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Top Bath school in national league tables published 29 Sept 2015

I know that many parents have been interested in the publication of the DFE performance tables on Wednesday this week, in fact some parents were quicker off the mark in looking at them than I was.  I remember Michael Gove indicating several years ago at the ASCL conference that he had a great enthusiasm for data, and he has certainly been as good as his word.  

Some of the data​, such as the profiling of staffing factors, might be of interest to parents, but I suspect that student achievement will be where attention is first directed.  It is easy to forget when we start to look at the achievement of a particular organisation, that the really important factor is the achievement of the individuals who make up that year group, particularly in Years 11 and 13.  

Ralph Allen parents will already know that we were delighted with the achievements of our students in August 2014, and I am particularly pleased to see that our results have held up very well at GCSE.  The percentage of students achieving 5 good GCSEs or equivalent including English and Maths has held steady at 73%, whereas schools in BANES and nationally have declined in recent years - quite markedly in the national context.  

Parents will also be aware of some controversy over league tables.  I don't think this is new.  Tables have been controversial since their inception.  They tend to be particularly controversial in schools that do not emerge with credit from them.   In truth, we do need to be wary of year on year comparisons, since performance measures and their attendant rules do change.  What is beyond controversy, however, is that 3 in 4 students in Ralph Allen are succeeding at a high level and able in most cases to access level 3 learning.  I think that compares very favourably with other schools in the city.  

It is also easy to give insufficient attention to the quarter of students who do not achieve this measure.  It is just as important to find the right onward paths for all, so I welcome the emphasis on progress in coming years as performance measures change.  Parents who have grown accustomed to NC levels and to GCSE grades will of course have to re-adjust in coming years.  The five A* to C measure will be replaced by progress measures, which are more inclusive of all students but likely for all that to prove just as controversial!   'Progress 8' and 'Attainment 8' will become part of the national lexicon, and will measure achievement in a different way. 

I was asked this week by an applicant for a Maths post whether 73% was the summit of Ralph Allen's ambitions for student achievement.  The truth is, not at all.  The reason we have a background of solid success is the basis of good teaching, high quality qualifications, and increasing sophistication in the tracking and support of students.  We will continue to work hard in these areas.  Having said this, the new measures will value more highly the achievements of students who may not be high fliers, but have made great progress since KS2, and I think that is a good development. 

 I am sure parents in Year 9 will be especially interested in the tables, as options are coming into focus for them, and there are still three weeks to the deadline for forms coming in.  Thanks for all the support you have given students as they deliberate; some have found it much easier than others.  It is really critical that we achieve the best fit for each student, and hard to offer generic advice.  Nevertheless, as a parent and school leader I have reached the conclusion it is better to choose with the heart rather than the head.  Options are not medicine, but work best when they reflect the enthusiasms of students.