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Assessing school league tables

November 27, 2013

Sir, – Gráinne Faller (“Parents need transparent information on schools”, Opinion, November 27th), declared there should be a debate on school performance tables.

Just over a fortnight ago, the Chief Inspector’s Report 2010-2012 was published. It contains an analysis of all 2,378 inspections which took place in second-level schools during this period, including surveys of 29,000 students and 20,000 parents. School inspection reports, which are available to the public online, contain factual information on the performance of each school across domains such as the quality of school management, the quality of supports for students and the quality of teaching and learning in subjects. In other words, contrary to Gráinne Faller’s claim that parents do not have easy access to information on schools, these reports answer key questions such as: Is the school well run? Are there good student support structures? Are the subjects taught in a manner consistent with improving educational outcomes for students?

League tables are based on a narrow and distorted view of second-level education, ie that it is all about exam results and CAO points. League tables tell us very little about schools because they ignore the multi-faceted work they do. League tables do not consider that each school and student is unique. They fail to see merit in the fact that schools set and meet goals based on the individual needs of their students. League tables dismiss the challenges faced a nd of ten overcome by s t udents and t eachers in every school in the country. The real debate in education is not about league tables, it is about what we want as a society and how schools can work to help us achieve that. At present only 55 per cent of second-level students in Ireland transfer to higher education. Despite the ongoing publication of feeder-school league tables, second-level schools continue to operate on the premise that their mission is to assist all students to achieve their potential as young people and as citizens.
However, if the message is that league tables matter more, all young people, and indeed all of society, will come to suffer.
– Yours, etc, PAT KING, ASTI General Secretary, Winetavern Street, Dublin 8.

Sir, – Can I deduce from the school “league tables” (2013 School League Tables supplement, November 26th) that if the pupils from schools where a minority proceed to third-level education were transferred to fee-paying schools or Gaelscoileanna that virtually all of these pupils would then all go on to third-level and capture many o f the places on high points entry courses? – Yours, etc, JOSEPH MACKEY, Kilkenny West, Glasson, Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – I refer to your publication of feeder tables to Irish institutions of higher education and to Gráinne Faller’s article on the measurement of schools’ academic performance (Opinion, November 27th).
At St Columba’s College, we have long championed the rights of parents to have a s much information as possible regarding the school’s performance in public examinations and this is why we always publish an average points score per candidate in the annual Leaving Certificate. This information is promulgated on the college website together with information about results against national averages. I know of no other school in Ireland which is so open about its results, but would certainly welcome similar openness from other institutions. In 2013, St Columba’s had an average CAO points score of 466 per candidate across all papers taken at all levels. Over the past five years, it has had an average score of more than 450 points per candidate. Regrettably, however, this outstanding achievement is not recognised in your tables because, by your own admission, the information you have at your disposal is limited. It is time there was much more transparency for parents – and the wider public – in the information given out by schools in Ireland. – Yours, etc, Dr LJ HASLETT, Warden, St Columba’s College, Dublin 16.

A chara, – It is always an interesting set of data, but one wonders whether the use of the “per cent progression” figure is in any way reflective of how particular schools are performing in the year in question. The sample population that would be most instructive as to how well our schools and students are doing, is surely the performance of that year’s Leaving Cert cohort. The “per cent progression” number includes a school’s students who are repeating first year in university as well as mature students. This skews the school performance data potentially significantly given that only 71 per cent of this year’s college registrations sat the Leaving Cert in 2013. Therefore, though perhaps unlikely, it i s possible for a school whose alumni had statistically significantly high failure rates in their first year exams and elect to repeat the year, to appear higher on the league list than a school where every one of its Leaving Cert 2013 students progressed to university. This surely suggests the data as presented should be interpreted with care. The data source is not something The Irish Times can control, but I am sure most who scour these league tables would rather a “pure” dataset, based solely on analysis of those who sat the current year’s Leaving Cert. That would allow us develop real indicators of how our secondary schools and our students are performing over time. – Is mise, DES O’SULLIVAN, Springfort, Montenotte, Cork.

A chara, – It is ironic that on the day you publish dubious “league tables”, Dan Flinter’s appointment as chair of The Irish Times Ltd should be announced (Home News, November 26th). A very wise appointment. Dan Flinter went to the same school as myself, CBS Athy. Out of perhaps 25 Leavi ng Cert graduates in the three years during which Dan Flinter graduated, one became editor of a national newspaper, another a university vice president, a third an enormously successful business consultant in the US, etc. And not a fee in sight! And there was me! – Yours, etc, BRENDAN RYAN, Senator 1981-92, 1997-07, CBS Athy 1964, The Orchards, Montenotte, Cork.