Labour’s Commitment to Gifted Education

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Today, Labour announced that it would support gifted and talented children.

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This short post examines what is so far in the public domain.

Is this concerted action?

We heard on Sunday (1 March 2015) that Ofsted is bringing forward publication of its second survey report on the education of the ‘most able’.

Plans for the survey were announced in HMCI’s Annual Report, published in December 2014. I set out exactly what was proposed in this contemporaneous post.

At the end of January, HMCI Wilshaw told the Education Select Committee that the second survey report would be published in May (see page 41) but newspaper reports over the weekend said it would appear tomorrow (4 March).

Labour’s announcement is obviously timed to anticipate Ofsted’s report.

By bringing forward his report to this side of the General Election, HMCI has certainly ensured that it will exert much more leverage on political decision-making. He will want that to impact on the Conservatives as well as Labour.

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What exactly is Labour’s commitment?

The original newspaper report is so far our only source. (I will add any further details from material that appears subsequently.)

It says that, if elected:

  • Labour would establish an independently-administered Gifted and Talented Fund, which is likely to ‘have a £15m pot initially’.
  • Schools would be able to bid for money from the Fund to ‘help their work in stretching the most able pupils’.
  • The Fund would help to establish ‘a new evidence base on how to encourage talented children’

The current evidence base, cited in support of this decision, comprises: material from Ofsted’s first survey report (June 2013); the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s report on High-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (June 2014); and PISA data (which I analysed in this post from December 2013.

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Unanswered questions

There are many.

The use of ‘gifted and talented’ terminology may be misleading, in that the remainder of the text suggests Labour is focused on high attainers including (but not exclusively) those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

It is not clear whether the £15m funding commitment is an annual commitment or an initial investment that might or might not be topped up subsequently.

It seems to be available to both primary and secondary schools, but this is not made explicit.

It is not clear how bids for the funding would be assessed, or who would assess them.

The purpose of the funding seems primarily to support teachers and schools rather than to support high attaining learners themselves.

The relationship between the Fund and building the evidence base is not made clear. Will there be an expectation of school-based action research, for example?

There is no explicit ‘joining up’ with wider Labour action on social mobility or fair access to selective higher education (and there is an unfortunate allusion to the pupil premium which suggests it is exclusively to help lower attainers).

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Is anyone on the inside track?

The word on the street is that Labour developed its policy through an internal review.

But the inclusion of a statement from Peter Lampl might suggest that they are in cahoots with the Sutton Trust, where an ex-Labour SPAD is ensconced as Director of Research and Communications.

The Trust’s Mobility Manifesto (September 2014) includes a call for:

‘…an effective national programme for highly able state school pupils, with ring-fenced funding to support evidence-based activities and tracking of pupils’ progress.’

Unfortunately, it is also wedded to the misguided Open Access scheme, which involves denuding state-funded schools of high attainers and diverting them to independent schools instead. (For a more balanced and careful analysis see this post from April 2012)

It cannot be entirely accidental that Lampl published his latest article pushing this wheeze on the same day as Labour’s announcement.

The Education Endowment Foundation might be a potential home for the Fund – and of course the Sutton Trust has a close relationship with the EEF.

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Pressure on the Tories?

The combined weight of Labour’s announcement and HMI’s report will put significant pressure on the Tories, especially, to follow suit.

They are already in a difficult position in this territory, having publicly wavered between advocating selection and universal setting as an alternative to it.

The Prime Minister has recently announced himself less opposed to selection, and the as-yet-unresolved decision on the Sevenoaks satellite is keeping this a live issue as we approach the Election.

His dalliance with universal setting was advertised as sidestepping the arguments for increased selection, but was subsequently relegated to one of a menu of options in the armoury of regional schools commissioners when tackling failing schools.

The Tories’ only other fallback is the claim that the Coalition Government’s more generic policies will raise standards across the board, including at the top of the attainment spectrum.  This seems increasingly threadbare, however.

If they are not careful, they could be squeezed between Labour’s new-found commitment to gifted education and UKIP’s espousal of grammar schools.

Initial reaction to Labour’s announcement?

This is the first time Labour have expressed support for high attainers since Andy Burnham was Shadow Minister.

If the sum they have announced is an annual commitment, this broadly matches the budget for the National Gifted and Talented Programme when it was at its height in the mid-2000s.

They are clearly anxious to keep this support at arms-length from Government – they don’t want to return to a national programme.

The disadvantages of full autonomy could be avoided if bids are invited against a framework of priorities, rather than left entirely for schools to determine. Labour presumably want this funding to make a difference to the statistics they cite from the evidence base.

If the funding is for educators rather than learners, that begs the question whether those from disadvantaged backgrounds might not also be supported through a £50m pupil premium topslice as I have suggested elsewhere.

It would also be helpful if the funding was linked to a national effort to reach consensus on the education of high attainers, as embodied in these ten core principles.

But this is a decent start. ‘Better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick’, as my favourite colloquialism has it.

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GP

March 2015

Maths Mastery: Evidence versus Spin

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On Friday 13 February, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published the long-awaited evaluation reports of two randomised control trials (RCTs) of Mathematics Mastery, an Ark-sponsored programme and recipient of one of the EEF’s first tranche of awards back in 2011.

Inside-out_torus_(animated,_small)Inside-out_torus_(animated,_small)EEF, Ark and Mathematics Mastery each published a press release to mark the occasion but, given the timing, none of these attracted attention from journalists and were discussed only briefly on social media.

The main purpose of this post is to distinguish evidence from spin, to establish exactly what the evaluations tell us – and what provisos should be attached to those findings.

The post is organised into three main sections which deal respectively with:

  • Background to Mathematics Mastery
  • What the evaluation reports tell us and
  • What the press releases claim

The conclusion sets out my best effort at a balanced summary of the main findings. (There is a page jump here for those who prefer to cut to the chase.)

This post is written by a non-statistician for a lay audience. I look to specialist readers to set me straight if I have misinterpreted any statistical techniques or findings,

What was published?

On Friday 13 February the EEF published six different documents relevant to the evaluation:

  • A press release: ‘Low-cost internet-based programme found to considerably improve reading ability of year 7 pupils’.
  • A blog post: ‘Today’s findings: impact, no impact and inconclusive – a normal distribution of findings’.
  • An updated Maths Mastery home page (also published as a pdf Project Summary in a slightly different format).

The last three of these were written by the Independent Evaluators – Jerrim and Vignoles (et al) – employed through the UCL Institute of Education.

The Evaluators also refer to ‘a working paper documenting results from both trials’ available in early 2015 from http://ideas.repec.org/s/qss/dqsswp.html and www.johnjerrim.com. At the time of writing this is not yet available.

Press releases were issued on the same day by:

All of the materials published to date are included in the analysis below.

Background to Maths Mastery

What is Maths Mastery?

According to the NCETM (October 2014) the mastery approach in mathematics is characterised by certain common principles:

‘Teachers reinforce an expectation that all pupils are capable of achieving high standards in mathematics.

  • The large majority of pupils progress through the curriculum content at the same pace. Differentiation is achieved by emphasising deep knowledge and through individual support and intervention.
  • Teaching is underpinned by methodical curriculum design and supported by carefully crafted lessons and resources to foster deep conceptual and procedural knowledge.
  • Practice and consolidation play a central role. Carefully designed variation within this builds fluency and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts in tandem.
  • Teachers use precise questioning in class to test conceptual and procedural knowledge, and assess pupils regularly to identify those requiring intervention so that all pupils keep up.

