Do league tables have value?

Do league tables have value?

Andrew Fleck is occasionally asked about the value of League Tables and where Sedbergh features. The answer to the latter question is more straight-forward than to the former.

The first League Table was published by the Telegraph in 1966 and they became important in the mid 1990s. As they gained importance schools developed strategies to enhance their position. The question whether League Tables have value is determined by the person who reads them and in common with any set of measurements it is important to understand what they show. If the reader values what League Tables measure, then they have value.

When considered as a whole, a school’s position in the League Tables is the product of its selectivity, its balance of educational priorities and the strategies used to enhance its position. It follows that they are likely to be useful to a parent who has access to a number of different schools and who is seeking a school which is defined solely by its academic success. The League Table will be less informative to a parent who may seek the benefits of broader education and who values the development of the character and personality of their child alongside academic attainment.

Perhaps the best assessment is that they provide an insight into a school and may be a starting point for discussion. All schools are able to measure how well their pupils perform in relation to their individual ability and other schools. This Value-Added measure is more relevant and may be more interesting to a parent and pupil.

Sedbergh does not provide information for League Tables which fail to reflect the unique character and value of a Sedbergh education. Ours is a broad education which properly embraces academia, the arts and sports as well as a social and spiritual education. To use an Olympic analogy, League Tables are the equivalent of awarding medals for the heptathlon based solely on results in the 800 metres race.

Durham University demonstrated how the level of difficulty of A levels varies by two grades between subjects (SCORE Report, July 2008). Happily universities recognise this even if League Tables do not; the breadth of subjects offered at different schools and the variability of exam boards makes this a significant problem. For both these reasons we do not provide information to the media for League Tables.

The Sedbergh intake is modestly selective. Our average ability profile sits close to the 40th centile of the national population and the range extends from the top 5% of the population to the 60th centile. We respond to this range of ability by using distinct sets in subjects from Year 9 and thereby group pupils according to ability. This ensures that pupils are taught at an appropriate level and with proper ambition. We measure “Added Value” for every level of ability and many sub-groups. Yet even this measure creates problems because pupils who are predicted A* grades cannot excede their predictions and cannot score Added Value.

A different insight into the academic credentials of the School are the universities at which pupils gain places. In 2016, 87% of pupils who applied to university gained places at their preferred institution immediately on receipt of results, 52% gained places at Russell Group Universities. The full range of universities can be found on our website

I have said that ours is a broad education. Beyond this, Sedbergh School does not operate a ‘one style fits all’ policy - each pupil’s needs are assessed individually and each has a dedicated tutor who is responsible for his or her academic development. The tutor monitors their progress, liaising between subject teachers, Housemasters, Housemistresses and parents. Almost all staff and pupils live on site which provides plenty of time for extra lessons and tutorials. Beyond the classroom a vast range of opportunities give Sedberghians the edge when it comes to competing for places at the top universities and employment. 

Their personal statements and references are full of comments about community service, charity work and fundraising, expeditions, teamwork, responsibility and a host of other relevant experiences. Alongside an outstanding senior school education, Sedbergh prepares its pupils for interesting lives.

Sedbergh School, Sedbergh, Cumbria, LA10 5HG. 015396 20535,