Study rejects `crude' British league table for schools


A crude British-style "league table" ranking of schools according to exam results would be a misleading way of measuring Irish second-level schools' effectiveness, a new ESRI study has concluded.

It finds that most of the significant variations in schools' exam performances, both at Junior and Leaving Cert levels, are due to differences in the gender, social class and ability mix of pupils coming into second-level education.

Do Schools Differ? by Dr Emer Smyth, based on a survey of 116 schools across the State, was published yesterday by Oak Tree Press in association with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

Publication of league tables of schools' performance has been a hotly contested issue in Britain. Many parents there are anxious to see schools' performance measured, while many teachers insist that the means of measurement is unfair. Very often they reflect social and economic rather than educational problems in schools in deprived areas, they say.

"Knowing a particular school's average performance in `raw' terms tells us little about the difference the school actually makes to its pupils. An above-average ranking in these terms may merely reflect a selective pupil intake. In contrast, another school may have lower exam results but its pupils may have made considerable academic progress relative to their initial ability levels," Dr Smyth writes.

She warns that measuring school effectiveness is a highly complex business, with schools rarely being consistently effective across the whole range of indicators, which include exam results, absenteeism, potential drop-out rates, stress and academic self-image.

However, she does identify a number of factors which are important in improving schools' academic performance. These include a "strict but fair" disciplinary climate, high teacher expectations of their students, good pupil-teacher relations and pupils' involvement in their school. High levels of management-staff consultation and parental involvement are also elements in school effectiveness.

She recommends the introduction of a national system of collecting confidential information from schools about issues like absenteeism and drop-out rates. This should start with a study of pupils' abilities and backgrounds when they arrive in second-level schools and should survey them again at various stages. The ASTI general secretary, Mr Charlie Lennon, welcomed the report's rejection of exam "league tables". He said it showed "the strong relationship between the quality of teacher-pupil interaction and improved academic performance and the personal development of students."