How the Welsh Government’s secondary school banding works (or rather doesn’t)

Look at this carefully and try to imagine how this can produce meaningful single ‘scores’ for each school:

The system works on five bands, with Band 1 being the best scoring schools and five at the other end of the scale.
The total score each school gets is partly based upon marks for pupils’ GCSE results and their attendance levels.

The number eligible for free school meals is also taken into account, to allow for the challenges of running a school in a deprived area.

Most of the categories also take into account a school’s progress over time, rewarding schools that are making improvements in performance.

Schools in the top bands will be expected to share their success and help develop better approaches in other schools (if they can untangle just how on earth they achieved it).

Local authorities will also be expected to use the system to target improvement resources on the schools that need it most. (Good luck with that!)

School Scores/Bands:

By County:

It is an absolute nonsense to try to amalgamate such a collection of arbitrary and misleading figures into any sort of meaningful score. I teach Essential Skills courses in Application of Number and if a learner presented such a flawed exercise as an assessment piece, there would be no option but to refer it back for a complete re-think!

The Conservatives called the bands “vague and confusing”, Plaid Cymru said they were “not credible” and the Welsh Liberal Democrats called them “crude”.

Labour’s Education Minister, Leighton Andrews, says the results will challenge those “not delivering for our young people”. How on earth he thinks it will achieve anything so lofty is beyond me. It will induce complacency in those that find themselves in the Top Band without a clue how they got there, and thoroughly demoralise those in the lower bands, doing a good job but being publicly humiliated. Neither is a good outcome.

As if to illustrate this point, the school which came top in this new system last year has fallen into one of the lowest groups. When it was introduced last year, Ysgol Tryfan in Bangor, Gwynedd, had the best relative score in Band 1, but has now dropped to Band 4. Ysgol Tryfan’s head raised questions over a system allowing such a big change. “Last year’s results were exceptionally good and meant the school was at the top of the banding scores,” he said. “This year’s drop is a disappointment, but one questions a system which allows such a big change, especially perhaps the progress measure. So if a school has had an exceptionally good year in 2011, they’re punished for it in 2012, even though the school is close to the highest quartile according to [school inspection body] Estyn’s most important measure.”

I would also have to question the credibility of a system that tends to highly score schools that patently peddle mis-education (I.e. faith schools; notably Catholics ones).

As a parent and former teacher with many close friends still in secondary schools, I know a dozen or more of these schools pretty well. I know these scores and tables are utterly meaningless and of no practical value at all. It is another truly embarrassing shambles that can only undo all the relief and goodwill created in Welsh schools when the Welsh Assembly kicked the crude exam league tables into touch in 2001. But at least those tables had an intelligible rationale.

The Labour administration should apologise for this crass and damaging exercise immediately and undertake a damage limitation exercise, as absolutely nothing positive can come from this at all.

Andy Chyba

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