What league tables don’t tell you

Just before the holidays, the Department of Education published the results of the 2015 KS2 SATS tests, which test Year 6 pupils (11 year olds) across England on their Maths, English and Writing skills. Here is the new ranking of London state primary schools based on their average point score in 2015: Ranking of London state primary schools 2015
Fox Primary in Notting Hill is again Number 1, closely followed by Barnes Primary School. But what is so special about these schools that sets them apart from many other outstanding state primary schools in the capital? It is very important to talk about what the league tables don’t tell you. Headteachers critical of the SATS tests have often remarked that the results reflect the socioeconomic profile of the pupils more than anything to do with teaching quality or leadership of a school. In large part, this is true, and certainly if you look at Fox and Barnes Primary, this is quite a plausible explanation.

But in addition, the even stronger factor is the influence of 11+ preparation that pupils undertake privately, either with tutors or their parents. The state primary schools you find on top of the league tables usually have a high share (>30%, some even >50%) of pupils who move on to private secondary schools and prepare for 11+ exams outside of school. In addition, you will also find high performing state primary schools in those areas where a high share of pupils apply for 11+ entry to grammar schools. There are very few grammar schools left in and around London, but you do find one for boys and one for girls in Kingston (Tiffin School) and a larger number of schools in the Southeast of London in Bromley / Bexley. Pupils aiming for these undergo extensive private 11+ preparation. There is, for example, a prep centre in Harrow that many 10 year old girls flock to for long hours on Saturdays in order to prepare for the entrance exams to the Henrietta Barnett School.

And last but not least, you will also find results reflect parental effort at least as much as the quality of teaching at any given school. Schools where many pupils come from cultures that value education and early learning highly also tend to top the league tables. Of course, this is not only true for state primary schools. Even when you look at private prep schools, it is never quite clear how much parents and private tutors have contributed to 11+ results. There is only so much a school can do for their children, if parents are not involved outside of school or during holidays.

​So where does that leave us? The tables give us a very good idea which schools attract families that aim for selective education at secondary level and that may have a high level of parental involvement. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a school in the top 50 is really any better for a given child than a school in the top 200 or 300. I would probably prefer a school that has an average point score of at least 30.0 and where a high percentage (>40% preferably) work at Level 5 or above in Maths or English, and ideally one that has an “Outstanding” Ofsted rating, but there are plenty of those in London that are not listed in the top 50.

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