The intention of these approaches is to provide all children with full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future.’

The NCETM paper itemises six key features, which I paraphrase as:

  • Curriculum design: Relatively small, sequenced steps which must each be mastered before learners move to the next stage. Fundamental skills and knowledge are secured first and these often need extensive attention.
  • Teaching resources: A ‘coherent programme of high-quality teaching materials’ supports classroom teaching. There is particular emphasis on ‘developing deep structural knowledge and the ability to make connections’. The materials may include ‘high-quality textbooks’.
  • Lesson design: Often involves input from colleagues drawing on classroom observation. Plans set out in detail ‘well-tested methods’ of teaching the topic. They include teacher explanations and questions for learners.
  • Teaching methods: Learners work on the same tasks. Concepts are often explored together. Technical proficiency and conceptual understanding are developed in parallel.
  • Pupil support and differentiation: Is provided through support and intervention rather than through the topics taught, particularly at early stages. High attainers are ‘challenged through more demanding problems which deepen their knowledge of the same content’. Issues are addressed through ‘rapid intervention’ commonly undertaken the same day.
  • Productivity and practice: Fluency is developed from deep knowledge and ‘intelligent practice’. Early learning of multiplication tables is expected. The capacity to recall facts from long term memory is also important.

Its Director published a blog post (October 2014) arguing that our present approach to differentiation has ‘a very negative effect’ on mathematical attainment and that this is ‘one of the root causes’ of our performance in PISA and TIMSS.

This is because it negatively affects the ‘mindset’ of low attainers and high attainers alike. Additionally, low attainers are insufficiently challenged and get further behind because ‘they are missing out on some of the curriculum’. Meanwhile high attainers are racing ahead without developing fluency and deep understanding.

He claims that these problems can be avoided through a mastery approach:

‘Instead, countries employing a mastery approach expose almost all of the children to the same curriculum content at the same pace, allowing them all full access to the curriculum by focusing on developing deep understanding and secure fluency with facts and procedures, and providing differentiation by offering rapid support and intervention to address each individual pupil’s needs.’

But unfortunately he stops short of explaining how, for high attainers, exclusive focus on depth is preferable to a richer blend of breadth, depth and pace, combined according to each learner’s needs.

NCETM is careful not to suggest that mastery is primarily focused on improving the performance of low-attaining learners.

It has published separate guidance on High Attaining Pupils in Primary Schools (registration required), which advocates a more balanced approach, although that predates this newfound commitment to mastery.

NCETM is funded by the Department for Education. Some of the comments on the Director’s blog post complain that it is losing credibility by operating as a cheerleader for Government policy.

Ark’s involvement

Ark is an education charity and multi-academy trust with an enviable reputation.

It builds its approach on six key principles, one of which is ‘Depth before breadth’:

‘When pupils secure firm foundations in English and mathematics, they find the rest of the curriculum far easier to access. That’s why we prioritise depth in these subjects, giving pupils the best chance of academic success. To support fully our pupils’ achievement in maths, we have developed the TES Award winning Mathematics Mastery programme, a highly-effective curriculum and teaching approach inspired by pupil success in Singapore and endorsed by Ofsted. We teach Mathematics Mastery in all our primary schools and at Key Stage 3 in a selection of our secondary schools. It is also being implemented in over 170 schools beyond our network.’

Ark’s 2014 Annual Report identifies five priorities for 2014/15, one of which is:

‘…developing curricula to help ensure our pupils are well prepared as they go through school… codifying our approach to early years and, building on the success of Maths Mastery, piloting an English Mastery programme…’

Mathematics Mastery is a charity in its own right. Its website lists 15 staff, a high-powered advisory group and three partner organisations:  Ark, the EEF (presumably by virtue of the funded evaluation) and the ‘Department for Education and the Mayor of London’ (presumably by virtue of support from the London Schools Excellence Fund).

NCETM’s Director sits on Mathematics Mastery’s Advisory Board.

Ark’s Chief Executive is a member of the EEF’s Advisory Board.

Development of Ark’s Maths Mastery programme

According to this 2012 report from Reform, which features Maths Mastery as a case study, it originated in 2010:

‘The development of Mathematics Mastery stemmed from collaboration between six ARK primary academies in Greater London, and the mathematics departments in seven separate ARK secondary academies in Greater London, Portsmouth and Birmingham. Representatives from ARK visited Singapore to explore the country’s approach first-hand, and Dr Yeap Ban Har, Singapore’s leading expert in maths teaching, visited King Solomon Academy in June 2011.’

In October 2011, EEF awarded Ark a grant of £600,000 for Maths Mastery, one of its first four awards.

The EEF’s press release says:

‘The third grant will support an innovative and highly effective approach to teaching children maths called Mathematics Mastery, which originated in Singapore. The programme – run by ARK Schools, the Academies sponsor, which is also supporting the project – will receive £600,000 over the next four years to reach at least 50 disadvantaged primary and secondary schools.’

Ark’s press release adds:

‘ARK Schools has been awarded a major grant by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to further develop and roll out its Mathematics Mastery programme, an innovative and highly effective approach to teaching children maths based on Singapore maths teaching. The £600,000 grant will enable ARK to launch the programme and related professional development training to improve maths teaching in at least 50 disadvantaged primary and secondary schools.

The funding will enable ARK Schools to write a UK mathematics mastery programme based on the experience of teaching the pilot programme in ARK’s academies. ARK intends to complete the development of its primary modules for use from Sept 2012 and its secondary modules for use from September 2013. In parallel ARK is developing professional training and implementation support for schools outside the ARK network.’

The project home page on EEF’s site now says the total project cost is £774,000. It may be that the balance of £174,000 is the fee paid to the independent evaluators.

This 2012 information sheet says all Ark primary schools would adopt Maths Mastery from September 2012, and that its secondary schools have also devised a KS3 programme.

It describes the launch of a Primary Pioneer Programme from September 2012 and a Secondary Pioneer Programme from September 2013. These will form the cohorts to be evaluated by the EEF.

In 2013, Ark was awarded a grant of £617,375 from the Mayor of London’s London Schools Excellence Fund for the London Primary Schools Mathematics Mastery Project.

This is to support the introduction of Mastery in 120 primary schools spread across 18 London boroughs. (Another source gives the grant as £595,000)

It will be interesting to see whether Maths Mastery (or English Mastery) features in the Excellence Fund’s latest project to increase primary attainment in literacy and numeracy. The outcomes of the EEF evaluations may be relevant to that impending decision.

Ark’s Mathematics Mastery today

The Mathematics Mastery website advertises a branded variant of the mastery model, derived from a tripartite ‘holistic vision’:

  • Deep understanding, through a curriculum that combines universal high expectations with spending more time on fewer topics and heavy emphasis on problem-solving.
  • Integrated professional development through workshops, visits, coaching and mentoring and ‘access to exclusive online teaching and learning materials, including lesson guides for each week’.
  • Teacher collaboration – primary schools are allocated a geographical cluster of 4-6 schools while secondary schools attend a ‘national collaboration event’. There is also an online dimension.

It offers primary and secondary programmes.

