When league tables first came in I welcomed them, naively believing they would be a useful guide for parents to check the performance of local schools, which would help them choose the best school for their child.
I really thought that knowing how well schools did in their SATs and GCSE exams would be useful.
What I never thought was that league tables would become yet another bone of contention, ultimately being the object of so much fudging, manipulation and cheating as to render the lists totally counter-productive.
These days, it seems, schools are so desperate to rise up the league tables by any means at their disposal that they have even started removing a number of pupils from the school roll altogether when it comes to exam time, so that these pupils can't fail the exams and lower the school's position in the table.
Significant numbers of pupils disappear in this way just before the exams, with the excuse that they have "gone to a college" or "left the area" or have been "put into more appropriate provision". (More appropriate for whom, I wonder?)
Then we have alarming reports that some schools are putting pressure on pupils to drop "hard" subjects such as sciences or languages and opt for soft subjects where they are more likely to get C grades and help with the school's league place.
Thus, third-rate establishments which are already failing their pupils can cover this up by making children do subjects which are no use to them at all, in order to save the school's face.
Of course, one might well argue that league tables, whatever method you use to compile them and however much "value-added" information you attach to them, are not worth anything to the people they were designed to inform - the parents.
They know, as we all do, that any child who does not live in the so-called "catchment area" of the school he is hoping to attend has no chance of being offered a place there if it is a popular school, however much their parents might want them to attend it.
Catchment areas were, infact, abolished by the Government some years ago, but over-subscribed schools, unable to select by ability or any other criteria, are still using the old catchment areas to decide which pupils they will accept.
Thus, in practice, you stay in the area in which you live, regardless of the quality of the schools on offer in your area.
So much for the poorer child getting a leg up by attending a better-performing school. I once used to think that the answer to this blatant inequality would be to put the names of all the children applying for a place at a particular school into a hat and drawing places by lot, but, having seen the plain skulduggery that there has been with league tables, I fear it wouldn't be long before desperate parents had come up with underhand ways of making sure that their child got into the school of their choice.
No doubt schools, jealous of their reputation, would also soon create ways of making sure that the children they didn't want, didn't get in.