‘Value Added’ is a term used in so many different ways that it can confuse parents, rather than help them in their choice of school.
To both understand and make good use of it, it’s worth going back to its origins.
When the first academic league tables in the UK were published, among the strongest cries of protest were those from the heads of schools with a mixed ability intake, who pointed out that many of the apparently highest-achieving school were very selective in their entry, and of course you were going to do well if you ensured that every pupil in your school was in the top third of the ability band.
Those same Heads pointed out that many of them added significant value to their pupils over and above what they might have been expected to achieve, and asked therefore to be judged on the ‘value added’ they gave to their pupils.
In practical terms, it means that there can be huge value-added to a child who gains a C grade, if the expectation for the child was only an E, and no value added at all for the A* candidate who was so ferociously clever that they were always going to get an A* whatever their school did.
So how do you measure value added?
There are tests which many schools make their pupils take which establish a baseline for each individual student, predict what they might reasonably expect to achieve in examinations and then measure how much better, or worse, the child has done in the real thing.
These tests are not perfect, but they are statistically sound, and emanate largely from the University of Durham in the UK.
Negative value-added means that the child has under-achieved, positive value-added that the child has done better than expected.
As a parent, your first question is whether or not the school administers such tests (MIDYIS, ALIS and YELIS tests are used by all state and independent schools in the UK), and what the results are.
The danger is that a school huffs and puffs about how much value it adds to an education, but actually has nothing to base that confident assertion on.
However, value added should be explored in many more areas than simple academic achievement. Most parents are realistic about their children. Of course they’d like their boy or girl to get A*’s in everything, but their real concern is whether or not the child has gained the best grades they could possibly have achieved. For that we almost need another term, Potential Achieved, or has the child realised every ounce of their potential.
But whether it’s VA or PA, parents need to look beyond simple results to judge if it’s happening. There are many more kinds of value than those represented by exam or test scores. A crucial one is character. The brightest child in the world can crash and burn unless they have resilience and the ability to cope when things go wrong, as they inevitably do for everyone at some time. We’re moving now from talking about value added to talking about values added.
Does the school add values to your child? As well as encouraging good old-fashioned effort, does it teach them tolerance, compassion and the meaning of being a good citizen? Does the school teach them the values they will need if they are to make a success in the adult world and the world of work? Does it teach them that failure is a path on the route to success? Risk management is crucial. Does the child have the courage to set out on something even if they know there is a chance of failure?
This is where clubs and societies are so important. The actor with lines in a play, the musician in the orchestra or the player in a team can make it go horribly wrong not just for themselves but also for the others taking part. Learning to manage and cope with that risk is an essential life skill. A huge amount of value is added to a child as well if the school they attend helps them to communicate in terms of public speaking and presenting themselves in public. These values also feed back in to the classroom. The articulate, confident child who is having a good time in the soccer team, the school play or the orchestra brings that happiness and that confidence in to the classroom.
There’s one further piece of advice for the parent seeking to decide if a school is adding value to its children. Look at the children as they come out of a lesson, or look at them if you’re lucky enough to be allowed inside a lesson. It’s the oldest trick in the book: are they excited about what they’re being taught? If they are, you can bet some positive value is being added to their education. And if they’re bored, you can bet it’s negative.
Written by Jenny Stephen.