The primary programme has three particular features: use of objects and pictures prior to the introduction of symbols; a structured approach to the development of mathematical vocabulary; and heavy emphasis on problem-solving.

It involves one-day training sessions for school leaders, for the Maths Mastery lead and those new to teaching it, and for teachers undertaking the programme in each year group. Each school receives two support visits and attends three local cluster meetings.

Problem-solving is also one of three listed features of the secondary programme. The other two are fewer topics undertaken in greater depth, plus joint lesson planning and departmental workshops.

There are two full training days, one for the Maths Mastery lead and one for the maths department plus an evening session for senior leadership. Each school receives two support visits and attends three national collaborative meetings. They must hold an hour-long departmental workshop each week and commit to sharing resources online.

Both primary and secondary schools are encouraged to launch the programme across Year 1/7 and then roll it upwards ‘over several years’.

The website is not entirely clear but it appears that Maths Mastery itself is being rolled out a year at a time, so even the original primary early adopters will have provision only up to Year 3 and are scheduled to introduce provision for Year 4 next academic year. In the secondary sector, activity currently seems confined to KS3, and predominantly to Year 7.

The number of participating schools is increasing steadily but is still very small.

The most recent figures I could find are 192 (Maths Mastery, November 2014) or 193 – 142 primary and 51 secondary (Ark 2015).

One assumes that this total includes

  • An original tranche of 30 primary ‘early adopters’ including 21 not managed by Ark
  • 60 or so primary and secondary ‘Pioneer Schools’ within the EEF evaluations (ie the schools undertaking the intervention but not those forming the control group, unless they have subsequently opted to take up the programme)
  • The 120 primary schools in the London project
  • Primary and secondary schools recruited outwith the London and EEF projects, either alongside them or subsequently.

But the organisation does not provide a detailed breakdown, or show how these different subsets overlap.

They are particularly coy about the cost. There is nothing about this on the website.

The EEF evaluation reports say that 2FE primary schools and secondary schools will pay ‘an upfront cost of £6,000 for participating in the programme’.

With the addition of staff time for training, the per pupil cost for the initial year is estimated as £127 for primary schools and £50 for secondary schools.

The primary report adds:

‘In subsequent years schools are able to opt for different pathways depending on the amount of support and training they wish to choose; they also have ongoing access to the curriculum materials for additional year groups. The per pupil cost therefore reduces considerably, to below £30 per pupil for additional year groups.’

In EEF terms this is deemed a low cost intervention, although an outlay of such magnitude is a significant burden for primary schools, particularly when funding is under pressure, and might be expected to act as a brake on participation.

Further coyness is evident in respect of statutory assessment outcomes. Some details are provided for individual schools, but there is precious little about the whole cohort.

All I could find was this table in the Primary Yearbook 2014-15.

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EEF maths mastery performance

It suggests somewhat better achievement at KS1 L2b and L3c than the national average but, there is no information about other Levels and, of course, the sample is not representative, so the comparison is of limited value.

An absence of more sophisticated analysis – combined with the impression of limited transparency for those not yet inside the programme – is likely to act as a second brake on participation.

There is a reference to high attainers in the FAQ on the website:

‘The Mathematics Mastery curriculum emphasises stretching through depth of understanding rather than giving the top end of pupils [sic] new procedures to cover.

Problem solving is central to Mathematics Mastery. The great thing about the problems is that students can take them as far as they can, so those children who grasp the basics quickly can explore tasks further. There is also differentiation in the methods used, with top-end pupils typically moving to abstract numbers more quickly and spending less time with concrete manipulatives or bar models. There are extension ideas and support notes provided with the tasks to help you with this.

A range of schools are currently piloting the programme, which is working well in mixed-ability classes, as well as in schools that have set groups.’

The same unanswered questions arise as with the NCETM statement above. Is ‘Maths Mastery’ primarily focused on the ‘long tail’, potentially at the expense of high attainers?

The IoE evaluators think so. The primary evaluation report says that:

‘Mathematics Mastery intervention is particularly concerned with the ‘mastery’ of basic skills, and raising the attainment of low achievers.’

It would be helpful to have clarity on this point.

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How influential is Maths Mastery?

Extremely influential.

Much educational and political capital has already been invested in Maths Mastery, hence the peculiar significance of the results contained in the evaluation reports.

The National Curriculum Expert Panel espoused mastery in its ‘Framework for the National Curriculum‘ (December 2011), while ducking the consequences for ‘stretch and challenge’ for high attainers – so creating a tension that remains unresolved to this day.

Meanwhile, the mastery approach has already influenced the new maths programme of study, as the NCETM document makes clear:

‘The 2014 national curriculum for mathematics has been designed to raise standards in maths, with the aim that the large majority of pupils will achieve mastery of the subject…

… For many schools and teachers the shift to this ‘mastery curriculum’ will be a significant one. It will require new approaches to lesson design, teaching, use of resources and support for pupils.’

Maths Mastery confirms that its Director was on the drafting team.

Mastery is also embedded in the national collaborative projects being undertaken through the Maths Hubs. Maths Mastery is one of four national partners in the Hubs initiative.

Ministers have endorsed the Ark programme in their speeches. In April 2014, Truss said:

‘The mastery model of learning places the emphasis on understanding core concepts. It’s associated with countries like Singapore, who have very high-performing pupils.

And in this country, Ark, the academy chain, took it on and developed it.

Ark run training days for maths departments and heads of maths from other schools.

They organise support visits, and share plans and ideas online with other teachers, and share their learning with a cluster of other schools.

It’s a very practical model. We know not every school will have the time or inclination to develop its very own programmes – a small rural school, say, or single-class primary schools.

But in maths mastery, a big chain like Ark took the lead, and made it straightforward for other schools to adopt their model. They maintain an online community – which is a cheap, quick way of keeping up with the best teaching approaches.

That’s the sort of innovation that’s possible.

Of course the important thing is the results. The programme is being evaluated so that when the results come out headteachers will be able to look at it and see if it represents good value.’

In June 2014 she said:

‘This idea of mastery is starting to take hold in classrooms in England. Led by evidence of what works, teachers and schools have sought out these programmes and techniques that have been pioneered in China and East Asia….

…With the Ark Schools Maths Mastery programme, more than 100 primary and secondary schools have joined forces to transform their pupils’ experiences of maths – and more are joining all the time. It’s a whole school programme focused on setting high expectations for all pupils – not believing that some just can’t do it. The programme has already achieved excellent results in other countries.’

Several reputations are being built upon Maths Mastery, many jobs depend upon it and large sums have been invested.

It has the explicit support of one of the country’s foremost academy chains and is already impacting on national curriculum and assessment policy (including the recent consultation on performance indicators for statutory teacher assessment).

Negative or neutral evaluations could have significant consequences for all the key players and are unlikely to encourage new schools to join the Programme.

Hence there is pressure in the system for positive outcomes – hence the significance of spin.

What the EEF evaluations tell us

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Evaluation Protocols

EEF published separate Protocols for the primary and secondary evaluations in April 2013. These are broadly in line with the approach set out in the final evaluation reports, except that both refer much more explicitly to subsequent longitudinal evaluation:

‘In May/June 2017/18 children in treatment and control schools will sit key stage 2 maths exams. The IoE team will examine the long–run effectiveness of the Maths Mastery programme by investigating differences in school average maths test scores between treatment and control group. This information will be taken from the National Pupil Database, which the EEF will link to children’s Maths Mastery test scores (collected in 2012 and 2013)’.

