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Should school league tables be banned?

Tom Rogerson, Headmaster of Cottesmore School, strongly believes they should and for very good reason. Read more to find out why.

This brief moment of respite in the shape of two Covid lockdowns has at least been a circuit-breaker for our thoughts on assessment, well-being and mental health. As we begin to see glimmers of hope in the medium distance, the following is what I hope for as we return to some semblance of normality after the coronavirus has been defeated. Would the education world not be a happier and healthier place if we removed school league tables?

I am not saying that the exams themselves are at fault; it is the way in which the exam results data is presented and used that can cause anguish.

“Simply put, school league tables place unnecessary pressure on pupils.”

There are three simple ways to make the schooling process less stressful for children and young adults: ban school league tables, ban school league tables, ban school league tables.  And once they are banned, ban them again.

Exam-based school league tables are the root of so much posturing, unhappiness and even animosity between schools. It is quietly known that the strategies that some schools have used in the past to climb this ‘league table ladder’ have sailed pretty close to the wind. What kind of example does this set our children?

The process can be dressed up as an empowerment opportunity for parents, in their search for a school. However, what is actually happening is that some settings are using the academic pushing of children as collateral, to fulfil a deep-seated need for status. You could argue that ‘How far can you push the children without them breaking’ seems to be the strategy in some quarters and again everyone on the inside track knows all too well that there are many pupils who fall off the edge every year as a result.

The process and mindset are broken – only one school will ‘do’ for some parents and that is the school at the top of the league table. Anything else is a disappointment and having to go to another school becomes a source of chronic disharmony for them. Obviously, this is a deeply unhealthy situation for any child. 

On a note of optimism, I have heard recently many well-respected consultants espousing the virtues of choosing ‘the right school for the right child’. How obvious it may sound, but how right it is. It is wonderful to hear such morally correct ideas being shared so openly and freely. Choosing the right school has never been so important for children’s mental health and well-being, especially with so much face-to-face school teaching and learning being missed. And the league tables should have nothing or little to do with this process. 

Let’s do better for children and young adults.

“To make the education world a happier and healthier place, I suggest that we remove league tables.”

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