Many people argue that standards in education have reached a plateau and that initiative after initiative have done nothing to close the gap between the richest and poorest in our society. One of the surest ways to narrow the poverty gap is certainly to abolish league tables.
League tables continue to divide schools along societal lines. Many colleagues who work in more affluent areas assure me that their children continue to succeed seemingly regardless of the quality of teaching. Areas with high social capital tend to do well in the league tables and this is the measure by which our schools are judged. Schools with little support beyond the classroom don’t fair quite so well. Many schools in more affluent areas confirm that coaching and high levels of parental support helptheir children perform highly in the snapshot that is the Key Stage 2 SATs whereas children in poorer areas are seldom afforded that luxury.
No one would dispute the need for schools to be accountable – they are the recipients of a fair amount of public money after all, but such a crude and unfair method will not help close the gap. While league tables are published, and parents are told that this is how schools are best compared, recruitment of pupils and subsequent funding will be skewed in favour of the more advantaged sectors of society.
The current testing regime also places an inordinate amount of emphasis on the acquisition of facts. It relies on the recall of factual knowledge and skills because they can be easily measured. They aren’t necessarily the most important things to measure – but they are the easiest to measure, and there is a crucial difference here. In 2001 the DfEE commissioned a report from The National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Eduction entitled ‘All Our Futures’, this report was compiled to make recommendations to the then Secretary of State on the development of Creative and Cultural Education in England. The committee’s chair was Sir Ken Robinson who noted in the report that the high stakes testing prevalent then, as now, took ‘little account of experimentation, original thinking and innovation’. The danger is that too many schools still shun creative and innovative approaches because of the spectre of SATs that looms over them. Exciting learning opportunities are relegated to ‘post’ SATs activities when they should be at the centre of a broad and balanced curriculum. Such an approach will not only ensure a rounded learning experience for children it will provide an equality the current high stakes testing system fails to do.
I return for a closing word to ‘All Our Futures’ a publication that many would have missed due to the government’s concerns over its findings and recommendations.
The understandable tendency among pupils, parents and teachers is to respond to what the assessment system values most: and for education as a whole to fulfil MacNamara’s Fallacy: ‘the tendency to make the measurable important rather than the important measurable’ (Roundtree 1977)
A fresh approach to the curriculum and the abolishment of league tables will go some way to closing the abiding poverty gap.