‘In May/June 2018 children in treatment and control schools will sit national maths exams. The IoE team will examine the long – run effectiveness of the Maths Mastery programme by investigating differences in average maths test scores between treatment and control group. This information will be taken from the National Pupil Database, which the EEF will link to children’s Maths Mastery test scores (collected in 2013 and 2014) by NATCEN.’

It is not clear whether the intention is to preserve the integrity of the intervention and control groups until the former have rolled out Mastery to all year groups, or simply to evaluate the long-term effects of the initial one-year interventions, allowing intervention schools to drop Mastery and control schools to adopt it, entirely as they wish.

EEF Maths Mastery Project Homepage

The EEF’s updated Maths Mastery homepage has been revised to reflect the outcomes of the evaluations. It provides the most accessible summary of those outcomes.

It offers four key conclusions (my emphases):

  • ‘On average, pupils in schools adopting Mathematics Mastery made a small amount more progress than pupils in schools that did not. The effect detected was statistically significant, which means that it is likely that that improvement was caused by the programme.’
  • ‘It is unclear whether the programme had a different impact on pupils eligible for free school meals, or on pupils with higher or lower attainment.’
  • ‘Given the low per-pupil cost, Mathematics Mastery may represent a cost-effective change for schools to consider.’
  • ‘The evaluations assessed the impact of the programme in its first year of adoption. It would be worthwhile to track the medium and long-term impact of the approach.’

A table is supplied showing the effect sizes and confidence intervals for overall impact (primary and secondary together), and for the primary and secondary interventions separately.

EEF table 1 Capture

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The support materials for the EEF’s toolkit help to explain these judgements.

About the Toolkit tells us that:

‘Average impact is estimated in terms of the additional months’ progress you might expect pupils to make as a result of an approach being used in school, taking average pupil progress over a year as a benchmark.

For example, research summarised in the Toolkit shows that improving the quality of feedback provided to pupils has an average impact of eight months. This means that pupils in a class where high quality feedback is provided will make on average eight months more progress over the course of a year compared to another class of pupils who were performing at the same level at the start of the year. At the end of the year the average pupil in a class of 25 pupils in the feedback group would now be equivalent to the 6th best pupil in the control class having made 20 months progress over the year, compared to an average of 12 months in the other class.’

There is another table showing us how to interpret this scale

EEF table 2 Capture

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We can see from this that:

  • The overall Maths Mastery impact of +0.073 is towards the upper end of the ‘1 months progress’ category.
  • The ‘primary vs comparison’ impact of +0.10 just scrapes into the ‘2 months progress’ category.
  • The secondary vs comparison impact of +0.06 is towards the middle of the ‘1 months progress category’

All three are officially classed as ‘Low Effect’.

If we compare the effect size attributable to Maths Mastery with others in the Toolkit, it is evident that it ranks slightly above school uniform and slightly below learning styles.

A subsequent section explains that the overall impact rating is dependent on meta-analysis (again my emphases):

‘The findings from the individual trials have been combined using an approach called “meta-analysis”. Meta-analysis can lead to a more accurate estimate of an intervention’s effect. However, it is also important to note that care is needed in interpreting meta-analysed findings.’

But we are not told how, in light of this, we are to exercise care in interpreting this particular finding. There are no explicit ‘health warnings’ attached to it.

The homepage does tell us that:

‘Due to the ages of pupils who participated in the individual trials, the headline findings noted here are more likely to be predictive of programme’s impact on pupils in primary school than on pupils in secondary school.’

It also offers an explanation of why the effects generated from these trials are so small compared with those for earlier studies:

‘The findings were substantially lower than the average effects seen in the existing literature on of “mastery approaches”. A possible explanation for this is that many previous studies were conducted in the United States in the 1970s and 80s, so may overstate the possible impact in English schools today. An alternative explanation is that the Mathematics Mastery programme differed from some examples of mastery learning previously studied. For example classes following the Mathematics Mastery approach did not delay starting new topics until a high level of proficiency had been achieved by all students, which was a key feature in a number of many apparently effective programmes.’

 

 

There is clearly an issue with the 95% confidence intervals supplied in the first table above. 

The Technical Appendices to the Toolkit say:

‘For those concerned with statistical significance, it is still readily apparent in the confidence intervals surrounding an effect size. If the confidence interval includes zero, then the effect size would be considered not to have reached conventional statistical significance.’ (p6)

The table indicates that the lower confidence interval is zero or lower in all three cases, meaning that none of these findings may be statistically significant.

However, the homepage claims that the overall impact of both interventions, when combined through meta-analysis, is statistically significant.

And it fails entirely to mention that the impact of the both the primary and the secondary interventions separately are statistically insignificant.

The explanation of the attribution of statistical significance to the two evaluations combined is that, whereas the homepage gives confidence intervals to two decimal places, the reports calculate them to a third decimal place.

This gives a lower value of 0.004 (ie four thousandths above zero).

This can be seen from the table annexed to the primary and secondary reports and included in the ‘Overarching Summary Report’

EEF maths mastery 3 decimal places Capture

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The distinction is marginal, to say the least. Indeed, the Evaluation Reports say:

‘…the pooled effect size of 0.073 is just significantly different from zero at conventional thresholds’

Moreover, notice that the introduction of a third decimal place drags the primary effect size down to 0.099, officially consigning it to the ‘one month’s progress’ category rather than the two months quoted above.

This might appear to be dancing on the head of a statistical pin but, as we shall see later, the spin value of statistical significance is huge!

Overall there is a lack of clarity here that cannot be attributed entirely to the necessity for brevity. The attempt to conflate subtly different outcomes from the separate primary and secondary evaluations has masked these distinctions and distorted the overall assessment.

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The full reports add some further interesting details which are summarised in the sections below.

 

Primary Evaluation Report 

EEF maths mastery table 4

Key points:

  • In both the primary and secondary reports, additional reasons are given for why the effects from these evaluations are so much smaller than those from previous studies. These include the fact that:

‘…some studies included in the mastery section of the toolkit show small or no effects, suggesting that making mastery learning work effectively in all circumstances is challenging.’

The overall conclusion is an indirect criticism of the Toolkit, noting as it does that ‘the relevance of such evidence for contemporary education policy in England…may be limited’.

  • The RCT was undertaken across two academic years: In AY2012/13, 40 schools (Cohort A) were involved. Of these, 20 were randomly allocated the intervention and 20 the control. In AY2013/14, 50 schools (Cohort B) participated, 25 allocated the intervention and 25 the control. After the trial, control schools in Cohort A were free to pursue Maths Mastery. (The report does not mention whether this also applied to Cohort B.) It is not clear how subsequent longitudinal evaluation will be affected by such leakage from the control group.
  • The schools participating in the trial schools were recruited by Ark. They had to be state-funded and not already undertaking Maths Mastery:

‘Schools were therefore purposefully selected—they cannot be considered a randomly chosen sample from a well-defined population. The majority of schools participating in the trial were from London or the South East.’

