Why school exam league tables need to be binned

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The annual publication of school exam league tables was met with a sigh of despair by teachers in staffrooms across Fife.

While those at the top can afford to be smug, for the majority, the raw data does them no good whatsoever.

By ranking every school, we invite comparisons, and get to make sweeping assertions about the merits of School ‘A’ over School ‘B’.

My old school, Wester Hailes, was pretty much at the bottom of a very long table.

Statisically and alphabetically, it has always been in the relegation zone.

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Does that make it a ‘bad’ school? Of course not.

Sure, in Edinburgh, where which school tie you wore does seem to matter in some sad circles – ones I am happy to avoid at all costs – but these annual, unofficial tables need to be condemned to the bin.

All they do is rankle with teachers who see their work traduced by one crude measurement.

They do nothing to help the confidence of pupils, and they leave parents trying hard not to get drawn into the “oor school is better than yours” froth on social media.

Analysing why schools with similar catchment areas have different exam successes would paint a far more useful – and detailed – picture for parents, and also help staff.

Studing inspectors’ reports would tell them so much more about the ethos of any school.

But that’s not the point of the exam tables.

There’s an in-built snobbery about them.

A chance for the posh schools to confirm their apparent superiority over their closest rivals, and also a look down on the plebs from the schemie schools who can’t even get an O Grade in woodwork.

Well, as one of those plebs, I’m proud to say I went to Wester Hailes.

Without the support of some brilliant teachers, I wouldn’t have a career in journalism.

It was nice to return last week, 40 years on, as guest speaker at the annual awards ceremony, and be able to say thank you to the staff for all they did.

And, looking at the folk I was at school with, some of whom are friends to this day – we’ve done more than okay.

Our wee chunk of the alumni includes a world-leading jazz saxophonist, a host of senior managers in banking and finance – fancy that, nicking jobs daddy would take for granted as part of Edinburgh’s old school tie network – politics, PR and much more.

The pupils who stepped across the stage to collect their awards last week will do just was well– probably even better.

Why? Because they have been nurtured, supported and given the best possible start by staff who care.

The true measure of a good school is one that is inclusive and positive, one that instinctively, and quietly, eases a safety net under someone even before they fall, one that opens doors as well as opens minds.

It puts pupils rather than pass rates first.

They certainly don’t deserve the annual kicking that comes from the publication of league tables.