THE publication of league tables on exam performance alone is always controversial because of what it does not tell you about the performance of a school.

Critics argue they are misleading because they focus only on one measure and do not inform parents about the wider context of education in the school or, crucially, how much it helps pupils improve.

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It can also be argued that league tables reward complacency in schools that seem to be doing well, having started with high aspiration and parental support, but that fail to add as much as they could to pupils' attainment.

However, supporters argue that, in a system run by local authorities, there can be a lack of accountability at school level and publishing performance indicators forces headteachers and directors of education to get to grips with poorly performing schools.

Dr Beth Dickson, a senior lecturer at Glasgow University's School of Education, believes league tables do provide useful information, but should be used with other sources to build a complete picture.

She said: "In England, league tables are important in terms of supporting what is perceived to be a market in parental choice around schools.

"The idea is that parents will look at the tables in order to make an informed choice about their school and the tables are also seen as a mechanism to hold teachers and councils to account if a school is not performing well.

"Scotland has a more balanced model. There are league tables and that does give you important information about how a school is performing.

"But we know that is not the only thing that a school does and that is why it is important that parents use other information.

"The reports published by Education Scotland following inspections can show a different picture, with some glowing reports of schools in areas of deprivation which are improving and making a real difference to pupils."