Let’s get rid of school league tables

We are all very worried about the mental health of our young people; it seems to have become an epidemic that has crept up on us slowly over the decades. When I was at school as a boy – in the 60s and 70s – I was certainly aware of some adolescent depression around but nothing like the tragic scale of self-harming, eating disorders and suicide that we have come to regard nowadays as almost ‘normal’.

I know I am not alone as a headteacher in taking the mental health issues of my pupils very seriously. At Thorpe Hall, we employ a full-time counsellor to look after the needs of our pupils. And she is not alone; throughout the pastoral care team, teachers are engaged on a daily basis helping and supporting pupils through difficult times.

The government has reacted to this crisis by laudably putting a lot more funding into local mental health services and requests for help are now far more likely to receive a positive response from psychologists and psychiatrists. But that approach is treating the symptoms and doesn’t look at the root cause.We might question whether modern-day lifestyles have led to a mental health crisis and that young people have lost the ability to spend proper time outdoors having fun, instead of being cooped up in their bedrooms in front of a screen. There is probably a lot of truth in that, and persuading our children to

We might question whether modern-day lifestyles have led to a mental health crisis and that young people have lost the ability to spend proper time outdoors having fun, instead of being cooped up in their bedrooms in front of a screen. There is probably a lot of truth in that, and persuading our children to vary their pastimes to include plenty of fresh air seems like an instinctively correct parenting strategy.  But the pressure young people feel in school cannot be ignored. As we approach the time of GCSEs, SATs and A levels, I can tell you that the pressure on those children about to sit their public exams is overwhelming. These exams have become extremely ‘high stakes’ and there is one simple reason behind that – school performance league tables.

But the pressure young people feel in school cannot be ignored. As we approach the time of GCSEs, SATs and A levels, I can tell you that the pressure on those children about to sit their public exams is overwhelming. These exams have become extremely ‘high stakes’ and there is one simple reason behind that – school performance league tables.Abandoned many years ago in most developed countries, league tables remain a central plank in government attempts to apply accountability measures on schools and headteachers. In my view, these league tables are nothing short of evil. They are essentially unfair, not comparing like with like and not taking into account local variables. They put job-threatening pressure on headteachers and teachers who inevitably pass that pressure on to children. What happened to simply doing your very best and seeing what happened? Nowadays we tell young people that the rest of their lives rests on these exams, these results. No wonder our children have mental health problems!

Abandoned many years ago in most developed countries, league tables remain a central plank in government attempts to apply accountability measures on schools and headteachers. In my view, these league tables are nothing short of evil. They are essentially unfair, not comparing like with like and not taking into account local variables. They put job-threatening pressure on headteachers and teachers who inevitably pass that pressure on to children. What happened to simply doing your very best and seeing what happened? Nowadays we tell young people that the rest of their lives rests on these exams, these results. No wonder our children have mental health problems!

Let’s simply drop this outmoded, old fashioned and irrational method of holding schools to account and see if it actually helps solve the problem of children self-harming and taking their own lives. Surely at this point, anything is worth trying?