Helpful, but no panacea? Select Committee cautious about cards


The Government sees Report Cards as an important element in the future accountability framework for schools.  The school report card, announced by the Secretary of State in October 2008, inspired by New York schools report cards, will be introduced from 2011, and a two year pilot started in autumn 2009.  It is intended partly to answer criticisms of the narrow evidence base of the current Achievement and Attainment Tables, and the Department stated that it “will provide our key statement on the outcomes we expect from schools, and the balance of priorities between them, ensuring more intelligent accountability across schools’ full range of responsibilities.   The school report card will be published annually, with the results of more recent Ofsted inspections being incorporated when they are available. DCSF will compile and publish the school report card nationally and will provide an electronic copy to schools for them to publish locally. It will set out the key outcomes expected of schools, to include pupil attainment, progress and wellbeing; reducing the impact of disadvantage; parents’ and pupils’ perceptions of the school and the support they receive; and, possibly, partnership working. The progression measure will be contextualised in order to account for schools with differing intakes.

The DCSF Select Committee though has its concerns and issues several warnings about school report cards. While it believes the broader evidence base proposed for the school report card is a step in the right direction it  warns  the Government that it should not make claims for the school report card which do not stand up to scrutiny. The Committee does not believe that  it  will ever constitute a definitive view of a school’s performance but it might, if properly constructed, be a useful tool in assessing a broader range of aspects of a school’s performance than is possible at present.

The Committee released its report on School Accountability in January this year.

First, it says that while report cards assess a broader range of aspects of school performance than performance tables they cannot be the basis for a definitive judgment of overall performance. In the Committee’s view school report cards will never constitute a definitive view of a school’s performance and the school report card should not purport to give a balanced view of a school’s overall performance. It says that the Government should make clear on the face of the school report card that its contents should only be considered as a partial picture of the work of a school.

Second, it notes concerns about the lack of evidence to support school report cards. Professor Peter Tymms of Durham University told the Committee that it was not possible to know for sure what effect the report card had in New York, because there was no way of making an evidence-based assessment. He said that many reforms and changes had been introduced simultaneously in New York and this made it impossible to draw causal links between a single initiative and an outcome or set of outcomes.

Third, it expresses concern about the complexity of information being presented to parents. It says that during the Committee’s visit to New York, it was told that the report card used there was considered too complex for many parents to understand.

Fourth, it notes widespread concerns about using an overall score or grade for a school’s performance. The report says that the Committee was struck by the weight of evidence against assessing schools by an overall score or grade as is done in New York. It states that a school report card can be a full account of a school’s performance, yet the inclusion of an overall score suggests that it is.

Fifth, it expresses serious concerns about using student well-being indicators such as attendance, exclusions, post-16 progression, the amount of sport provided, and the uptake of school lunches as part of the assessment of school performance in report cards. It questions the extent to which such indicators can really be accurate, based as they are on a limited set of loosely-related quantitative data and problematic survey evidence. It notes that academic research on school effectiveness is lacking in the field of student well-being and wider outcomes beyond assessment results. Consequently, it says that in the absence of robust, independent research evidence, the Government should exercise great caution in widening the accountability system beyond test scores.

Sixth, the Committee warns that there are inherent methodological problems in using survey evidence, such as parent and student satisfaction surveys, in assessments of school performance. It has concerns about the validity of conclusions drawn from unrepresentative samples of parents and students. It says that it is unacceptable that schools with the most challenging intakes might suffer skewed performance scores because of a low response rate to surveys for the purposes of the school report card.

However, the Committee chose not to make a final judgment about school report cards because it was in the pilot stage of development. However, it did say that the school report card requires a considerable amount of work before it is suitable for use as a fundamental part of the English school accountability system. It urged the Government to take account of the concerns raised about the proposal.


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