Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 19 of Session 2003-04, dated 13 May 2004


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said today that taking into account external influences outside schools' control can have a dramatic effect on their reported performance, and urged the Department for Education and Skills to undertake new measurement and make the results available to parents for all schools next year.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 19th Report of this Session, which examined how the Department for Education and Skills measures and reports the performance of maintained secondary schools, and how the performance of secondary schools might be improved. Improving the academic achievements of all secondary school pupils is a key priority of the Department, and between 1998 and 2003 the percentage of pupils aged 16 who achieved qualifications equivalent to five GCSEs at grades A*-C increased from 46.3% to 52.6%. To secure further improvements, it is important to be clear about the factors that drive performance. Some of these are educational, and therefore within the control of schools, but many are not. The National Audit Office has shown how the impact of external factors on performance can be measured and analysed to give a clearer indication of the quality of education provided by different schools. Such analysis would provide valuable information for policy-makers, and for parents who wish to make informed choices between the schools available for their children.

The Committee found that, in consultation with parents and schools, the Department should consider the best ways to make information on the performance of secondary schools available to parents. Not all parents will be aware of the full range of different sources of information on the performance of schools, and many parents will not have ready access to the websites of the Department and the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted). Parents need to know what information is available, how it can help them, and how to get the information they decide they want.

Information available for parents should include measures of the performance of secondary schools that take account of the influence of important external factors. Adjusting academic achievement for the influence of external factors can have a substantial effect on reported school performance. When this was done, some schools moved from the bottom to the top 20%. The Department should further develop the work carried out by the National Audit Office, and make publicly available the results for all schools for the 2004-05 academic year.

The Department should identify which external factors have a substantial effect on academic achievement, and take them into account when assessing and reporting school performance. Performance measures adjusted for external factors, as well as measures of raw academic achievement, can assist in developing and evaluating policies for secondary education, and in judging the impact on school performance, because they exclude the factors outside the control of schools. Identifying key sources of educational disadvantage can also help policy-makers find solutions for issues that schools themselves cannot be expected to solve.

Social and economic deprivation should be taken into account in assessing the performance of schools. Eligibility for free school meals can be shown to be strongly correlated with educational disadvantage. But it is only a partial measure of economic and social deprivation. The Department should examine how further indicators might be developed, for example using data on families in receipt of Income Support or the Working Families Tax Credit.

Adjusted performance measures also show that specialist schools, faith schools, beacon schools and single sex schools do better than average. The strengths of these schools, such as a strong set of values and ethos, should be identified by the Department and promoted across the school sector.

Ofsted should set out in inspection reports where a school ranks in terms of academic achievement before and after taking account of the influence of external factors. Ofsted's inspections reports are an important source of information for parents and schools, and including this data would give a more rounded view of the quality of education provided. Ofsted should use the adjusted information to help underpin its advice to schools on how their approach to education can be best matched to pupils from different backgrounds.

Ofsted has been inspecting schools for 10 years, during which more than 1000 schools have been put in special measures. But over this period the characteristics of a good school have become increasingly well understood. The Department should review why a significant number of schools are nevertheless not up to an acceptable level of performance.

The Department should make the funding arrangements for schools simpler, fairer and more transparent. The number and complexity of funding streams for schools is unacceptably high and a recipe for confusion. Funding of schools for the 2003-04 academic year is also likely to have an adverse impact on the performance of an unknown number of schools. There has also been much complaint regarding the lack of certainty about funds from one year to the next, and whether resources have been distributed according to need.

Mr Leigh said today:

"Taking into account external influences outside schools' control, such as social and economic deprivation, can have a dramatic effect on their reported performance. Some schools even moved from near the bottom to near the top of the table. This enhanced information must be available to parents, so that they can take it into account in selecting schools, however limited the choices they have. The Department for Education and Skills must develop measurement further and make the results available to parents for all schools next year."

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