League tables damage schools, students and teachers

Article by Teva Smith
Alliance of Girls' Schools Australasia / 14 December 2017

League tables damage schools, students and teachers – why you simply cannot compare a good education based on numerical scores

Year 12 students across the country are eagerly awaiting their end of year academic results. For most of the Year 12s in NSW, this means their HSC result.

News organisations across the country are also eagerly awaiting the scores so that they can produce their inevitable ‘league tables’, pitting schools against each other to be ranked.

While their simplicity may make them popular, these league tables are both deeply flawed and dangerously misleading for parents, who likely view them as a representation of a school’s overall success in educating its students and may rely on them when selecting a school for their child.

There are a number of reasons why league tables misrepresent schools.

One of the many is that in NSW, when attempting to compare schools, league tables rely solely on HSC results, usually only using Band 6 results (where students receive a mark of 90% or higher). This comparison does not include all HSC results or the results of students from the 18 New South Wales schools offering the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBPD), an alternative to HSC.

Last year, 5,205 students were enrolled in the IB program in Australia and New Zealand, with enrolments growing at about 10% per year. As such, the validity of a league table is further skewed by the exclusion of these students.

League tables look at a single measure, academic results, and a narrow interpretation of success on that measure to imply good or bad performance and improvement or decline on previous years’ results.

Dig deeper and educators Australia-wide will share their frustration with league tables.

Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, which represents 162 girls schools across Australia and New Zealand, President Ros Curtis says educators Australia-wide find league tables frustrating.

‘Yes, academic merit is important, however, it is the social and emotional building blocks, the confidence to take bold approaches to challenges, the skills to embrace calculated risks and the leadership opportunities that prepare students for career and life success that are also markers of a successful education,’ said Ros.

‘And it’s important for learning environments to be free from gender stereotyping. One of the major hurdles to boosting the number of women in senior leadership positions and STEM careers is giving girls the motivation, self-belief and resilience to disrupt gender bias.

‘This is happening in girls’ schools where girls are more likely to reject gender stereotypes and are bucking the trend when it comes to studying STEM subjects. This is real success, not a position on a league table,’ she said.

League tables do not take account of students taking fewer courses or lower level courses in order to improve their chances of higher Year 12 results. They may also ignore socio-economic disadvantage factors, as well as ranking selective, partly selective and non-selective schools together in the same tables.

Jenny Allum, Principal of SCEGGS Darlinghurst in Sydney suggests that while there are measures to demonstrate whether a school should be satisfied with its performance, league tables are simply not one of them.

‘There are measures to say whether a school has done well for its students in the HSC or other credentials. Happy students and parents is a “soft” measure, and there are more mathematical or statistical ones, but it isn’t a bad first test! You get the idea. It’s about whether someone achieved at or above their expectations, their potential, what they thought they were going to get.’

‘As educators, we care deeply about providing the best education we can possibly imagine for students. Yes an excellent academic standard is important, but so too is enabling students to think deeply about all of their subjects, so that they are curious, passionate, articulate, resilient and thoughtful young women.’

‘And none of these things are demonstrated in the slightest by the league tables published every year’