Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's League Table day!

Well, actually, every day is league table day. That is the problem. But as it's the day when you get to see that your school can be summed up by two numbers (such as 51 and 1061.5,) here's a handy worksheet (don't worry if you haven't got a pen, I've summarised it for you.)

Why league tables are bad for students

By Ms Pepperpot

1) They distort the curriculum.

Schools have limited resources and there are a finite number of timeslots on the timetable. In a climate of league tables, schools will favour courses and options that maximize the points scored for students. However, this is rarely the best thing for all students. For example, some schools insist every child does a GNVQ - worth 4 GCSEs in the league tables. What if they are not interested in any of the GNVQ options? Another example is the debate over the science curriculum.

2) They distort the advice given to students.

You might think, naively, that the best advice for a particular student will be the advice that gives them the best exam results; so striving towards league table success will guarantee the best chances of 'success' for each individual student. This assumes that 'success' is the maximum number of points on the league table scale, irrespective of how those are earned and whether they will help the student in the next stage of their education or in the workplace. It also leaves out any concept of risk, of allowing students to be exposed to challenges. It leads pretty quickly to the assumption that students should only be entered on courses they are guaranteed to pass. So what do you think about the theoretical idea of a public exam system with a 100% pass rate? (see Ouroborus)

3) They stop students ever experiencing the consequences of their own actions.

When a student is late, absent, doesn't hand in work or can't be bothered to bring a pen or make notes, this should have an impact on his or her learning. He or she should learn, as a result, that punctuality, deadlines, personal organisation and above all hard work, are necessary for success in life. However, if their behaviour impacts in a negative way on their study, the results will drop. This will show up in the league tables, supposedly indicating a failure on the part of the institution. Therefore... if a student is late or absent, we will help them catch up. If they can't be bothered to make notes, we will make them handouts. If they don't hand in their coursework, we will chase them and extend the deadline right up to the wire. By the time they reach their first workplace, they are deeply marked by this - a terrifyingly large number of students have never had to face the consequences of lack of commitment or effort.

4) They steal teachers' souls

Humans working under pressure in a stressful environment, who are constantly prioritizing and who know that they can never do enough, are acutely sensitive to the currents that surround them. What is the priority? What really matters? When push comes to shove, when you are up against it, what do you choose, creativity or exam success? Answer: Exam success. To which of these endlessly demanding hoards of kids will you give your limited supplies of energy? Answer: Borderline kids (those who hover on the boundary of a statistically significant grade or mark difference. Such as the C/D borderline.) We want to educate the whole person but we have to service the pass rate first.

I'm not against evaluation, I'm not against criticism, I'm not against challenging poor standards. But this is not the way to do it.


M said...

Criticising again Pepperpot, wot. Prey what is your solution, just as one trusts in exams to force the student to learn all the material, in many cases this works, however some little twerp might find they learn only half of the stuff and that's the half that is examined. I personally can't think of another way of confirming the transfer of knowledge, so I live with the reality of harsh examination. None the less, unless you provide an alternative mechanism for evaluation raging against the machine won't help

Pepperpot said...

It's the not evaluation that's the problem in itself, it's...
a) the simplification
b) the competitiveness

It's the fact it's a case of 'define and compete'.

If your success was measured by taking one aspect of your finished products (for best comparision, one that you did not have 100% control over) and then all other qualitative measurements of performance were ignored, and then you and all your colleagues were listed on a chart every year with a percentage score for that feature, would you not strive to maximise that score? I am working on the assumption here that you are not a salesperson or similar who's success can be measured financially, but working in software...

Stu Savory said...

"Hoards of kids" ?

Are you locking them away in the cupboard, Ms. Pepperpot?

Surely, "hordes" of Kids.
As in Genghis Khan's hordes ;-)

Oh goody, English is to become a required subject ;-)

/sarcasm off