School league tables: Are they any good for choosing schools?

GB Leckie, Harvey Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle (Specialist Publication)


Each year the Government and the media publish league tables of schools’ academic performances and encourage parents to use them when choosing a secondary school for their children. Our work showed that these tables are highly misleading when it comes to school choice. More should be done by the Government and the media to communicate the limitations to parents.

This work focused on a fundamental problem in using school league tables for school choice: school league tables report the past performance of secondary schools, based on children who have just taken their GCSE exams, whereas what parents want to know is how schools will perform in the future when their own children take the exams. Consider parents who chose a secondary school for their child in autumn 2012, that child will enter school in autumn 2013 and will take their GCSE exams in 2018. Thus, the information parents need when making their choice is how schools are predicted to perform in 2018. Yet the most recent information available is the school league table for how schools performed in 2011. This leaves a seven year gap between the available information and what parents want to know; the most recent league table is always effectively seven years out of date.

We focused on the Government’s ‘contextual value-added’ (CVA) league tables, promoted by the Government as being the most meaningful way to compare schools. Our analysis of the official school league table data revealed that the predictions are so imprecise that the league tables are essentially meaningless and by not communicating this fundamental problem to parents, they are highly misleading.
Translated title of the contributionSchool league tables: Are they any good for choosing schools?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages3
Specialist publicationCentre for Market and Public Organisation
PublisherCentre for Market and Public Organisation, University of Bristol
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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