School efficiency tool criticised as ‘dodgy’ metric

A new government tool allowing schools to compare their efficiency could be used to “beat schools around the head”, a former deputy head and accountant has warned.

The Department for Education (DfE) has published a new “efficiency metric tool”, which allows schools to see how their efficiency compares with similar schools based on the relationship between value-added and per-pupil income.

In the tool, both measures are standardised, and schools can search the Excel-based tool to see how they stand up to their “efficiency neighbours” with a score from 1 (most efficient) to 10 (least efficient).

Beechen Cliff School in Bath, recently touted by Tatler magazine as one of the “best state schools”, for example, has an efficiency decile of 6. It is outclassed by “efficiency neighbour” Beauchamp College, Leicestershire, which tops the list of its similar schools with a score of 1. It can, however, feel thriftier than Wootton Upper School, Bedford, which has the lowest efficiency rate of 10.

Although guidance on the tool insists the measure will not be used as an accountability measure or looked at by inspectors, Mike Cameron told Schools Week he feared the “dodgy metric” would be used to judge schools, and said it failed to look at other elements of school income.

“It tries to reduce a complex organisation to a single measure. The progress measure itself is controversial even when applied in the context it was developed.”

Mr Cameron, a governor at Beaumont School in St Albans and former deputy head at Queensbury School in Dunstable, said the metric provided “no useful information” for school leaders, adding: “All it does is provide yet another dodgy metric to use to beat them around the head with.

“Schools need to be as efficient as they can be. School leaders understand that. They can see it every day when they look at their budgets.

“This infantile measure will not help them. All it does is satisfy a tick list somewhere in the DfE and will no doubt add to the list of work being done in schools – ironically, making them less efficient.”

Micon Metcalfe, a school business director in south London said it was right that the government focused on efficiency in schools, but said the published advice “feels like teaching grandmother to suck eggs”.

She said it also gave a “clear indication” that education would “continue to be under-funded” and that “hard decisions about staffing and curriculum need to be made”.

She added: “With regards to the value for money tool, it has a certain novelty value but the ‘progress per pound’ methodology is crude and out of date using the 2013/14 financial data.”

A DfE spokesperson said the metric was designed to be a tool to help schools “understand their potential to achieve more from their funding”.

He said: “It is nonsense to suggest the efficiency toolkit is counterproductive. Many schools operate efficiently with resources being expertly deployed to deliver high standards for pupils. But we want all schools to benefit from being able to compare themselves to other schools and being able to contact those schools to ensure value for money for every pound spent.”

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