Govt. Duplicity on League Tables Exposed

The national public education advocacy group, Save Our Schools (SOS), today accused the Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, of deceiving the Australian public about the introduction of school league tables.

SOS National Convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that publication of a league table of school results in the Hobart Mercury yesterday exposes government assurances about no league tables as worthless and duplicitous.

“League tables have officially arrived. They have been introduced by stealth and duplicity on the part of the Federal government, aided and abetted by state and territory governments.

“The assurances of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard that ‘simplistic’ league tables would not be introduced in Australia are now exposed as false and disingenuous.

“Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, said last October that publishing individual school results ‘is not about ranking schools or creating league tables’. Yet, this is precisely what has happened only six months after his assurance.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the publication of a league table of Tasmania’s high school results in the Hobart Mercury demonstrates how easy it is to publish league tables once individual school results are reported by governments.

“Australian governments cannot wash their hands of responsibility for the introduction of league tables. The Mercury has simply translated government-published school results into a league table ranking. The Tasmanian Government facilitated it by publishing individual school results on-line, a decision that was enthusiastically applauded by Ms. Gillard.

“League tables for the rest of Australia are now inevitable as soon as the Federal Government implements its plan to report the results of all schools on one central website.

“Last month, education ministers agreed to publish a profile of each school in Australia on a central website. Each profile will include a range of school results, such as the average score on national literacy and numeracy tests and average improvement over time. It will be a simple matter to program software to trawl through these school profiles to collect the results of each school and compile national and state/territory league tables.

“District tables of school results also to be published by the Federal Government are nothing but cut-down league tables and will provide another source of information to compile full league tables.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the introduction of league tables will bring the same insidious problems as they have elsewhere.

“League tables provide misleading and inaccurate comparisons of school performance because school results are significantly affected by the socio-economic background of school communities. The Tasmanian table shows that schools in higher income areas have better average results than schools in low income areas. This does not necessarily reflect differences in the quality of teaching and curriculum, just the impact of differences in the social background of students.

“Many other factors outside the control of schools also influence a school’s results. These include student absenteeism and mobility between schools, the extent of parent involvement in learning at home, and the extent to which students are engaged in after hours tutoring.

“League tables are subject to much manipulation. Overseas experience shows that many schools resort to rorting their results by poaching high achieving students from other schools and denying entry to, or expelling, low achieving students. Cheating also becomes rampant under the pressure to improve a school’s ranking.

“League tables also mislead when governments don’t report measurement and sampling errors on school results as in Tasmania. Rankings of schools often reflect chance differences in school performance rather than real differences. Consequently, school comparisons mostly identify lucky and unlucky schools, not good and bad schools.

“Research studies show that league tables also increase social segregation between schools and inequity in education. They fail to deliver on their promise to increase school performance and student achievement. They undermine quality teaching and curriculum.

“Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped publishing league tables because of these problems. In England, they are under threat of boycott by teachers and principals.

“League tables have an insidious impact on education in both government and private schools. Parents and teachers everywhere should be organising against league tables to force Australian governments to re-think.”

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