Opinion: Answers on no more than 2 sides of A4 (part 3)

In the last part of my series of articles on The Importance of Teaching schools White Paper published by the government last month, I want to look at the proposals for changes to the measurement of schools’ performance. The first two pieces were on exclusion and the range of languages included in the proposed English Baccalaureate.

Contextual Value Added

The value added by schools is in many ways more important that the actual raw results achieved – is a school good because its students have got the results commensurate with their potential when they entered the school, or because it has developed its students such that their results exceed the potential they had when they entered the school?

School performance tables have a measurement of both: the A*-C results and the Contextual Value Added, though the media predominately focus on the former. The latter is a measure of student performance relative to others with similar characteristics, and the White Paper proposes to stop using it (para 6.12).

The reasons given for no longer using CVA is that the public find it difficult to understand, that it is not a good indicator of success compared to the A*-C measure and because it has the “effect of expecting different levels of progress from different groups of pupils” on the basis of their background.

I’m not sure that any of these points actually stand scrutiny.

It is true that CVA isn’t setting the general public’s world alight – a Google search for “Contextual Value Added” mainly brings up academic and government sites – but the CVA score sits beside the A*-C mark in the performance tables that are widely published each year, and consists of a score of 1,000 is average – higher is better, lower worse. As a metric, it’s not particularly difficult to understand.

As suggested by the reasons given for scrapping it, the search for data to support the drive for higher results has meant that even CVA scores have been dragged into service as an indicator. This is not really appropriate, however, as CVA doesn’t seek to predict results but is simply a yardstick by which relative success can be assessed.

In my seven years as a inner-city secondary school governor, I’ve not once come across value added data being used as an excuse for poor performance by the school or being used to justify differential expectations. If anything, it drives the teaching staff to focus more closely on attainment, identify cohort strengths and weaknesses and devise strategies to improve performance. I would be surprised it was markedly different at any other school, though priorities do of course vary across the land.

The CVA and other value added measures can be used to assess how good a school is at improving the results of individual students by comparing students’ actual performance with what might have been expected of them when at an earlier stage in their education. This surely is what the heart of education is about: giving the best chance in life to all students by increasing their potential.

The raw A*-C results can only really be used to compare different school cohorts, or to indicate a direction of travel for the school’s results (which may or not may not be the same direction as the quality of the education). Commonly, this measure relative to other schools closely maps the relative ability of the schools’ intake.

CVA was introduced for very good reasons – it was to make comparing schools much fairer Those who wish to abolish CVA seem to have a different agenda, and one which is obscured behind the words of morality in the White Paper.

The value added by our schools to their students is an excellent thing to measure and publish annually alongside the schools results. CVA should be retained.

Alex Feakes is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Forest Hill, southeast London and a governor of a girls’ community secondary school. He blogs at www.alexfeakes.org and is on twitter.

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  • John Roffey 31st Dec '10 - 6:49pm

    You may not have noticed, but there is a massive shortage of jobs – and no sign that this will improve in the future.

    Continue rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  • John Faulkner 1st Jan '11 - 6:24pm

    I completely agree with Alex’s comments. Until recently I had been a governor of a large comprehensive in Surrey. I always used the CVA figures to ensure that pressure was maintained to pursue attainment, as the non-CVA figures could be used to show that the school was performing very well, but with the CVA adjustment it showed the result as not so favourable, although still ok. CVA figures are very important.

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