League tables: The pros and cons


Since 1992, the Department of Education has published performance tables of UK secondary schools, but do these tables show a fair and honest representation of how successful a school is in educating the students in their care?

Stuart Nicholson, Principal at CCSS, recently wrote about this subject. He voiced his personal concerns over the league tables:

“Teaching GCSEs over three years might seem like a good idea, but it’s yet another way of putting league table places ahead of a rounded education. I first came across this phenomenon about 15 years ago on a visit to a well-known independent school. It wasn’t actually stated anywhere, but it gradually dawned on me that I was seeing GCSE topics in the Year 9 classes I watched, and on checking with teachers they didn’t hesitate to explain what they were doing. They were having to compete with more selective schools in both the state and independent sectors, where the better ‘rankings’ achieved by these more selective schools had been causing enquiries to drop for their school. They needed to get their pupils better GCSE grades and by starting this teaching early they could find a way to compete. Yes, it meant that GCSE choices had to be made earlier and it narrowed the curriculum sooner, but parents and students, themselves concerned about the competitive pressures to get the best results, were supportive of the move.”

Many of us are familiar with league tables, however, few recognise the meaning behind this information. Tables and rankings offer an overall impression of an academic institute. It gives an idea of the quality and performance of a school to help parents and students distinguish the very best schools from the poorest.

The advantages of league tables

  • Tables and rankings calculate the position of a school by balancing academic achievement with available facilities. Supporters of league tables argue that this accountability encourages teachers to perform at their best.
  • League tables provide students and parents with information to determine how their chosen school stacks up against others.
  • There has been a better performance of GCSE scores since league tables were introduced.
  • Parents get an idea of the teaching standards at a particular school.
  • Because all schools are assessed on the same statistical information it gives a fair comparison.

The downside of league tables

  • League tables make some schools look high achieving and desirable, but at a cost. The information used to determine a school’s ranking may not always be up to date. Likewise, the publications that produce the tables will often try to place emphasis on certain aspects of an institution.
  • The biggest downside of league tables is that they encourage schools to focus on rankings, rather than the needs of students. Tables place a lot of pressure on both teachers and students to achieve great results. This potentially sacrifices the happiness and fulfilment of both groups, simply to maintain league position.
  • Schools that are lower on the league tables suffer negative labeling, being tagged as ‘in need of improvement’.

What is Progress 8?

Progress 8 is a new performance measure which will compare the progress students make over a range of eight subjects. The eight subjects will be assigned points at GCSE which will make up a students overall score. These subjects will include maths, English and three EBacc subjects. The score that the students receives will then be compared to results of other students.

Progress 8 has been introduced by the government to help see if schools are helping all students achieve a standard of progress, instead of just focusing on high achieving students who would have helped the the schools position in the league tables.

In conclusion

Teaching students to pass exams is not necessarily the same as giving them a good education. League tables can encourage the selling of souls in return for good publicity and marketing.

Many schools that boast about their high exam results have achieved this by being overly selective about their entry requirements. A great education should always rank higher than fame.


Where to look next:

  • To find out more about our A Level and GCSE courses, click here.
  • We have possibly the best boarding in the UK – have a look at boarding at CCSS.
  • Our student profiles give you an insight into what life is like for students at CCSS.
  • If you’re interested in seeing which universities our students go to, click here.

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