  • Unlike the secondary evaluation, no process evaluation was conducted so it is not possible to determine the extent to which schools adhered to the prescribed programme. 
  • Baseline tests were administered after allocation between intervention and control, at the beginning of each academic year. Pupils were tested again in July. Evaluators used the Number Knowledge Test (NKT) for this purpose. The report discusses reasons why this might not be an accurate predictor of subsequent maths attainment and whether it is so closely related to the intervention as to be ‘a questionable measure of the success of the trial’. The discussion suggests that there were potential advantages to both the intervention and control groups but does not say whether one outweighed the other. 
  • The results of the post-test are summarised thus:

‘Children who received the Mathematics Mastery intervention scored, on average, +0.10 standard deviations higher on the post-test. This, however, only reached statistical significance at the 10% level (t = 1.82; p = 0.07), with the 95% confidence interval ranging from -0.01 to +0.21. Within Cohort A, children in the treatment group scored (on average) +0.09 standard deviations above those children in the control group (confidence interval -0.06 to +0.24). The analogous effect in Cohort B was +0.10 (confidence interval -0.05 to 0.26). Consequently, although the Mathematics Mastery intervention may have had a small positive effect on children’s test scores, it is not possible to rule out sampling variation as an explanation.’

  • The comparison of pre-test and post-test results provides any evidence of differential effects for those with lower or higher prior attainment:

‘Estimates are again presented in terms of effect sizes. The interaction effect is not significantly different from zero, with the 95% confidence interval ranging from -0.01 to +0.02. Thus there is little evidence that the effect of Mathematics Mastery differs between children with different levels of prior achievement.’

The Report adds:

‘Recall that the Mathematics Mastery intervention is particularly concerned with the ‘mastery’ of basic skills, and raising the attainment of low achievers. Thus one might anticipate the intervention to be particularly effective in the bottom half of the test score distribution. There is some, but relatively little, evidence that the intervention was less effective for the bottom half of the test distribution.

So, on this evidence, Maths Mastery is no more effective for the low achievers it is intended to help most. This is somewhat different to the suggestion on the homepage that the answer given to this question is ‘unclear’.

Several limitations are discussed, but it is important to note that they are phrased in hypothetical terms:

  • Pupils’ progress was evaluated after one academic year::

’This may be considered a relatively small ‘dose’ of the Mathematics Mastery programme’.

  • The intervention introduced a new approach to schools, so there was a learning curve which control schools did not experience:

‘With more experience teaching the programme it is possible that teachers would become more effective in implementing it.’

  • The test may favour either control schools or intervention schools.
  • Participating schools volunteered to take part, so it is not possible to say whether similar effects would be found in all schools.
  • It was not possible to control for balance – eg by ethnic background and FSM eligibility – between intervention and control. [This is now feasible so could potentially be undertaken retrospectively to check there was no imbalance.]

Under ‘Interpretation’, the report says:

‘Within the context of the wider educational literature, the effect size reported (0.10 standard deviations) would typically be considered ‘small’….

Yet, despite the modest and statistically insignificant effect, the Mathematics Mastery intervention has shown some promise.’

The phrase ‘some promise’ is justified by reference to the meta-analysis, the cost effectiveness (a small effect size for a low cost is preferable to the same outcome for a higher cost) and the fact that the impact of the entire programme has not yet been evaluated

‘Third, children are likely to follow the Mathematics Mastery programme for a number of years (perhaps throughout primary school), whereas this evaluation has considered the impact of just the first year of the programme. Long-run effects after sustained exposure to the programme could be significantly higher, and will be assessed in a follow-up study using Key Stage 2 data.’

This is the only reference to a follow-up study. It is less definite than the statement in the assessment protocol and there is no further explanation of how this will be managed, especially given potential ‘leakage’ from the control group.

 

Secondary Evaluation Report

EEF maths mastery table 5

Key points:

  • 50 schools were recruited to participate in the RCT during AY2013/14, with 25 randomly allocated to intervention and control. All Year 7 pupils within the former experienced the intervention.  As in the primary trial, control schools were eligible to access the programme after the end of the trial year. Interestingly, 3 of the 25 intervention schools (12%) dropped out before the end of the year – their reasons are not recorded. 
  • As in the primary trial, Ark recruited the participating schools – which had to be state-funded and new to Maths Mastery. Since schools were deliberately selected they could not be considered a random sample. The report notes:

‘Trial participants, on average, performed less well in their KS1 and KS2 examinations than the state school population as a whole. For instance, their KS1 average points scores (and KS2 maths test scores) were approximately 0.2 standard deviations (0.1 standard deviations) below the population mean. This seems to be driven, at least in part, by the fact that the trial particularly under-represented high achievers (relative to the population). For instance, just 12% of children participating in the trial were awarded Level 3 in their Key Stage 1 maths test, compared to 19% of all state school pupils in England.’

  • KS1 and KS2 tests were used to baseline. The Progress in Maths (PiM) test was used to assess pupils at the end of the year. But about 40% of the questions cover content not included in the Y7 maths mastery curriculum, which disadvantaged them relative to the control group. PiM also includes a calculator section although calculators are not used in Year 7 of Maths Mastery. It was agreed that breakdowns of results would be supplied to account for this.
  • On the basis of overall test results:

‘Children who received the Mathematics Mastery intervention scored, on average, +0.055 standard deviations higher on the PiM post-test. This did not reach statistical significance at conventional thresholds (t = 1.20; p = 0.24), with the 95% confidence interval ranging from –0.037 to +0.147. Turning to the FSM-only sample, the estimated effect size is +0.066 with the 95% confidence interval ranging from –0.037 to +0.169 (p = 0.21). Moreover, we also estimated a model including a FSM-by intervention interaction. Results suggested there was little evidence of heterogeneous intervention effects by FSM. Consequently, although the Mathematics Mastery intervention may have had a small positive effect on overall PiM test scores, one cannot rule out the possibility that this finding is due to sampling variation.

  • When the breakdowns were analysed:

‘As perhaps expected, the Mathematics Mastery intervention did not have any impact upon children’s performance on questions covering topics outside the Mathematics Mastery curriculum. Indeed, the estimated intervention effect is essentially zero (effect size = –0.003). In contrast, the intervention had a more pronounced effect upon material that was focused upon within the Mathematics Mastery curriculum (effect size = 0.100), just reaching statistical significance at the 5% level (t = 2.15; p = 0.04)

  • The only analysis of the comparative performance of high and low attainers is tied to the parts of the test not requiring use of a calculator. It suggests a noticeably smaller effect in the top half of the attainment distribution, with no statistical significance above the 55th This is substantively different to the finding in the primary evaluation, and it begs the question whether secondary Maths Mastery needs adjustment to make it more suitable for high attainers.
  • A process evaluation was focused principally on 5 schools from the intervention group. Focus group discussions were held before the intervention and again towards the end. Telephone interviews were conducted and lessons observed. The sample was selected to ensure different sizes of school, FSM intake and schools achieving both poor and good progress in maths according to their most recent inspection report. One of the recommendations is that:

The intervention should consider how it might give more advice and support with respect to differentiation.’

  • The process evaluation adds further detail about suitability for high attainers:

‘Another school [E] also commented that the materials were also not sufficiently challenging for the highest-attaining children, who were frustrated by revisiting at length the same topics they had already encountered at primary school. Although this observation was also made in other schools, it was generally felt that the children gradually began to realise that they were in fact enjoying the subject more by gaining extra understanding.’

It is not clear whether this latter comment also extends to the high attainers!

A similar set of limitations is explored in similar language to that used in the primary report.

