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Frequently asked questions

What is this?

The Guardian Schools Guide (Schools Guide), a pilot online tool that puts into parents hands a wide range of indicators that can help parents and children find schools that are not simply ‘good’, but are the best match for them, depending on their priorities and expectations.

The Guide pulls in data previously only readily available to education specialists and the government, and presents them with a powerful set of personalisation tools, giving parents a view of a school that goes way beyond exam results and traditional league tables.

During the pandemic, parents have gained a greater awareness of how schools work. In a similar vein, the Guide offers all parents a richer, more rounded perspective on schools near them.

Which schools does this look at?

In the pilot phases this looks at state secondary schools in England. This is due to the availability of data and focusing on a specific area for the pilot launch. We are hoping to get lots of feedback from parents and teachers and would love to build this out further.

Why does it only cover schools in England? When will it cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

We would love to cover all of the UK and all schools, but are limited to the available data. We hope to be able to develop this further.

What doesn’t it cover?

In its pilot phase it does not cover primary schools, private schools, standalone sixth-form colleges or FE colleges. We are looking into incorporating these into later development subject to demand and feedback. We would also love to includes information around extracurricular activities and subjects, but at present the data is not available.

What indicators does it look at? What do they mean?

Each indicator provides a score between 0 and 100. A score of 50 shows that the school is about average on that particular dimension. A higher score indicates that the school is above average. Scores are calculated based on the three most recent years for which data are available (typically 2017-2019 or 2018-2020), but weighted towards more recent years.

School Indicators:

  • Admissions: This indicates how easy it is to secure a place. Schools that are not full, or which give a relatively large number of offers compared to the number of applicants, rank highly.
  • Attainment: This indicates how well pupils perform in exams such as GCSEs and (where applicable) A-levels. It does not take into account pupils’ academic performance when they arrived at the school (for that, see the Progress indicator).
  • Attendance: This indicates how reliably pupils attend school. It takes into account the general absence rate among all pupils as well as the proportion of pupils who are persistently absent.
  • Destinations: This indicates what happens to students after they leave school. Those where very large proportions of students go on to sustained education or employment destinations rank highly.
  • Disadvantaged pupils: This indicates how well the school performs for pupils from poorer families. It takes into account both academic progress and post-school destinations.
  • Environment: This indicates the relative healthiness and safety of the neighbourhood immediately around the school. It takes into account local pollution, traffic and crime levels.
  • Finances: This indicates the financial sustainability of the school. Those whose budgets have been in balance or surplus in recent years rank more highly.
  • Representation: This indicates how closely the socio-economic and ethnic balance of the school matches that of the local community. Schools with high rankings are not necessarily diverse: they are simply in balance with the local pupil population.
  • Progress: This indicates how much academic progress pupils make between joining the school and sitting exams such as GCSEs or (where applicable) A-levels. The highest ranking schools are those that admit relatively low-attaining pupils and turn them into high attainers.
  • Sixth form: This indicates the effectiveness of the sixth form (where one exists). It takes into account A-level attainment, progress between GCSE and A-level, and post-school destinations.

Staff indicators:

  • Assistant:teacher ratio: This indicates how many teaching assistants there are for each teacher in the school. The more assistants per teacher, the higher the score.
  • Staff development: This indicates how much is reported to have been spent each year on staff development per head, allowing for variations in numbers of teachers between schools.
  • Pupil:teacher ratio: This indicates how many pupils there are for each teacher in the school. The more pupils per teacher, the lower the score.
  • Qualified teachers: This indicates the proportion of teachers that have qualified status.
  • Unfilled vacancies: This indicates the proportion of permanent teaching positions that were either unfilled or filled by temporary staff.

Where is the data from?

All data is drawn from publicly verified sources, chiefly the Department for Education and the Office for National Statistics.

What do the rankings and scores mean? How do I determine what is a ‘good school’ using these metrics?

The guide uses a series of indicators that can be weighted according to the personal selection of the user. All the mainstream state secondary schools in England are assigned a score between 0 and 100 for each indicator. A score of 50 shows a school sits at the median for that indicator. The overall score shows the average of your total selected indicators, weighted according to your preferences. Any ranking is therefore purely personal and should not be considered as a ranking by the Guardian Schools Guide.

What is a ‘good score’? Is 50 bad?

The Guide has been designed in such a way as to help parents get beyond the binary thinking about schools as simply ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and all scores need to be taken in context. Statistically speaking, 50 is average. Almost all schools have some scores above 50 and others below 50. Depending on the circumstances, history and expectations of the school, this may or may not reflect progress for the school.

No school can excel on every indicator, but being able to see where a school’s relative strengths lie may help parents make an informed decision when it comes to selecting secondary schools with their children. It is precisely this diversity of strengths and weaknesses that the Schools Guide seeks to reflect.

What data do you collect?

You can find all this information in our privacy policy posted on the site.

How often do you update the scores?

During the current pilot phase, we are releasing new versions of the Guide roughly once a month. As well as applying the latest data, this sometimes also involves changing the way that scores are calculated or adding new functionality. Our most recent update on 4th May 2021 included the following changes (among other smaller updates):

  • Finances scores incorporate recently released 2020 data. The overall score is now an average of 2018, 2019 and 2020, weighted towards more recent years.
  • Staff developments scores are calculated slightly differently in order to allow for the fact that some schools spend relatively large amounts, but erratically. We now use a simple average of the most recent three years' spend (currently 2018-2020).
  • Environment scores now use a 1km radius around each school rather than just the school location itself. This is to allow for cases in which the school sits on the border between very different neighbourhoods, which led to some anomalous scores.

How do I give feedback or ask a question?

We are keen to hear from you so please email us at [email protected]


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