Tuesday, 18 August 2009

More on league tables

Following on from yesterday's blog, I want to look a little closer at the Conservative proposals for education. I looked at how the Conservative want to improve the league tables and wrote that the system was flawed. We don't need league tables. There is another reason why we don't need league tables. Most of the criteria that are used for the tables are simply a reflection of the socio-economic climate of the school's catchment area. The only useful method of calculating the value of a school is by knowing how good the pupils are when they start at the school and relate this to how good they are when they leave. You don't need to go to great lengths to realise which schools are better. Parents know it already. You don't need to go to great lengths to know that some teachers are better than others. Just ask the pupils.

The Conservatives are also challenging the values of certain A levels. It seems that schools are pushing pupils towards 'softer' subjects like media studies so that these schools can improve their position in the league tables. I have a problem with this. The Conservatives are simply saying that teachers are acting unprofessionally. The guidance from teachers should relate to the aptitude of the pupil, and include how useful the A level is to university applications. It should also be concerned with the intrinsic academic benefits of that subject. Ask any teacher and I am sure that they could give many other reasons why their professionalism is being insulted by these comments.

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  1. there is the flip side....where the teachers know which pupils will succeed..yet are still obliged to teach them.
    Not always the case......but so often pupils unable to gain the A level grades are pushed into "further education" when they are not capeable.

  2. This comment is from Matthew Huntbach. I am posting it for him because there must be a fault with the system and he can't add it. So here is his email:-


    I am trying but failing to post a comment in reply to your Blog article on league tables.

    The essence of it is that I feel your second paragraph is completely wrong - from my experience as a university lecturer and admissions tutor in Computer Science I find "vocational" A-levels to be mostly useless and students, particularly from poorer backgrounds, often badly advised by teachers who seem to be clueless about what universities find to be most useful in practice. Many of these students are being badly let down in their university chances by not taking, because no-one told them, what actually would be the most useful A-levels for what they want to do. I find colleagues in most other departments generally say the same.

    I am really fed up that this line is so often dismissed as just some sort of snobbish elitism when I am actually passionately concerned for widening access to higher education as someone who was the first in his family to go to university - actually the first in the immediate family to have ANY formal qualification. I am interested in what works, and I do find that a student with a modest A-level Maths generally passes the degree, a student with better A-level Information Technology but no "traditional" subject generally does badly.

    I would like to comment in your blog, but it seems to be one of a number where you type the message in and select "Google Account" to which I'm signed in, and then it throws away the message, no comment appears, and you can't even retrieve your carefully thought out text.

    Matthew Huntbach

  3. I have re-read my second paragraph and I can't find anything wrong with the first three sentences, or the last four. That only leaves the fourth sentence. Perhaps I should have taken out the word "simply", but I have no doubt that the Conservatives are questioning the professionalism of teachers and so are you Matthew.

    I don't disagree with the majority of what you say, but I would question your criticism of vocational A levels. They must be useful for vocational university degrees.

    I am pleased that you have commented because I like to show a balance. I like to highlight what is good and bad in any discussion, and you have added to this debate. Thanks.


  4. I don't disagree with the majority of what you say, but I would question your criticism of vocational A levels. They must be useful for vocational university degrees.

    The degree programme I teach on IS vocational - the aim is to prepare students for professional work in software development. What I am saying comes from experience, students with "vocational" A-levels and other "vocational" qualifications tend to perform worse than students with traditional A-levels in ALL aspects of the degree.

    And, I am afraid, I very often came across teachers who give very bad advice to their students on this subject. It ought to be obvious, since it's in all the prospectuses, that what university Computer Science departments, particularly the better ones, value most is A-level Maths. Yet I very often came across teachers who when told this found it a complete surprise. I very often came across students who wanted to do Computer Science and had been told to do A-level Information Technology instead of A-level Maths, even though they were perfectly capable of doing A-level Maths.

    Similar applies to other science and engineering departments, and other subjects like Economics and Business and the like. They all do require Maths to A-level, though some are forced not to make it essential because there just aren't enough students taking it. After that, they'd much prefer traditional A-levels testing reasoning and writing skills, and not "vocational" ones which tend to be too much based on memorisation. I've never come across anyone who values "vocational" A-levels over the more traditional ones.

    This ISN'T about snobbery - it's about what works in practice. I'd be very happy with the supposedly "vocational" A-level in my subject if it did what it said on the tin, but the fact is experience shows that it doesn't.

    It's just SO frustrating that every time we try to say this, we just get the shutters coming down as we are told "You are just saying that out of snobbery".