Under ‘Interpretation’ the report says:

‘Although point estimates were consistent with a small, positive gain, the study did not have sufficient statistical power to rule out chance as an explanation. Within the context of the wider educational literature, the effect size reported (less than 0.10 standard deviations) would typically be considered ‘small’…

But, as in the primary report, it detects ‘some promise’ on the same grounds. There is a similar speculative reference to longitudinal evaluation.

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Press releases and blogs

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EEF press release

There is a certain irony in the fact that ‘unlucky’ Friday 13 February was the day selected by the EEF to release these rather disappointing reports.

But Friday is typically the day selected by communications people to release educational news that is most likely to generate negative media coverage – and a Friday immediately before a school holiday is a particularly favoured time to do so, presumably because fewer journalists and social media users are active.

Unfortunately, the practice is at risk of becoming self-defeating, since everyone now expects bad news on a Friday, whereas they might be rather less alert on a busier day earlier in the week.

On this occasion Thursday was an exceptionally busy day for education news, with reaction to Miliband’s speech and a raft of Coalition announcements designed to divert attention from it. With the benefit of hindsight, Thursday might have been a better choice.

The EEF’s press release dealt with evaluation reports on nine separate projects, so increasing the probability that attention would be diverted away from Maths Mastery.

It led on a different evaluation report which generated more positive findings – the EEF seems increasingly sensitive to concerns that too many of the RCTs it sponsors are showing negligible or no positive effect, presumably because the value-for-money police may be inclined to turn their beady eye upon the Foundation itself.

But perhaps it also did so because Maths Mastery’s relatively poor performance was otherwise the story most likely to attract the attention of more informed journalists and commentators.

On the other hand, Maths Mastery was given second billing:

‘Also published today are the results of Mathematics Mastery, a whole-school approach which aims to deepen pupils’ conceptual understanding of key mathematical ideas. Compared to traditional curricula, fewer topics are covered in more depth and greater emphasis is placed on problem solving and encouraging mathematical thinking. The EEF trials found that pupils following the Mathematics Mastery programme made an additional month’s progress over a period of a year.’

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EEF blog post

Later on 13 February EEF released a blog post written by a senior analyst which mentions Maths Mastery in the following terms:

Another finding of note is the small positive impact of teaching children fewer mathematical concepts, but covering them in greater depth to ensure ‘mastery’. The EEF’s evaluation of Mathematics Mastery will make fascinating reading for headteachers contemplating introducing this approach into their school. Of course, the true value of this method may only be evident in years to come as children are able to draw on their secure mathematical foundations to tackle more complex problems.’

EEF is consistently reporting a small positive impact but, as we have seen, this is rather economical with the truth. It deserves some qualification.

More interestingly though, the post adds (my emphases):

‘Our commitment as an organisation is not only to build the strength of the evidence base in education, across key stages, topics, approaches and techniques, but also ensure that the key messages emerging from the research are synthesised and communicated clearly to teachers and school leaders so that evidence can form a central pillar of how decisions are made in schools.

We have already begun this work, driven by the messages from our published trials as well as the existing evidence base. How teaching assistants can be used to best effect, important lessons in literacy at the transition from primary to secondary, and which principles should underpin approaches on encouraging children in reading for pleasure are all issues that have important implications for school leaders. Synthesising and disseminating these vital messages will form the backbone of a new phase of EEF work beginning later in the year.’

It will be interesting to monitor the impact of this work on the communication of outcomes from these particular evaluations.

It will be important to ensure that synthesis and dissemination is not at the expense of accuracy, particularly when ‘high stakes’ results are involved, otherwise there is a risk that users will lose faith in the independence of EEF and its willingness to ‘speak truth unto power’.

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Maths Mastery Press Release

By also releasing their own posts on 13 February, Mathematics Mastery and Ark made sure that they too would not be picked up by the media.

They must have concluded that, even if they placed the most positive interpretation on the outcomes, they would find it hard to create the kind of media coverage that would generate increased demand from schools.

The Mathematics Mastery release – ‘Mathematics Mastery speeds up pupils’ progress – and is value for money too’ – begins with a list of bullet points citing other evidence that the programme works, so implying that the EEF evaluations are relatively insignificant additions to this comprehensive evidence base:

  • ‘Headteachers say that the teaching of mathematics in their schools has improved
  • Headteachers are happy to recommend us to other schools
  • Numerous Ofsted inspections have praised the “new approach to mathematics” in partner schools
  • Extremely positive evaluations of our training and our school development visits
  • We have an exceptionally high retention rate – schools want to continue in the partnership
  • Great Key Stage 1 results in a large number of schools.’

Much of this is hearsay, or else vague reference to quantitative evidence that is not published openly.

The optimistic comment on the EEF evaluations is:

‘We’re pleased with the finding that, looking at both our primary and secondary programmes together, pupils in the Mathematics Mastery schools make one month’s extra progress on average compared to pupils in the other schools after a one year “dose” of the programme…

…This is a really pleasing outcome – trials of this kind are very rigorous.  Over 80 primary schools and 50 secondary schools were involved in the testing, with over 4000 pupils involved in each phase.  Studies like this often don’t show any progress at all, particularly in the early years of implementation and if, like ours, the programme is aimed at all pupils and not just particular groups.  What’s more, because of the large sample size, the difference in scores between the Mathematics Mastery and other schools is “statistically significant” which means the results are very unlikely to be due to chance.’

The section I have emboldened is in stark contrast to the EEF blog post above, which has the title:

‘Today’s findings; impact, no-impact and inconclusive – a normal distribution of findings’

And so suggests exactly the opposite.

I have already shown just how borderline the calculation of ‘statistical significance’ has been.

The release concludes:

‘Of course we’re pleased with the extra progress even after a limited time, but we’re interested in long term change and long term development and improvement.  We’re determined to work with our partner schools to show what’s possible over pupils’ whole school careers…but it’s nice to know we’ve already started to succeed!’

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There was a single retweet of the Tweet above, but from a particularly authoritative source (who also sits on Ark’s Advisory Group).

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Ark Press Release

Ark’s press release – ‘Independent evaluation shows Mathematics Mastery pupils doing better than their peers’ – is even more bullish.

The opening paragraph claims that:

‘A new independent report from the independent Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) demonstrates the success of the Mathematics Mastery programme. Carried out by academics from Cambridge University and the Institute of Education, the data indicates that the programme may have the potential to halve the attainment gap with high performing countries in the far East.

The second emboldened statement is particularly brazen since there is no evidence in either of the reports that would support such a claim. It is only true in the sense that any programme ‘may have the potential’ to achieve any particularly ambitious outcome.

Statistical significance is again celebrated, though it is important to give Ark credit for adding:

‘…but it is important to note that these individual studies did not reach the threshold for statistical significance. It is only at the combined level across 127 schools and 10,114 pupils that there are sufficient schools and statistical power to determine an effect size of 1 month overall.’

Even if this rather implies that the individual evaluations were somehow at fault for being too small and so not generating ‘sufficient statistical power’.

Then the release returns to its initial theme:

‘… According to the OECD, by age fifteen, pupils in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and China are three years ahead of pupils in England in mathematical achievement. Maths Mastery is inspired by the techniques and strategies used in these countries.

