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Average

As a nice little Christmas present, the elves within the Department for Education updated its website, ‘Find and compare schools in England’. This statistical feast allows prospective parents to type in the names of all the local schools to help them make an informed choice of where to send their children. Click on Highgate Primary and what comes up? Three big yellow boxes saying ‘Average’ ‘Average’ and, you guessed it, ‘Average’. So, there you have it, Highgate Primary is ‘Average’. The phrase ‘there are three kinds of lies, lies, damn lies and statistics’ comes to mind.

According to the DfE, ‘above average’ means being within the top 17% of schools nationally. Surely being in the top half is above average? If you apply the DfE’s logic to the Premier League, only three teams would be considered ‘above average’. The team that gains that all important fourth Champions League spot is merely ‘average’. Although I’d like to think this is true, I suspect most neutrals would accept that Chelsea are probably a little better than just ‘average’.

The DfE’s headline data measure is an average of the progress each child has made in Key Stage 2, from a baseline of their (often unreliable) test score at the end of Year 2. It doesn’t take in to consideration things like children’s progress in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2; nor does it make any allowance for the percentage of children with special educational needs who, as a group, will statistically make slower progress. And for good measure, it attributes the progress children have made, or not made, in other schools to the school in which they take their Year 6 tests.

According to the DfE, the highest performing school in the whole country is Greystoke School in Penrith, weighing in with a whopping ‘Well Above Average’ progress score of 18.3. I’m sure Greystoke is a wonderful school, but statistics don’t tell the whole story. Greystoke only had six children in their cohort, none of whom are recorded as having SEN.

For the record, the attainment of children at Highgate Primary in reading, writing and maths is officially well above average, and what’s more, our children start secondary school happy and full of confidence, with a real enthusiasm for learning.

When I take prospective parents around the school, it’s not unusual for one or two to become a little overwhelmed with emotion on seeing such happy and engaged children, completely at home in their school environment. It might be open to abuse, but a league table on displays of emotion from prospective parents might be a more reliable measure for the purpose of selecting schools.

William