GCSE results day: time to overhaul school league tables

22 August 2013

- Proposed GCSE 'threshold measure' retains incentives to 'game system'
- Need for new measure that captures the achievement of all pupils, not some

CentreForum on GCSE results day is pushing for a revolution in the way secondary school performance is measured.

In a report supported by the education company Pearson and championed by Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, the think tank says that schools should be ranked in league tables according to the progress they enable their pupils to make.

Current league tables rank schools in England on how many of their pupils achieve five GCSE grades at A*-C. But this measure has been widely condemned on the grounds that it encourages schools to focus on pupils at the C/D borderline at the expense of everybody else. The measure is particularly damaging for pupils in the bottom 20% or 'tail of underachievement', who leave secondary school with literacy and numeracy skills below the level expected of an 11 year old.

Earlier in the year, the government announced plans to replace the headline 'five A*-C' measure with two new measures: an eight subject progress measure, reflecting pupils' development over time, and a new threshold measure. The latter is intended to capture the proportion of pupils who get C grades or better in the core subjects of English and maths. The report models and tests both measures against real 2012 school data.

CentreForum welcomes the new progress measure, having worked with the Department for Education to develop it, but warns that the new threshold measure will create the same perverse incentives and 'gaming' behaviours as the existing 'five A*-C' measure.

The report urges government to drop the proposed threshold measure and instead enhance the progress measure by giving double weighting to the grades pupils achieve in English and maths.

The report argues that league tables based on this new measure will:

  • allow parents to judge a school not on what some of its pupils achieve but on how much all of its pupils learn;
  • encourage teachers to do what comes naturally - help every child;
  • shine a light on those "poor, unseen children" recently identified by Ofsted and hidden by the existing and proposed threshold measures;
  • allow government to hold schools to account using a measure that works with rather than against its two main objectives: raising outcomes for all and closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and the rest.

Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee, said:

"I am very supportive of these proposals developed by CentreForum. If you create a system with incentives, you can't blame people and institutions for responding to them. League tables are a real driver of school behaviour and we must make sure we get them right."

"Retaining a threshold measure based on the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths would be a serious mistake."

"CentreForum recommends that the threshold measure should be abolished and replaced by an accountability system which would give double weighting to pupils' grades in English and maths within a progress measure. This has the potential to offer the best of both worlds. It will mean schools are judged on the how much help they offer each and every pupil whilst still emphasising the importance of these core subjects."

Report author Chris Paterson said:

"Getting the measure that drives league tables right could be the single most important education reform of the coalition government. A progress measure allows a fair comparison between schools with very different intakes. It also drives an equal focus on every pupil. Retaining a threshold measure, however, will continue to hurt those at the bottom, diverting attention away from those who need it most - the underperforming 'tail'."

Brian Lightman, General Secretary of ASCL, said:

"It is crucial that the incentives created by any new headline measures are thoroughly tested if we are to avoid simply repeating the problems of the past. This report is important because it begins to do just that. I points towards something ASCL has long argued."

"Firstly, the fairest way to judge schools is on the progress pupils make. Secondly, the 'cliff edge' nature of any threshold measure will continue to have damaging unintended consequences."

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson, said:

"Many observers agree that the current accountability system wrongly encourages participants to focus on the achievements of the few rather than the many."

"We should be ambitious enough to create an accountability system that reflects, as closely as possible, all the ingredients that we know make a good school. CentreForum's proposals value how far a learner has come, not just where they end up."


The CentreForum report 'Measuring what matters: secondary school accountability indicators that benefit all' by Chris Paterson can be accessed via this link.

'Teach First' inspires new approach to Further Education

25 July 2013

Industry professionals should be seconded to Further Education (FE) colleges to train and support vocational learners, a new report by CentreForum suggests.

Launched at a high profile event tomorrow (Thursday), the report examines the case for one day a week teaching secondments, drawing on the experience of Teach First and findings of the Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning earlier in the year.*

The report says that a national secondment scheme dubbed 'Train Too' will deepen relationships between colleges, employers and employees, while offering a low risk opportunity to explore the practice of dual professionalism - or teaching and working at the same time.

It warns that at present only around 11% of teaching staff at FE colleges work in their chosen profession. There is also a "dangerous" gap between how industry, the FE sector and learners perceive the employment market, it says.

The report praises the coalition government's drive to increase the availability of apprenticeships but points out that many vocational learners still rely entirely on FE colleges for their tuition. It argues that 'Train Too' will help narrow the gap in quality between college based learning and the best apprenticeships.

Professor Alison Wolf CBE, who led the Wolf Review on vocational education, said:

"This report offers practical and excellent ideas for improving the quality of vocational education in this country. As Frank McLoughlin emphasised in his Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning report to the government, excellent provision requires close links between industry professionals and students."