Because Maths Mastery is a whole school programme of training and a cumulative curriculum, rather than a catch-up intervention, this could be a sustained impact. A 2 month gain every primary year and 1 month gain every secondary year could see pupils more than one and a half years ahead by age 16 – halving the gap with higher performing jurisdictions.’

In other words, Ark extrapolates equivalent gains – eschewing all statistical hedging – for each year of study, adding them together to suggest a potential 18 month gain.

It also seems to apply the effect to all participants rather than to the average participant.

This must have been a step too far, even for Ark’s publicity machine.

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maths mastery ark release capture

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They subsequently changed the final paragraph above – which one can still find in the version within Google’s cache – to read:

‘…Because Maths Mastery is a whole school programme of training and a cumulative curriculum, rather than a catch-up intervention, we expect this to be a sustained impact.  A longer follow-up study will be needed to investigate this.’

Even in sacrificing the misleading quantification, they could not resist bumping up ‘this could be a sustained impact’ to ‘we expect this to be a sustained impact’

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[Postscript: On 25 February, Bank of America Merrill Lynch published a press release announcing a £750,000 donation to Maths Mastery.

The final paragraph ‘About Maths Mastery’ says:

‘Mathematics Mastery is an innovative maths teaching framework, supporting schools, students and teachers to be successful at maths. There are currently 192 Mathematics Mastery partner schools across England, reaching 34,800 pupils. Over the next five years the programme aims to expand to 500 schools, and reach 300,000 pupils. Maths Mastery was recently evaluated by the independent Education Endowment Foundation and pupils were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers in just the first year of the programme. Longer term, this could see pupils more than a year and a half ahead by age 16 – halving the gap with pupils in countries such as Japan, Singapore and China.’

This exemplifies perfectly how such questionable statements are repurposed and recycled with impunity. It is high time that the EEF published a code of practice to help ensure that the outcomes of its evaluations are not misrepresented.]  

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Conclusion

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Representing the key findings

My best effort at a balanced presentation of these findings would include the key points below. I am happy to consider amendments, additions and improvements:

  • On average, pupils in primary schools adopting Mathematics Mastery made two months more progress than pupils in primary schools that did not. (This is a borderline result, in that it is only just above the score denoting one month’s progress. It falls to one month’s progress if the effect size is calculated to three decimal places.) The effect is classified as ‘Low’ and this outcome is not statistically significant. 
  • On average, pupils in secondary schools adopting Mathematics Mastery made one month more progress than pupils in secondary schools that did not. The effect is classified as ‘Low’ and this outcome is not statistically significant. 
  • When the results of the primary and secondary evaluations are combined through meta-analysis, pupils in schools adopting Maths Mastery made one month more progress than pupils in schools that did not. The effect is classified as ‘Low’. This outcome is marginally statistically significant, provided that the 95% confidence interval is calculated to three decimal places (but it is not statistically significant if calculated to two decimal places). Care is needed in analysing meta-analysed findings because… [add explanation]. 
  • There is relatively little evidence that the primary programme is more effective for learners with lower prior attainment, but there is such evidence for the secondary programme (in respect of non-calculator questions). There is no substantive evidence that the secondary programme has a different impact on pupils eligible for free schools meals. 
  • The per-pupil cost is relatively low, but the initial outlay of £6,000 for primary schools with 2FE and above is not inconsiderable. Mathematics Mastery may represent a cost-effective change for schools to consider. 
  • The evaluations assessed the impact of the programme in its first year of adoption. It is not appropriate to draw inferences from the findings above to attribute potential value to the whole programme. EEF will be evaluating the medium and long-term impact of the approach by [outline the methodology agreed].

In the meantime, it would be helpful for Ark and Maths Mastery to be much more transparent about KS1 assessment outcomes across their partner schools and possibly publish their own analysis based on comparison between schools undertaking the programme and matched control schools with similar intakes.

And it would be helpful for all partners to explain and evidence more fully the benefits to high attainers of the Maths Mastery approach – and to consider how it might be supplemented when it does not provide the blend of challenge and support that best meets their needs.

It is disappointing that, three years on, the failure of the National Curriculum Expert Panel to reconcile their advocacy for mastery with stretch and challenge for high attainers – in defiance of their remit to consider the latter as well as the former –  is being perpetuated across the system.

NCETM might usefully revisit their guidance on high attainers in primary schools to reflect their new-found commitment to mastery, while also incorporating additional material covering the point above.

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GP

February 2015

 

High Attainment in the 2014 Secondary and 16-18 Performance Tables

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This is my annual analysis of high attainment and high attainers’ performance in the Secondary School and College Performance Tables

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

It draws on the 2014 Secondary and 16-18 Tables, as well as three statistical releases published alongside them:

It also reports trends since 2012 and 2013, while acknowledging the comparability issues at secondary level this year.

This is a companion piece to previous posts on:

The post opens with the headlines from the subsequent analysis. These are followed by a discussion of definitions and comparability issues.

Two substantive sections deal respectively with secondary and post-16 measures. The post-16 analysis focuses exclusively on A level results. There is a brief postscript on the performance of disadvantaged high attainers.

As ever I apologise in advance for any transcription errors and invite readers to notify me of any they spot, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

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Headlines

At KS4:

  • High attainers constitute 32.4% of the cohort attending state-funded schools, but this masks some variation by school type. The percentage attending converter academies (38.4%) has fallen by nine percentage points since 2011 but remains almost double the percentage attending sponsored academies (21.2%).
  • Female high attainers (33.7%) continue to outnumber males (32.1%). The percentage of high-attaining males has fallen very slightly since 2013 while the proportion of high-attaining females has slightly increased.
  • 88.8% of the GCSE cohort attending selective schools are high attainers, virtually unchanged from 2013. The percentages in comprehensive schools (30.9%) and modern schools (21.0%) are also little changed.
  • These figures mask significant variation between schools. Ten grammar schools have a GCSE cohort consisting entirely of high attainers but, at the other extreme, one has only 52%.
  • Some comprehensive schools have more high attainers than some grammars: the highest percentage recorded in 2014 by a comprehensive is 86%. Modern schools are also extremely variable, with high attainer populations ranging from 4% to 45%. Schools with small populations of high attainers report very different success rates for them on the headline measures.
  • The fact that 11.2% of the selective school cohort are middle attainers reminds us that 11+ selection is not based on prior attainment. Middle attainers in selective schools perform significantly better than those in comprehensive schools, but worse than high attainers in comprehensives.
  • 92.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C (or equivalent) including GCSEs in English and maths. While the success rate for all learners is down by four percentage points compared with 2013, the decline is less pronounced for high attainers (1.9 points).
  • In 340 schools 100% of high attainers achieved this measure, down from 530 in 2013. Fifty-seven schools record 67% or less compared with only 14 in 2013. Four of the 57 had a better success rate for middle attainers than for high attainers.
  • 93.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved GCSE grades A*-C in English and maths. The success rate for high attainers has fallen less than the rate for the cohort as a whole (1.3 points against 2.4 points). Some 470 schools achieved 100% success amongst their high attainers on this measure, down 140 compared with 2013. Thirty-eight schools were at 67% or lower compared with only 12 in 2013. Five of these boast a higher success rate for their middle attainers than their high attainers (and four are the same that do so on the 5+ A*-C including English and maths measure).
  • 68.8% of high attainers were entered for the EBacc and 55% achieved it. The entry rate is up 3.8 percentage points and the success rate up 2.9 points compared with 2013. Sixty-seven schools entered 100% of their high attainers, but only five schools managed 100% success. Thirty-seven schools entered no high attainers at all and 53 had no successful high attainers.
  • 85.6% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in English and 84.7% did so in maths. Both are down on 2013 but much more so in maths (3.1 percentage points) than in English (0.6 points).
  • In 108 schools every high attainer made the requisite progress in English. In 99 schools the same was true of maths in 99 schools. Only 21 schools managed 100% success in both English and maths. At the other extreme there were seven schools in which 50% or fewer made expected progress in both English and maths. Several schools recording 50% or below in either English or maths did significantly better with their middle attainers.
  • In sponsored academies one in four high attainers do not make the expected progress in maths and one in five do not do so in English. In free schools one in every five high attainers falls short in English as do one in six in maths.

