Must do better

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2000, 12:00am

The Education Department has made a valiant effort at encouraging schools to raise their standards, but it has yet to come up with a satisfactory method of assessment.

The present system uses academic performance as its only yardstick of 'value added' improvements. That is hardly fair to schools aiming for a widely based curriculum in which pupils benefit in other ways, perhaps by polishing their social skills or their performance on the sports field.

These things are also relevant, as the department recognises, which is why it is devising a broader system of evaluation to start from next summer. Until then, it is risky to read too much into the Schools Profile.

More significantly, some of the top-scoring schools in the added-value stakes attribute their academic results directly to extra-curricular activities. Pupils who represent their schools at debating competitions or drama, or with lion dances, are more likely to develop a sense of pride in the school, and a wish to enhance its status, than students at places that are good at cramming for examinations but find little time for activities outside the schoolroom.

Another flaw in the scheme is that some schools with a good reputation for academic results could find it difficult to improve sufficiently on their present performance to be awarded an 'added-value' mark. For those much lower down the scale, the only way may be up, so even a small increase in their academic results may go a long way.

Overall, the findings are not encouraging. Fewer than one in 10 secondary schools are deemed to have improved performance, and parents are not being given any information about schools held to be below par.

For all the good intentions behind the report, it seems to have missed its target. It needs a broader-based and more transparent system before it can be judged a reliable indicator of school performance.

Parents who want this guide to help them to choose a suitable school for their children will be disappointed because it contains no more information than most schools are already providing on their Web sites.