DfE to rename college comparison website as performance tables return

Government says this will signal not to make 'direct comparisons' without asking colleges how Covid affected them

Government says this will signal not to make 'direct comparisons' without asking colleges how Covid affected them

22 Jun 2022, 15:54

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The government will rebrand its school and college performance website to “reduce the emphasis on comparison” after a backlash from leaders at resuming league tables despite Covid’s impact.

The Department for Education said last year key stage four and post-16 performance data would return this year, defending it as an “important” measure to help parents and students choose schools and colleges. 

But it has now advised those using 16-18 data not to compare colleges without considering Covid’s impact – and should ask colleges for this context.

The site will be renamed

Leaders’ union ASCL said earlier this year members felt “thrown to the wolves” by the decision, given the level of Covid upheaval faced by students and impact on “careers and reputations”. 

The DfE has always pledged to put messages alongside data to “advise caution drawing conclusions”, but has now set out how it will do so over the “coming months”.

  • It will change the name of its “Compare School and College Performance” website to “reduce the emphasis on comparison between institutions”. It did not provide the new name.
  • It will remove coloured bandings to “discourage simplistic conclusions being drawn about a school or college”. Results are currently colour-coded through a traffic light-style scheme, with “well below average” figures in red.
  • Comparison tables for local authorities and all schools and colleges nationally will be removed. But the site will “continue to show local authority and national averages for each performance measure on the individual school or college page” – and national and local data will still be available to download.  FE Week asked the DfE for more detail.
  • Data from 2018-19 and earlier will no longer be displayed on school or college pages, but it will remain at “the usual archive with a link on the website”.

A survey of ASCL’s members earlier this year found 82.6 per cent disagreed with plans to resume KS4 performance tables. Some highlighted significant national variations in student and staff absence, as well as disadvantaged students being more negatively affected by Covid.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of leaders’ union ASCL, welcomed steps to “reduce the potentially damaging impact”, calling it a “step in the right direction”.

But publishing the information at all is “hugely disappointing”, as the varied impact of Covid makes for an “inherent flaw”.

It would still result in data being published that “affects public perceptions”. He called for a further year’s suspension to “allow some sort of return to normality before returning to the full barrage of accountability measures to which educational institutions are subjected”.

The DfE’s update on 2021-2022 16-18 accountability measures published today says it recognises the “uneven impact” of Covid. 

Its efforts will “advise caution when comparing a school’s performance” with averages, and it is “vital” parents and others talk to schools and colleges to “understand the broader context” and Covid impact.

Users are urged not to draw “firm conclusions” and advised “strongly” against direct comparisons of schools and colleges without taking context into account. 

Meanwhile Ofsted will be “sensitive in their use of this data” and it should not be used “in isolation” for staff performance management.

But the DfE said publishing data is key “for transparency and as a starting point” for choosing which schools and colleges pupils attend.

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