The school league tables are changing, so that we are now going to have more information about schools than ever before. In particular, schools will be judged by how many children get five academic GCSEs: English; maths; science; ancient or modern history or geography; and a modern or ancient language. Seems like a good idea, no?
Well, no, it isn’t, according to a number of schools. The reason some schools are upset is that only some 15 per cent of the nation’s children are predicted to achieve this basic standard. Remember, the standard is FIVE GCSEs. And remember, the GCSE of 2010 is probably the equivalent of the 11+ exam 50 years ago.
Understandably, schools don’t want to be judged by a standard that they cannot reach. I suppose I’m wondering how our schools are ‘just fine’ and ‘not broken’ when less than a quarter of our country’s children (not just our inner-city children) are leaving school without what would seem to be the most basic of qualifications. Erm, I think the Emperor may be naked after all.
But schools do have a point in being annoyed that there was little warning given. Some schools for instance, do not teach a language (modern or not) at GCSE at all anymore. When languages were made optional (essentially because there was such a shortage of language teachers), many schools abandoned language-teaching altogether. In some inner-city schools, GCSE language classes had literally a handful of students. They saw little point in insisting that children should pursue a subject that is one of the more difficult ones to secure that desirable ‘C’. And as it didn’t matter what five subjects secured the C, it didn’t matter. Now, without warning, these schools are being judged on how many children managed to get a language GCSE. One can see how infuriating this new development would be for these schools.
However, the outrage caused by these new league tables reveals something no school would ever want to admit: that they teach to targets. It is one of the terrible consequences of a target-driven culture. I doubt Michael Gove meant to make such a revelation. But it demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that schools are so wrapped up in target ticking that they cannot even recognise that their fury with the government reveals something extremely unpleasant: that they choose not to teach what is best for their children. Instead, they choose to teach their children what will push them higher up the league tables.
All the more reason, one might argue, to ensure that the league tables set targets for qualifications that are what we would want all children to have. This, after all, is what Michael Gove has done. If we cannot depend on our schools and the professionals who run our schools to make the right decisions for our children then I suppose they need to be ‘encouraged’ by this target-driven culture.
I don’t know about you, but I find it wholly depressing. But it can get better. All we need to do is first admit there is a problem. Then we need to go about fixing it. But instead we stick our heads in the sand, insist that our schools are just fine and whine about this new government setting unachievable targets.
These new league tables are a wake-up call that should spring schools into action. I only hope they’re open-minded enough to listen.
More information on school league table reforms here and here.