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Should you care about a value-added education ?

You may have heard about how schools use ‘value-added’ to measure performance but it is an often misunderstood concept. Wycliffe College has spent more than a decade feeling justifiably proud of its value-added output. Here, Sean Dunne, Deputy Head of Wycliffe College, shares his views on the subject.

“I am about to make that classic 70s pudding, pineapple upside down cake. I am sitting holding a cherry and a pineapple and wondering which is the better fruit? The pineapple weighs more but the cherry is a more beautiful colour. The pineapple will satisfy a number of people but the cherry offers just one mouthful. The tropical sweet sharpness of the pineapple cannot be compared to the tangy nutty earthiness of the cherry.

“Am I ever going to be able to tell which is the better fruit and what has this got to do with adding value in education?

Wycliffe College

“As ‘Parent Power’ became increasingly important, with parents making more active choices about where their children should be educated, the ways in which school performance was measured came under close scrutiny. After all, how were parents to exercise this power if they didn’t have all the facts?

“Raw results are one method of course. National newspapers are full of league tables claiming to show the ‘best’ school based on results. But if a school is academically selective, then of course they will (or should) sit at the top of those tables. But what about a school that does not select on the basis of academic ability but teaches pupils of all standards? Here’s where the cherries and pineapples come in. If we aren‘t comparing like with like, then we aren’t undertaking effective evaluation of either.

“Measuring added value is complex but mainly comes down to this: how much progress has a child made compared to their starting point, and compared with where they should be? Using data from thousands of tests over decades, it is possible to judge how well each group of children are likely to perform based on their test scores at the start of a course.

“When they finish, results can be compared with those expectations. If they have done better than expected, value has been added, if not, then value has not been added. It doesn’t matter if a child is Grade 9 or 3, A* or E, it is how much has been added which provides a way for a school to see if they have added value to their learning. It is a way to understand how, perhaps, for some pupils, a Grade 5 or C is actually a really good performance.

“At Wycliffe for example, pupils are admitted who would not secure a place at a grammar school but we can still understand the progress they make. On average, A level pupils’ progress is among the top 4% of the country, so we are able to show good levels of attainment even though we include pupils of all abilities.

“At GCSE we have scores that have consistently put us in the bracket of schools described as offering “well above average” progress, taking account of all pupils not just the top performers. And just to be certain that we are not letting down the most able, we also compare grammar school performance against that of our pupils who could have gone selective – and the results are consistently excellent.

“Whilst none of this is straightforward and it might seem easier to just look at raw results, remember that if you do, you aren’t comparing cherries with cherries, so don’t be surprised if the results are not what you’d expect.

“Anyway, back to that 70s pud… cherries and pineapples – that’s the best mix of course.”

Sean Dunne, Deputy Head of Wycliffe College

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