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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 00:03 GMT
Assessing the value schools add
Scarborough Sixth Form College
Scarborough Sixth Form College: Adding value [College photo]
A number of England's secondary schools have taken part in a trial of a new way of measuring their pupils' A-level performance that shows how much "value" a school has added.

A welcome recognition that schools start from different baselines

Head teachers' leader John Dunford
A so-called "value added" measure has long been argued for by head teachers who object to raw results being used to produce the annual school league tables.

The complaint is that a school's exam "output" largely reflects the abilities of the pupils it takes in from local primary schools to begin with.

There is to be a widespread consultation on the basis of the trial, which will also consider measuring pupils' progress between the ages of 11 and their GCSE exams, and what might be done in primary schools.

The intention is to have full "value added" indicators for secondary schools in time for the 2002 league tables.

Click here for this year's tables

Head teachers see the trial as a step in the right direction.

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, John Dunford, said he was unhappy with some aspects of the method used.

But he added: "The move towards value-added statistics represents a welcome recognition that schools start from different baselines and that the present performance tables present an unfair comparison between schools of different types."

The trial this year involved 155 schools, sixth form centres and further education colleges, selected to be broadly representative of the whole state and independent sectors.

Statisticians divided students' into groups based on the number of points they achieved in their GCSE exams or GNVQ equivalents.

Those with less than 40 were in one band, those with more than 80 in another, and those in between were put into bands roughly one point apart.

The bands were used to draw up a reference point of 100 which was the "median" achievement of all the students.

Above and below

Once the A-level, AS-level and Advanced GNVQ results were known, institutions were given a score above or below 100 which is intended to show how much progress their students had made since taking their GCSEs.

In the trial, the average score of the 155 institutions who had volunteered to take part was 100.5 - indicating some "value added".

Two schools equalled the 100 median. Seventy-five came above it and 80 below.

Officials at the Department for Education stress that those below the median are not "subtracting" value - just that they are adding less value than the average of all the schools.

The top performer in the very limited sample used for this new measure was Temple Moor High School in Leeds, with a value added score of 108.6.

Two years ago only 31% of its GCSE students managed to get the top grades - the national average was 46.3% - and they are essentially the year group being measured in this year's A-level tables and the new "value added" measure.

Made progress

The new measure uses a points score to assess their sixth form performance which is not in the usual performance data. It is designed to look specifically at those who were two years on from their GCSEs.

But as a guide, the school's average A/AS-level points score this year was 20.9, against a national average of 18.5.

Arguably the same students have clearly done significantly better than when they sat their GCSEs, as the "value added" measure suggests.

A caveat is that a total of 142 students did the GCSEs and only 27 sat the A-levels - by definition likely to be the most able of the group from two years ago.

At the bottom in the "value added" trial were St Chad's Catholic High School in Runcorn, Cheshire, and North Derbyshire Tertiary College, Chesterfield, both of which scored 91.2 - with the college arguably doing worst because it had fewer students.

In 1998 40% of the GCSE students at St Chad's managed the top GCSE grades. This year's sixth formers averaged 12.1 points.

See also:

11 Jul 00 | Education
School grades mislead say heads
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