the publication of secondary school “league tables” and this resulted in a significant deterioration in GCSE performance. The effect amounted to around two GCSE grades per pupil per year – that is, achieving a grade D rather than a B in one subject.
- League tables also give parents information on how the schools they are contemplating sending their children to are performing, and they do offer a very simple way of comparing schools (Easy for everyone to understand!).
Arguments and Evidence against League Tables
- League tables do not give a rounded picture of everything going on in each school: they focus exclusively on academic achievement and don’t show whether the school ethos is right for their particular child, or how likely their child is to be safe and happy in that particular school.
- Schools at the top of the league tables can create a “property price bubble” where parents will pay vastly inflated property prices to live near a top school, which prices out the majority of parents from the catchment area of the best schools.
- School league tables put pressure on schools and students to achieve, this can distort the basic values and principles of education: there is a lot teaching to the test for example.
- Schools lower down the league tables suffer a stigma of being branded ‘in need of improvement’ which may have all of the effects associated with negative labelling.