How do we measure school success in 2020 — certainly not through league tables

Article by Loren Bridge
Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 11 January 2021

As published in The Advertiser.

WITH the release of Year 12 results, comparative league tables inevitably appear, pitting one school’s results against another. This is despite 2020 being a year like no other.

Producing league tables is now a global activity that encourages everyone to use a single score to evaluate school performance. But missing from this is any real understanding of what defines a successful 12 years of schooling. A single score cannot come close to reflecting the resilience, aptitude, grit, enthusiasm and brilliance the 2020 Year 12 cohort has shown in this pandemic year.

It is the simplicity of league tables that make them so popular. However, the models used to create them can be deeply flawed.

Parents, who likely view them as a representation of a school’s overall success, might rely on them when choosing a school.

Yet tables undermine the work of schools, teachers and students through placing pressure to focus resources on improving league table positions at the expense of other important activities. This can put teachers under unnecessary pressure and contribute to rising levels of student anxiety.

A Swedish study found anxiety in 16-23 year olds increased from 5 per cent to 12 per cent in males and 9 per cent to 29 per cent in females from 1980-2005. During this time there was increased pressure on students to achieve higher academic results. These findings are in line with previous studies which have found anxiety disorders are more common in girls as they suffer more stress and anxiety regarding school performance and physical appearance.

The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia has more than 185 member schools and many are consistently among the top-performing schools in league tables. Nevertheless, the overwhelming sentiment from girls’ schools is one of frustration at the continued emphasis on school rankings produced by league tables.

We believe a good education is not solely about academic performance. It is also about nurturing the development and growth of confident, resilient and inquisitive global citizens. Real success is seen when students are engaged and happy at school. In a girls’ school, this includes girls succeeding in traditionally male-dominated areas like STEM or having the confidence to take on challenges and put up their hands up for leadership opportunities.

The life skills that schools equip students with simply cannot be measured by league tables. The hard reality is that focusing on academic success alone is placing undesirable pressure on both teachers and students.

Congratulations to all our Year 12 students who will bring their remarkable and diverse talents to further studies and the workplace in 2021.