Do school league tables show falling standards or rising expectations?

More English secondary schools are "failing" this year compared to last Photo: PA

You can read the Government’s school league tables published today as either vindication of Michael Gove’s policies or proof that standards are falling.

Those who claim they expose the latter point out they show that more English secondary schools are "failing" this year compared to last: 195 based on last summer's GCSE results, compared to 107 based on results in 2011.

But the Department for Education says this is not because standards have fallen, but because thresholds have risen.

Last year, a school was said to be failing if fewer than 35 percent of its pupils got five or more GCSEs at grade C or above including Maths and English in 2011. This year the threshold for 2012 exam results has been raised to 40 percent.

The Government also points out that had the minimum threshold not been raised, the number of failing schools would have increased to 251, which the Government says supports Michael Gove's view that introducing tougher targets has raised standards.

Michael Gove believes constantly adding extra measures will raise standards Credit: PA

But others claim the statistics show worryingly low aspirations inside the classroom from some pupils and some of their teachers. For instance, there's a new column that measures the percentage of children getting AAB at A-level. Some 600 schools don't have a single pupil achieving this standard.

And today’s figures also show that 6/10 of the brightest pupils spotted at secondary school entry at 11 don’t go on to fulfil their academic potential at GCSE.

Commenting on the 2012 league tables published today, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The increasing complexity of these league tables makes it less and less likely that parents will use them to hold their children’s schools to account.

"By constantly adding extra measures, the government is increasing the pressure on schools to jump through centrally imposed hoops, while continuing to tell whoever’s listening that they trust schools to get on and do the right thing. And as a result, teacher morale is dropping through the floor.”

But Mr Gove believes by constantly adding extra measures - even if it exposes more failure – it will raise standards.