Thursday, 23 August 2012

Impending League Tables

I complied with the Official Information Act this week and forwarded our Annual Report to the reporter who requested it. Not a big deal really as it is a public document that anyone can access. Our data is there for all to see.

At a Principlas' Cluster meeting earlier this week Louis Guy from the NZEI really hit the nail on the head with a scenario he painted...

Imagine what the first principals' cluster meeting will be like after the league tables are out. One person in the room will be the top ranked school in the cluster. Imagine what that principal may feel walking into the room? Perhaps they feel that their colleagues will not trust the data they have provided. They may feel a little sheepish at being labelled the best. They may feel that as a school they have worked hard for that student achievement but cannot crow about their success for fear of being labelled as touting for children. That being said - depending on the ego of the principal concerned they may be feeling a little superior to the rest.

Imagine the school principal walking in who is second in the cluster. Having just come from a discussion with a parent who asked why their school's data is not where the top ranked school's data is.

What about the colleague who walks into that meeting being ranked at the bottom. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? What discussions have they had with their BoT, their community, the media?

Everyone else in the room will have looked at the league table and jumped up ladders (Ladders of Inference - Argyris) They are making assumptions, value judgements, creating stories of data that are rooted firmly in their own interpretations.

Is this competitive collaboration? Will having this information in the public domain raise achievement?

As a cluster we can have an agreed approach, a code of conduct if you like. Northland Schools have already committed to the following statements.

  • The data will not be used to promote their school through websites, newsletters, media releases or any other public information source because it would be unethical to do so 
  • They will not draw comparisons between schools using the data
  • They will avoid any activities that could legitimise national standards data as good public information
  • They will share other positive achievement information about their schools
  • They will issue a collective media release on their agreed position
  • They will explain to their boards and communities the reasons for their concerns
  • They will continue to deliver a broad rich curriculum
I agree with these statements - in fact, as principals in our cluster we all agree. But the first bullet point needs some dialogue.
Schools promote themselves all the time. Some of us do not promote ourselves enough. There is great work happening in a large number of schools that never sees the light of day. This statement is loaded with assumption and judgements. I suppose the intent of this statement is that we will not promote the place on the league table or use National Standards data as a selling point. An interesting point as schools often celebrate data with their communities. Information about how well the school is progressing toward their goals is essential in building confidence and having a happy community.

What do you think about this shared approach to the threat of league tables?
Can we trust all our colleagues to walk the talk?
Will we be looking sideways at each other in cluster meetings?
What Ladders will we be climbing?


  1. I taught in the UK under the league table system there and the thought of polluting NZ with the same ideals make me incredibly, deeply concerned. What will the future hold for our special needs/low achieiving/Maori/Pacific Island/ELLs/gifted children etc. if our focus ends up being teaching to a test? League tables cannot be formulated from OTJs, so there will have to a standardised test to be fair and for content to be deemed as accurate.
    Disaster! In the UK, 3 school years were always devoted to teaching to the test and this will eventually have to be the outcome for schools who want to be 'top of the table'. Will class sizes matter then? Yes! Will teachers and schools be pushing for mainstreamed students to be moved to special schools so that they don't affect the league tables? Yes!
    And what will happen to our curriculum which is the envy of the world now? It will be filed neatly back on the shelf with the other great ideas and brought out in 10-15 years time, dusted off and greeted with a cheer, as we farewell the league tables and standardised tests that failed. Hmmm. Could be an interesting few years I say!

    1. Hopefully we will all have the fortitude and good sense to say that we will not allow these policies to narrow our curriculum.

      I am lucky to have a BoT that said - We will not let National Standards narrow our curriculum.