"Creating and expanding these links is a priority but also a major challenge for colleges and governments. 'Train Too' offers a route forward and will, I hope, be welcomed across the political spectrum and translated into official policy with alacrity."

Report co-author James Kempton said:

"We all know we don't do enough to prepare people for work properly. Putting more industry experts in Further Education classrooms will transform vocational learning, offering up to date knowledge and inspiring real life experience. Colleges are desperate to work with industry in this way."

Lynne Sedgmore CBE, Executive Director at the 157 Group of Further Education Colleges, said:

"I am pleased to support this excellent piece from CentreForum. Based, as it is, on many very intelligent conversations with both providers of vocational education and employers, it sets out the case for an organised scheme of teaching secondments for the best in industry, and details a set of values which must be at the heart of any such programme."


*The Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL), led by Frank McLoughlin CBE, published its final report in March 2013.

The CentreForum report 'Train Too: industry secondments into Further Education' by James Kempton and Sam Tomlin can be downloaded.

Key recommendations from report

  • FE colleges should be supported in their efforts to improve the quality of vocational education.
  • While there are examples of excellent relationships between some employers and some FE colleges, more opportunities should be created for industy professionals to share their skills and expertise with the next generation of the workforce by teaching in FE alongside their own jobs.
  • A national secondment scheme should be established to enable industry professionals to teach in FE colleges based on the concept of a one a day week secondment for a minimum of one term or up to one academic year. This national scheme should sit alongside other initiatives to bring industry skills into FE.
  • The key stakeholders to participate in a national scheme of FE teaching secondments by industry professionals should comprise: FE colleges, learners, individual professionals (secondees), and businesses (corporate partners). The role, commitment and expectations of each need to be clearly established and communicated.
  • The national secondment scheme should be created around six design principles: a multiple engagement secondment model: flexibility; quality of secondees; strong 'championing'; a strong business case for all key stakeholders; and pilot testing.
  • The detailed model for the scheme should be developed through an iterative process of further primary research, piloting, review and refinement, prior to national roll out.

Think tank urges water industry shake up

17 July 2013

It is time to end reckless profiteering in the water industry and get a better deal for consumers, a new report by CentreForum urges.

Backed by former Director-General of the water regulator Ofwat, Sir Ian Byatt, the report presents a devastating critique of water companies' financial activities since the turn of the century. It describes an opaque, overleveraged and poorly regulated industry that consistently places short term profit maximisation above the interests of consumers and taxpayers.

The report says that in the drive to deliver profits to shareholders water companies have set up offshore tax avoidance structures and borrowed excessively to the point where they are in danger of becoming too indebted to finance their own infrastructure improvements. The example it gives is Thames Water which has requested taxpayer support for its 'super sewer' project despite recording bumper profits over a number of years.

Overleveraging is considered to have had a knock on effect on consumers. The report says that water bills have crept up partly because debt servicing requirements make it difficult for companies and the regulator to cut prices. In addition Ofwat is said to have mistakenly overestimated companies' capital costs when setting price levels. This again has come at the expense of the consumer, the report argues.

The report makes a set of recommendations for the government, Ofwat and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee to implement. It urges amongst other things the imposition of a levy on 'highly geared' (overleveraged) water companies, as well as German style earnings stripping rules to prevent all companies from drawing excessive loans with the intention of avoiding tax.

The report also calls for greater corporate transparency at a time when most English water companies have passed into the hands of private equity funds. It says that Ofwat should impose London Stock Exchange disclosure requirements on non-stock market listed water companies, and require public disclosure of all intermediate holding companies and ultimate controlling companies.

Report author George Turner said:

"For years now customers have been paying too much for their water and shareholders have been running off with giant profits. This is unacceptable in an industry which is so fundamental to people's lives and where customers cannot chose their supplier."

"What is worse, excessive profits have come about through a weakening of the financial strength of companies built up over many years of public investment. It is now time for parliament and the regulator to demand better standards from the water industry."

Sir Ian Byatt, former Director-General of Ofwat, who wrote the foreword to the report, said:

"This report sets out the issues involved in the financing of investment in the water sector with great clarity, making them accessible to non-expert readers, while providing a set of well thought out suggestions for action both by parliament and the regulator."


The CentreForum report 'Money down the drain: getting a better deal for consumers from the water industry' by George Turner can be downloaded.

CentreForum wins economics prize at Think Tank of the Year Awards

Prospect Award Rosette26 June 2013

We are delighted to have been crowned Prospect Magazine's UK Economic and Financial Think Tank of the Year 2013.

The Prospect judges were impressed by our joint report with Policy Exchange on Heathrow expansion and the impact it continues to have on the public debate. It was previously endorsed by the Economist, Financial Times and House of Commons Transport Committee amongst others.

The judges also commended our work on adult social care and leasehold and gave us an honourable mention in the category of UK Think Tank of the Year.

You can view the full list of categories and winners here.