THE way school exam statistics are published by the Scottish Government has been criticised by the UK's official statistics body.

A UK Statistics Authority report questioned the current strategy of publishing annual secondary school results on an official website without making direct comparisons between schools.

The publication of school exam results is a controversial issue because it leads to the construction of league tables which directly compare schools.

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The Scottish Government does not produce league tables for the country's schools, while Westminster does in England.

Critics - including the Scottish Government - argue league tables 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.

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 be aware of poor performing schools.

The UK Statistics Authority said statistics for individual schools in Scotland were available on official websites, but not brought together in an official statistics publication with tables of results and professional advice on their interpretation.

"These statistics are part of the wealth of official data to which the public should have unimpeded access supported by professional statistical advice," it states.

"It is self-evidently true that publishing those statistics in that way will allow anyone, including the news media, to create league tables of schools performance.

"However .... a body responsible for statistics should not seek to control access to them on the grounds that they may be used in ways it regards as inappropriate."

The report concludes: "Whilst the school-level websites in each of the devolved administrations provide useful information about individual schools, the statistics are not always released in formats that enable and encourage analysis and re-use."

In its report, the authority also expressed opposition to the Scottish Government view that educational policy and statistical policy could not be separated.

The report states: "The authority would argue that it can be and must be if the statistical service is to be seen as independent and coherent - the more so as education policy does differ between the four UK administrations."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the priority of ministers was to raise achievement across the country.

"Information on schools is freely available through Scottish Schools Online and we are also working hard to improve the quality of information going to parents about Curriculum for Excellence," he said.

"The Scottish Government believes that comparing schools is almost impossible given the wide diversity of cohorts, communities and cultures in Scotland."

The UK Statistics Authority is an independent body operating at arm's length from government directly accountable to the Westminster Parliament.

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