Former british prime minister Benjamin Disraeli allegedly recoiled against "lies, damned lies, and statistics."
He would certainly do so from beyond the grave if he were to see the UK's annual school league tables and the way that they are used by parents to select "good" schools. These tables, ranking schools in order of their supposed performance in public examinations (GCSE and A levels) have been flawed since their inception and continue to be flawed - and parents in Hong Kong should tread with great care in using them to choose schools for their children.
The publication of the league tables is heralded each year and, outwardly, they are harmless and helpful, allowing parents to see how successful (or otherwise) schools have been in public exams.
However, selecting schools purely based on a high position in these tables is most regrettable.
First, the way exam data is used is dubious and, secondly, a position in the tables only tells part of the story of a school's success. Several UK national newspapers publish the tables and a school's position in them can vary wildly from one paper to another, due to the way the exam result data is put together.
Many academically heavyweight subjects such as Latin are not included in assessing the average score, for example. Parents also need to be aware that in some schools, only those children who are likely to be successful are entered for the final exams, meaning that a school's seemingly high place does not accurately reflect how all pupils have performed. One or two pupils having a difficult couple of exams - a sad but natural consequence of exams - can also send a school's position tumbling down the tables.
And surely a school is more than just an exam factory? Choosing a school purely on its supposed academic position is like buying a house that is perfect on the outside but has no kitchen or bathroom inside. Yes, we all want our children to perform to the best of their academic ability, but wouldn't we be creating mono-focused dull citizens?
Finding a new interest and talent outside the classroom, and developing as a confident and sociable young lady or gentleman must be just as important aspirations for our children.
The classroom is paramount, of course, but schools (and youngsters) who expend all their energy on academia, ignoring sport, music and drama - and the countless energetically exciting things that go in British boarding schools - are surely missing out.
Exam results cannot and should not be ignored but, rather than looking at a school's position in league tables, why not look through its examination data instead? It will give you a much clearer picture.
Also, consider the value added a school has given its pupils. A child who was achieving A grades when they arrived has not necessarily progressed by gaining A grades in the final exams - whereas one who arrived as a B-grade student and leaves with As has clearly been given something much more significant by their school.
And go and see a sports match, or a play, or a musical recital - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Niall Browne is the director of schools consultancy at Ascent Prep in Causeway Bay
Original article on The Standard: http://www.thestandard.com.hk/section-news.php?id=192985&story_id=50006634&d_str=20180220&fc=4