What measures the success of a secondary school?
Its Progress 8 score.
Thousands of schools educating millions of children are judged by a number, a single number. Students in Year 6 at primary school take the SATS test in the springtime and their scores become the baseline for the five years of their secondary school education. The worth or otherwise of that education is supposedly represented in the Progress 8 score. The score is worked out by comparing the actual GCSE grades achieved by a child against the grades that were predicted on the basis of an arbitrary snapshot of the child’s ability that is the SATS test.
Education in the public sector is being reduced to data, statistics that can be manipulated according to the inclination of the person using them. Google “Progress 8” scores and you can find them for all the secondary schools in the country. The government website that provides you with the information will allow you the option of comparing the scores with other local schools. The government likes a system based on numbers, it is enthusiastic in promoting the use of data. Children are statistics, schools are statistics, education is represented in tables and indices and scores.
Is this what education is meant to be about? Is it meant to be about schools that are grade factories? Is it meant to be about spending five years to ensure that one number can be compared favourably with another?
It’s not even as though the SATS system is reliable. TES reported that hundreds of irregularities were reported in 2018, it will undoubtedly be a similar picture in 2019. Primary schools that push up their SATS scores in ways that lack integrity pass a dishonest legacy on to secondary schools.
But even if there was an integrity in the process, would the statistics represent the sort of education system that people want? What about all the things that cannot be measured with GCSE grades? What about helping children become good citizens? What about supporting them in their efforts to live useful lives? What about encouraging the use of talents that cannot be measured by academic tests? What about learning for its own sake?
The obsession with statistics based on grades means many worthwhile lessons are no longer taught. Unless a lesson is equipping children for GCSE examinations, then it is not a priority. The serendipity that marked education in former times seems to have been lost
Education is inadequate for the tasks it faces. The first step toward reforming it is to abolish the system where it has become a number.