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The pluses and minuses of secondary school league tables

Posted by Mother Hen on 19/03/2009. Tags: Secondary School News

The publication of School league tables generates debate between parents, who are keen to access the information provided by the league tables and many in the educational establishment who generally loathe them.

In an article in the Irish Examiner in December 2008 , the Principal of Senior College Dun Laoghaire, Barry O’Callaghan expresses the concerns of many in the educational establishment that “League tables tell us nothing about those gone to apprenticeships, further education, agricultural, art, dance and other colleges, those happily gone to employment, those who cannot afford to go to university, those travelling the globe and those who have chosen to defer or terminate further academic progression.” He says such league tables are “placing huge pressure on teachers to teach exclusively to produce exam results; that instead of throwing a lifebelt to struggling schools is holding them underwater; is harming the teaching of sport, music and drama and is giving nervous breakdowns to top-performing schools lest they fall out of the top” .

Here at we understand the concern felt by many that school league tables only paint part of the picture. That said, if parents choose to be informed about progression rates to college from individual schools either as one of the criteria for selecting a school for their child or simply being interested in the information in respect of the school their child is attending, then the information should be available to them.

On we currently opt not to provide an overall list ranking schools based on college progression levels (though we could). That said, we do provide progression information in respect of individual schools on each school’s profile page.

For those who wish to view it, ranked information is available through the 2009 Sunday Times Parent Power supplement with links below. However in viewing the information provided by the Sunday Times data and on, remember that not all the colleges provide the information in the same way . Some list all the schools attended by repeat Leaving Certificate students, others simply name the last one attended. Some will not list schools with less than three students and, as outlined in the quote from Barry O’Callaghan above, the league tables tell us nothing about those who have progressed to other colleges outside of the CAO system, those travelling and those who can’t afford to progress to college etc. So remember that while the information is interesting in building up a profile of a school, using the information to directly compare one school against another will not necessarily present a true picture.

The Sunday Times Tables for 2009 (links to adobe pdf files)
The 'top' 400 secondary schools in Ireland
'Top' schools of the past six years
'Top' 20 boys schools / girls schools
'Top' 10 Gaelscoileanna
'Top' 10 small schools
'Top' 20 schools in Connaught
'Top' 20 schools in Cork
'Top' 20 schools in North Dublin
'Top' 20 schools in Leinster
'Top' 20 schools in South Dublin
'Top' 10 schools in Munster
'Top' 10 schools in Ulster

How the Sunday times guide was compiled

As the debate about school league tables goes on, many in the Irish education system are looking at the Finnish education model - which invests heavily in education - to learn the secrets of why the country keeps topping global league tables on education (school league tables are not available in Finland) . Finland has continuously led other countries in OECD reports on education in reading, mathematics and science since the research started in 2000. You can read more about the Finish Education System in the Sunday Business Post Article dated 28/11/09

School league tables remain a sensitive issue for schools which understandably have reservations about having so much judged by a single criterion; one which can never fully reflect the extraordinary lengths that schools and individual teachers go to in order to get disadvantaged students past the exam line.

Let us know your view on school league tables – should they be made available to parents? Do they influence you in choosing a secondary school for your child?


Dr G Wood

(24-03-2009 12:10)

After much deliberation, we sought a place for our son at St Columba's College. While I appreciate one should be cautious of relying on one measure of performance ("progression"), I am surprised that their score is so low. I must confess to having an academic background so, perhaps understandably, would wish my children to progress to a university education. How should I interpret their result? I am from overseas, so lack much of the knowledge that others might take for granted when making school choices.

ireland business classifieds

(26-10-2009 14:57)

I would kind of agree with Dadof1 above. League tables are not perfect, but hardly any system is.


(23-03-2009 18:27)

Theyre even providing league tables for hospitals these days I see ...
Thou I think this is for the benefit of the hospitals, AND they are not ranked on medical performance.

It would be interesting to see (or suggest) a league table of schools that similarly didnt rank based (solely) on academic performance! i.e. based on other measures like pupil-teacher ratio, computers per student, hours of afterschool activity available, special needs teachers, a student survey(hmm...) etc.


(31-03-2009 12:29)

Of course league tables are not perfect but then what measurement system is?
The solution that those denouncing league tables seem to offer is...... er, no information.
Schools and teacher should be free to propose of provide alternative measurements or notes against league tables to qualify the results.
But it seems that the only alternative they are offering is that parents select based on subjective annecdotal information, which is hardly an alternative to league tables.
And why does the CAO want to measure my child on a points basis, should I not be free to tell them how good my child is......... and all their great qualities that cannot be measured by exams or points.....?


(23-03-2009 21:11)

I'm all for the publication of information on college entries from each school. We parents are fully aware that such tables do not provide the 'full picture' but it is one of the performance indicators which parents MAY wish to consider when choosing a school for their child

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