Bristol University’s Hymn Sheet

According to various news organisation, school league tables do actually make a positive difference to ‘performance’.

checking sources

The research has been produced by the very uneducational Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO). They conducted a longitudinal study of Welsh kids to see if, after the Welsh assembly abolished tables back in 2001, things got better or not.

Now, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to track down the research study so we’ll just have to take it is true. Of course, what the journos didn’t mention in their balanced pieces was that research published by another Bristol Uni department – the Graduate School of Education – called for the abandonment of English league tables.

Where to begin? Bristol University’s press office should get a slap on the wrist, that’s for sure. But we think education news offices who write this rubbish, too. Surely they should be saying that the verdict is still out on league tables and that it is simply bad practice for social researchers to claim anything more than a correlation using existing techniques.

Of course, theses journos could have been mislead but they are, time after time, found to be citing Wiki-esque sources without doing their homework.

We think, and have said before, that it is a mark of how poor education journalism is in the UK that this sort of thing continues to happen. Education journos should know their subject and, at the very least, check their sources for contradictory evidence. If it can’t be substantiated or it looks suspicious then don’t print it. That’s what journalists used to do.

It is sad that this needs to be said. Doesn’t say much also for the state of English university courses where, no doubt, these journalists were educated, nor for the in-house training or journo courses they completed to land their jobs. Or the type of story that even Auntie is now offloading.

So, to repeat, you should NEVER confuse correlation with causation. Longitudinal studies are nothing more than stories. Stories about the lives of the cohort. What is true for one cohort, is not necessarily going to be the case for any future cohort. In the case of underperforming pupils it could be a myriad of things that contribute to changes in ‘performance’, including the abolishing of league tables. But to say it was this one factor, and that the research showed it be so, is simply very, very poor thinking. Period.

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