Educating beyond league tables - Mark Bailey
St. Paul’s School, London
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Wants to talk about league tables, tutoring (particularly over-tutoring). The focus on league tables and tutoring is having a detrimental effect on our perceptions of what proper, well-rounded liberal education should be. League tables were proliferated by journalists in mid-90’s and generally adopted by the Department of Education. League table rankings are seen as a major objective measure of how well a school is doing. Examination results are an important part of education and parents need to know that the quality of the academic education is producing appropriate academic outcomes. Publishing those result and comparing them with the performance of other schools is a valid and worthy process, as long one doesn’t pay too much attention to the exact positions of schools. Different league tables can produce vastly different rankings based on what criteria is used (GCSE results, A Level, A grades. League tables also don’t take remarks into account.
A school’s academic education is about much more than public examination results. What is a school doing to stimulate a child beyond the assessed curriculum? That is an important element of an academic education that isn’t assessed by league tables. Extra-curricular achievements also aren’t measured in league tables.
Obsession with league table ranking often benefit the institutions who sit on the higher end of rankings but won’t necessarily benefit the actual pupils themselves. Some school may focus of pupils at particular grade boundaries (e.g. C/D borderline) in order to enhance their league tables positions to the detriment of other pupils. Stories of schools who prevent pupils from taking certain subjects if they believe the pupil may underperform and drag them down in rankings.
At his school, they had a pupil who was ill and could not attend school all year, however, with the help of the school he was able to continue his studies at home. At the end of the year he decided he wanted to sit his A Levels from home despite not having attended class all year. He ended up acquiring BBC grades, and although technically he did “drag down” the school in rankings, it didn’t matter because the school celebrated the fact that he had achieved something wonderful in adverse circumstances.
Tutoring – story of how a parent spent thousands of pounds on tutoring for their child from the age of 3, in an attempt to better prepare the child for their application is a prestigious school. Tutoring puts unnecessary pressure on a child. It shouldn’t be necessary if they can follow the curriculum and encourage them to be interested and engaged in their studies. If a child is over-tutored and manages to get into a highly academic school, it may be the case that the child will not be happy there, and would feel more comfortable at a school which can suit their level of aptitude and would be able to learn at the appropriate pace. Many Heads of schools believe that excessive tutoring has a detrimental effect and is inappropriate.
His school can change assessment criteria for their students. They put a lot of emphasis on an interview. They are not so much interested in the precision and knowledge base of their response, but are rather more interested in the pupil’s thought process. They also talk a lot to the Heads of “feeder” schools when deciding on who to admit with a particular interest in the child’s personality and attitude.
The idea that merely attending a school with a good school league table ranking will adequate prepare a pupil for the world is fundamentally flawed. Education is and should always be about balance between process and outcome. Obsession with rankings has lead schools teaching pupils how to pass tests rather than instilling them with the kind of knowledge that they need to be able to fully appreciate a subject. It also has an effect on the employability and adaptability of pupils in an increasingly complex and non-linear labour market.
PriceWaterhouseCoopers (pwc), for example, has abandoned using UCAS tariffs as a measure of a person’s ability and prefers instead to look for certain behaviours and attitudes and the ability to work in a team, collaborate and adapt and apply knowledge to different situations. Typically qualities that can’t be quantified by examinations.
Mr. Bailey believes there should be shift from emphasis on academic outcomes to academic process, particularly with respect to scholarship and opportunity. Scholarship can be measured in examination outcomes and what schools and universities you may be able to get into. But scholarship is also more about the attitude of mind, approach, intellectual inquisitiveness, curiosity, enthusiasm, integrity and discipline. Tolerance and respect of others views and ideas should also be promoted as part of scholarship.
If educational institutions can promote scholarship beyond just examination outcomes, we will have people who are employable. We will also have young people with better judgement. Better judgement in an increasingly complex and perplexing world. We will have young people who have consolation. Any situation which any human being has ever found themselves in, somebody’s been there before and written about it. There is consolation to be found in a good book, in the ideas that have been garnered and articulated over many centuries. It is a superb way for somebody to find inner peace and resilience within their life. It can also help to inform people on how to cope with the complexity and change in the world around them. The concept of scholarship is much broader than just an examination outcome.
All good schools will also emphasise opportunity and roundedness. They offer something beyond just the academic curriculum. At St. Pauls they try to encourage pupils to do something outside the classroom that contributes to the school or community. Whether it be something as simple as picking up litter, participating in sports or joining a school club or society.