Valuing what we measure instead of measuring what we value?

Analysing the issues discussed in my first two posts around an inequitable educational provision in England has led to a close examination of my own assumptions, and increased questioning of the educational paradigm we currently operate in. My next series of posts on face value may seem unconnected, but I hope to ultimately bring them together into a coherent set of observations and recommendations.

Firstly some questions arising from a simple comparison of data from two real schools. My question is which school is providing a better education for the students it serves?

Which school is providing a better education?


From this initial data, the answer to that question must be the comprehensive school with an intake below national average prior attainment and high disadvantage. Despite this intake, a very similar percentage of its students are reaching top 3rd and Russell group universities as the selective school. The selective school has a prior attainment massively higher than average, lower than average FSM6 and yet is getting no-one into Oxbridge.

However, if we add more information the evaluation changes.

dest 2

If we look at KS4 and KS5 data in isolation from destination data there is seemingly no comparison – the comprehensive school is failing. For example, 99% of students from the selective school achieved 5A*-C including English and Maths, compared to 47% from the comprehensive and Progress 8 scores from 2016 also paint very different pictures. The comprehensive school did not see any students gaining an AAB in facilitating subjects.

Which is outstanding and which requires improvement?

Despite the above KS4 and KS5 data, the comprehensive school have excellent numbers going to good universities when compared to national figures (this is a big school, with a large sixth form). This looks set to continue this year, and with the 2016 cohort with such low P8 scores.

You could suggest that either the students leading to these destinations are the ones who did well at KS4, or perhaps they came to the sixth form from other schools. Maybe the school serves a very divided catchment and it is the ‘nice middle class kids’ who are the ones successfully securing places at good universities whilst others are being left to fail. There are endless questions and variables at play here. But what excuse could the selective school possible have for their KS5 destinations figures? Surely it is a travesty that 99% of their students achieved 5ACEM yet no-one went to Oxbridge and only 18% went to a top 3rd university despite positive KS5 VA?

The point I am making is that answering the question of which school is better depends on what you measure and what you value.

This is relevant to our current context as in the real world the comprehensive school has recently been judged by OFSTED as requiring improvement, whilst the selective school continues to be judged as outstanding.

Waypoints or destinations?

I would argue that what we as a system currently measure and value are waypoints along the way to a desired destination, they are not end goals in themselves yet we treat and judge them through OFSTED as such. When we link this with the real issue around the ability of schools with a low prior attainment to offer an equitable education to their students it leads to a strong disincentive for school leaders to take on our most challenging schools.

Disillusionment and Russian roulette

Consider what it must be like to work in each of our secondary schools above; where are stress levels higher? Where is morale higher? If I tell you the Headteacher of the comprehensive school recently retired early, disillusioned with our education system, would you be surprised?

To steal a phrase from @leadinglearner, would a Headteacher considering moving to the comprehensive school be playing Russian roulette with their career?


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