Below is a piece Mr William Rees, former head of admissions at Eton, wrote for BE about league tables, in which he explains why league tables are misleading and how families should assess schools.
'Families should look at the results over the last five years to see if there is an upward or downward trend. A single year's results can be misleading – in relative terms every school has stronger and weaker year groups.
The ranking tables published in newspapers are not a reliable source of knowledge, for two reasons. Firstly, a significant number of leading schools challenge their students with alternative courses in some subjects rather using than the mainstream examinations, and the government will not allow those alternative qualifications to be counted even though they are recognised by universities in the UK and USA. This creates distortions in the league tables. Secondly, a significant number of results are successfully challenged, and that process takes longer than the period in which the newspapers compile their tables. Definitive results are not available until the early part of the following calendar year.
While also looking carefully at what a school offers in sport, culture and all-round development, parents should in effect compile their own league table of schools they are interested in, using the cumulative A*/A/B benchmark at A level available on schools' own websites. But to get a true measure, account should also be taken of the initial degree of selectivity and the entry standard at Common Entrance at 13+. A school with a 55% pass mark at that level, for example, is doing brilliantly in improving its students' performance if its A-level score by that yardstick is in the 85% area. A school such as Eton, Radley, Tonbridge or Harrow would be doing badly if its A-level score were below 90%.'