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CHERYL PEEBLES: School league tables are controversial – but vital in fight against postcode inequality

School league tables underline the difference in results between affluent areas and those that are more deprived.
School league tables underline the difference in results between affluent areas and those that are more deprived.

Publishing school league tables is controversial.

Parents love to see where their children’s or their own former schools are placed based on their exam successes.

But many who work in education are strongly opposed to the ranking of schools, saying it shames those languishing at the bottom and fails to recognise the wider accomplishments.

There are many factors affecting what proportion of a school’s pupils will leave with the ‘gold standard’ of five or more Highers.

That’s the figure regarded as a benchmark and often a university requirement.

And a school’s teaching performance and its ability to coach its pupils to pass exams is just part of the picture.

Sadly, the deprivation levels in a school’s catchment play a big role in determining how many of its pupils will excel academically.

And that reason alone is enough to justify continuing to publish such tables.

New tables illustrate divide between rich and poor

Take a look at The Courier Schools League, showing the attainment data for Tayside and Fife secondary schools.

The top 10 is dominated by schools with fewer than 10% of their pupils living in the most deprived areas – known as SIMD 1 (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation).

By contrast half of the bottom 10 have more than 50% of their pupils living in SIMD 1.

School league tables help to shine a light on the attainment gap which exists between Scotland’s most and least affluent children.

Tariff scores for attainment of school leavers were also among attainment data released by the Scottish Government on Tuesday.

And the score for those in that most deprived SIMD 1 – 721 – was only just over half of that for those in the least deprived SIMD 5 –  1,346.

So raising attainment is about much, much more than teaching.

And schools can’t do it alone.

Tackle poverty and results will follow

The ability to succeed, both academically and vocationally, should not depend on a person’s postcode.

A child’s chances of achieving the qualifications which might win them a place in university or help them into a fulfilling career should not depend on where they are brought up.

But for too many youngsters that remains the reality.

Great teachers can nurture their pupils in the classroom but there’s little they can do to influence factors beyond that.

Social, health and economic inequality are wider societal issues to be dealt with beyond the school gates.

And tackling poverty – which is growing rather than shrinking – is the key to enabling those on the wrong side of the attainment gap to catch up with their peers on the right side.


Cheryl Peebles is head of The Courier’s Schools and Families team and a mother of two.


Read more on school league tables and attainment:

Here’s how Tayside and Fife schools rank as 2022 league tables are published

‘Exam success is a narrow measure of what schools like Levenmouth Academy do to prepare pupils for work’

How many pupils in each Tayside and Fife school go on to ‘positive destinations’ after they leave?

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