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Parental choice

Do you remember the Citizens' Charter? It was John Major's idea for empowering people by telling them what level of public service they could expect in everything from motorway traffic cones to hospital services.

The Citizen's Charter begat the Parents' Charter which in turn begat the official school league tables which are now as much a part of autumn as Guy Fawkes and Remembrance Sunday.

The motivation for inventing school league tables was two-fold. The first was to help parents make informed choices in the new market for school places.

The second was to push up standards by forcing schools to focus on achieving success in the new national curriculum tests.

It may be hard to recall now, but a decade ago parents had to make school choices without the benefit of performance tables, Ofsted inspections, and annual governors' reports.

Frustrating process

But just how helpful are league tables to parents faced with the dilemma of choosing a school?

As a parent who has just been through it, I am aware of the difficulties and frustrations involved in choosing a secondary school for your child.

There is one clear disadvantage of the performance tables: they are published too late. In most areas school choice forms must be submitted by the autumn half term yet the tables are not produced until November. I had to make my choices on the basis of last year's tables.

A more serious problem is that the tables give only a snapshot of the "raw" results achieved by schools - they do not measure the success of schools in raising the achievement levels of their pupils.

Put another way, they tell you more about the selective intake or catchment area of a school than about the quality of its teaching. So the top of the tables will always be dominated by grammar schools and selective independent schools.

Adding value

While parents do want to know whether or not the pupils at a particular school are an academic bunch, it would be even more useful to know by how much the school has raised the achievement levels of the pupils it educates.

Such a measure is possible. Known as a "value added" measure, this shows by how much a pupil has improved during their time at a school.

A small pilot for such a measure is being tried in this year's tables: 155 schools have volunteered for a scheme which measures the improvement achieved by a school between GCSE and A-levels.

The government hopes to extend this sort of "value-added" to all schools and all age groups in future years.

For now, though, parents should read league tables alongside all the other information they can gather about local schools.

In particular they should bear in mind the intake of a school. Does it take only those who have passed an entrance test? Is the school deprived of more able pupils who go to selective schools in the neighbourhood? These factors will undoubtedly affect the raw results, and absolute position, of any school.

Not measured

Finally, do not forget there are many things a school can do for your child which are not measured by the league tables.

However tabulated, they tell you nothing about achievement on the sports' field, in the music practice rooms, and in social and inter-personal skills.

Ofsted reports can help here but far more important will be whatever you can find out by visiting the school and talking to current parents and pupils.

So, as you browse the performance tables on these pages, remember that what really counts is comparisons between local schools of similar intake.

We hope these tables will help you in making your school choice. But remember they are only a part of the picture you need to make the right choice.

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School League Tables 2000
England 11-18
Wales 11-18
England primary
Coming soon:
Scotland 11-18