It is about this time of the year that the Times and Telegraph School League tables are published in the UK and there is no doubt that this publication is eagerly awaited by schools and parents alike. It is the single most used yardstick by which to judge the quality of schools in the UK, and if I had a pound for every time I was asked about the best schools at the top of the table, then I would be a millionaire.
Unfortunately however, this measure is at best a crude and at worst an extremely misleading way to decide which school is best for your children. Every single one of the top schools is highly selective, and whilst they may be perfect for some, their league position in no way ensures that they are the right school for every child. Of course the debate as to what makes the best school is a highly contentious topic as there are so many factors. However, what cannot be refuted is the fact that a clear indicator of the standard of teaching is the value added data that each school holds. For the most selective schools, this is not so easy to shine as children are already at the top of the scale, but for those schools who take a range of pupils into their care, it is the very best indicator of teaching standards.
The data is collated when the children are aged between 11 to 14 and the tests are statistically relevant because they have been conducted across tens of thousands of pupils in both state and independent schools over the course of several decades. The data is generally used internally to determine what adjustments need to be made to an individual child's learning environment.
In the UK there are two tests - MIDYIS and the CAT test - which apply to GCSE results as well as the ALIS Test which is predictive of grades at A Level and IB. MIDYIS and ALIS (as well as the UKiset test) are provided by Durham University, and the CAT test by GL Education.
Most UK independent schools utilise the Durham tests. All of these tests are readily available for British curriculum schools in the UAE and should be used by them so parents should feel confident in initiating discussion with the school around the respective data that they have for their child.
All Dubai schools are now coming to the realisation that they can no longer assume that just because they have a name or that they have built a brand new school, they will be full. And so they must look towards a new set of criteria on which to be judged. Value added data measures a pupil’s current likelihood of achievement in 3 or 4 years time. It predicts, based on extremely accurate historical data, what a student is going to achieve in their GCSE results.
The key to this performance data is the value that the school can add to these predictions due to a host of factors that the school is in control of: class sizes, behaviour, extra support, resources and of course the overall learning environment; the culture of the school. If all of these are positive, then a pupil’s predicted grades can rise by anything up to 1.5 grades over the course of the four years.
Unfortunately, in the UK, this data has not always been readily available to parents. I do not understand this as most UK independents have nothing to hide, and when I was a Head I was certainly very willing to share it as it showed our school (a non selective co-educational boarding school) to be adding significant value to the pupils we had.
Of course, it is not quite the same in Dubai or the GCC region as it is in the UK and there are a number of mitigating factors, but it would be a huge leap forwards and very refreshing and illuminating if the Heads of our Dubai schools were willing to publish their value added data for parents to see. Then, already confused parents would be able to begin to see another important discriminator, beyond the glossy glass buildings, that they could use to decide which school is genuinely best for their children.
A whimsical hope or a reflection of truly innovative educational thought by schools?
Ian Hunt is Managing Director and CEO of Gabbitas Education