Exam tables should carry 'health warning' says head
WEST Fife's high school heads have warned that exam results tables and other school-related information released recently should come with a "health warning".
Scottish Schools Online has published a list of SQA results and data, including unauthorised absences and free school meal entitlement, for schools across Scotland for the period 2008-2011.
Scotland abolished official school league tables in 2003, although exam data is still published online.
The latest information shows that in general, West Fife high schools performed better at Standard and Higher grade in comparison to the rest of Fife and Scotland last year.
Across Scotland, 35 per cent of fourth-years obtained five or more Standard grades at credit level in 2010/11. Fife's average was 32 per cent.
In comparison, Dunfermline High had 36 per cent of pupils with those results, while Inverkeithing had 46 per cent, Queen Anne 40 per cent and Woodmill 37 per cent.
St Columba's performance at Standard grade level, however, was 30 per cent.
At Highers level, 12 per cent of fifth-years across Scotland passed five or more exams in 2010/11 and again Fife performed below the Scottish average with 10 per cent.
Dunfermline High had 14 per cent of pupils with those attainments, Inverkeithing 13 per cent and Queen Anne 14 per cent, while St Columba's scored six per cent and Woodmill five per cent.
Unauthorised absences for S1-5 for Fife in 2010/11 stood at four per cent, against 2.7 per cent across Scotland.
At Dunfermline High, this figure was 1.1 per cent; Inverkeithing 1.2 per cent; Queen Anne 4.8 per cent; St Columba's 3.4 per cent; and Woodmill 2.8 per cent.
However, West Fife heads said the published statistics had to be interpreted carefully.
Dunfermline High rector Brian Blanchflower said publication of attainment statistics was useful but "should always have a health warning".
He explained, "Schools across Scotland can have significantly different catchment areas and year groups can vary greatly from one year to the next.
"Therefore, comparing SQA exam passes from one year to the next or between schools must be done with utmost care.
"Raw 'league tables' can be particularly unhelpful and misleading if attempting to judge the overall quality of education provided by a particular establishment."
He continued, "Our general SQA results in S4, S5 and S6 have shown a steady improvement over the last four years.
"We were actually disappointed with our S4 results in 2011 but were pleased with our S5 and S6 Higher and Advanced Higher results."
Similarly, Iain Yuile, Inverkeithing High head, said exam attainments were "only useful when other statistics and issues are considered with them".
He added, "Individual year groups can be quite significantly better, or worse, than previous years and it is also unfair to compare schools with very different catchment areas through the use of league tables.
"We are very proud of the level of academic attainment achieved by Inverkeithing High School pupils over the last few years and we are equally proud of their broader achievements throughout the school year.
"Pupils, staff and parents have worked very hard to achieve this level of performance. We strive to ensure that each individual pupil achieves their full potential."
And published results can also be inaccurate, as Mike Gilmour, Woodmill High rector, pointed out.
He said, "The figures for Woodmill published by the Scottish Government do not take into account that we have a department of special education whose pupils do not take exams but their numbers are included in the school roll.
"Fife recalculates those numbers and they make quite a difference. There's no jiggery-pokery, they just take out those youngsters who don't sit those exams."
He said that following recalculation, the 2010/11 Standard grade credit-level achievements for his school stood at 40 per cent, as opposed to the published 37 per cent, while the percentage of pupils who passed five or more Higher exams was six per cent and not five.
Of such tables, Mr Gilmour added, "It's only a snapshot - it doesn't tell you anything about schools' wider achievements.
"There's a value to it but the really useful information for heads comes from senior staff and departmentsn and to compare how similar schools are performing.
"You might get schools that have OK results but the department might be underachieving."
This article appeared in Dunfermline Press 21 Dec 11
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