At KS5:

  • 11.9% of students at state-funded schools and colleges achieved AAB grades at A level or higher, with at least two in facilitating subjects. This is a slight fall compared with the 12.1% that did so in 2013. The best-performing state institution had a success rate of 83%.
  • 14.1% of A levels taken in selective schools in 2014 were graded A* and 41.1% were graded A* or A. In selective schools 26.1% of the cohort achieved AAA or higher and 32.3% achieved AAB or higher with at least two in facilitating subjects.
  • Across all schools, independent as well as state-funded, the proportion of students achieving three or more A level grades at A*/A is falling and the gap between the success rates of boys and girls is increasing.
  • Boys are more successful than girls on three of the four high attainment measures, the only exception being the least demanding (AAB or higher in any subjects).
  • The highest recorded A level point score per A level student in a state-funded institution in 2014 is 1430.1, compared with an average of 772.7. The lowest is 288.4. The highest APS per A level entry is 271.1 compared with an average of 211.2. The lowest recorded is 108.6.

Disadvantaged high attainers:

  • On the majority of the KS4 headline measures gaps between FSM and non-FSM performance are increasing, even when the 2013 methodology is applied to control for the impact of the reforms affecting comparability. Very limited improvement has been made against any of the five headline measures between 2011 and 2014. It seems that the pupil premium has had little impact to date on either attainment or progress. Although no separate information is forthcoming about the performance of disadvantaged high attainers, it is highly likely that excellence gaps are equally unaffected.

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Definitions and comparability issues 

Definitions

The Secondary and 16-18 Tables take very different approaches, since the former deals exclusively with high attainers while the latter concentrates exclusively on high attainment.

The Secondary Tables define high attainers according to their prior attainment on end of KS2 tests. Most learners in the 2014 GCSE cohort will have taken these five years previously, in 2009.

The new supporting documentation describes the distinction between high, middle and low attainers thus:

  • low attaining = those below level 4 in the key stage 2 tests
  • middle attaining = those at level 4 in the key stage 2 tests
  • high attaining = those above level 4 in the key stage 2 tests.

Last year the equivalent statement added:

‘To establish a pupil’s KS2 attainment level, we calculated the pupil’s average point score in national curriculum tests for English, maths and science and classified those with a point score of less than 24 as low; those between 24 and 29.99 as middle, and those with 30 or more as high attaining.’

This is now missing, but the methodology is presumably unchanged.

It means that high attainers will tend to be ‘all-rounders’, whose performance is at least middling in each assessment. Those who are exceptionally high achievers in one area but poor in others are unlikely to qualify.

There is nothing in the Secondary Tables or the supporting SFRs about high attainment, such as measures of GCSE achievement at grades A*/A.

By contrast, the 16-18 Tables do not distinguish high attainers, but do deploy a high attainment measure:

‘The percentage of A level students achieving grades AAB or higher in at least two facilitating subjects’

Facilitating subjects include:

‘biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, further mathematics, geography, history, English literature, modern and classical languages.’

The supporting documentation says:

‘Students who already have a good idea of what they want to study at university should check the usual entry requirements for their chosen course and ensure that their choices at advanced level include any required subjects. Students who are less sure will want to keep their options open while they decide what to do. These students might want to consider choosing at least two facilitating subjects because they are most commonly required for entry to degree courses at Russell Group universities. The study of A levels in particular subjects does not, of course, guarantee anyone a place. Entry to university is competitive and achieving good grades is also important.’

The 2013 Tables also included percentages of students achieving three A levels at grades AAB or higher in facilitating subjects, but this has now been dropped.

The Statement of Intent for the 2014 Tables explains:

‘As announced in the government’s response to the consultation on 16-19 accountability earlier this year, we intend to maintain the AAB measure in performance tables as a standard of academic rigour. However, to address the concerns raised in the 16-19 accountability consultation, we will only require two of the subjects to be in facilitating subjects. Therefore, the indicator based on three facilitating subjects will no longer be reported in the performance tables.’

Both these measures appear in SFR03/15, alongside two others:

  • Percentage of students achieving 3 A*-A grades or better At A level or applied single/double award A level.
  • Percentage of students achieving grades AAB or better at A level or applied single/double award A level.

Comparability Issues 

When it comes to analysis of the Secondary Tables, comparisons with previous years are compromised by changes to the way in which performance is measured.

Both SFRs carry an initial warning:

‘Two major reforms have been implemented which affect the calculation of key stage 4 (KS4) performance measures data in 2014:

  1. Professor Alison Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education recommendations which:
  • restrict the qualifications counted
  • prevent any qualification from counting as larger than one GCSE
  • cap the number of non-GCSEs included in performance measures at two per pupil
  1. An early entry policy to only count a pupil’s first attempt at a qualification.’

SFR02/15 explains that some data has been presented ‘on two alternative bases’:

  • Using the 2014 methodology with the changes above applied and
  • Using a proxy 2013 methodology where the effect of these two changes has been removed.

It points out that more minor changes have not been accounted for, including the removal of unregulated IGCSEs, the application of discounting across different qualification types, the shift to linear GCSE formats and the removal of the speaking and listening component from English.

Moreover, the proxy measure does not:

‘…isolate the impact of changes in school behaviour due to policy changes. For example, we can count best entry results rather than first entry results but some schools will have adjusted their behaviours according to the policy changes and stopped entering pupils in the same patterns as they would have done before the policy was introduced.’

Nevertheless, the proxy is the best available guide to what outcomes would have been had the two reforms above not been introduced. Unfortunately, it has been applied rather sparingly.

Rather than ignore trends completely, this post includes information about changes in high attainers’ GCSE performance compared with previous years, not least so readers can see the impact of the changes that have been introduced.

It is important that we do not allow the impact of these changes to be used as a smokescreen masking negligible improvement or even declines in national performance on key measures.

But we cannot escape the fact that the 2014 figures are not fully comparable with those for previous years. Several of the tables in SFR06/2015 carry a warning in red to this effect (but not those in SFR 02/2015).

A few less substantive changes also impact slightly on the comparability of A level results: the withdrawal of January examinations and ‘automatic add back’ of students whose results were deferred from the previous year because they had not completed their 16-18 study programme.

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Secondary outcomes

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The High Attainer Population 

The Secondary Performance Tables show that there were 172,115 high attainers from state-funded schools within the relevant cohort in 2014, who together account for 32.3% of the entire state-funded school cohort.

This is some 2% fewer than the 175,797 recorded in 2013, which constituted 32.4% of that year’s cohort.

SFR02/2015 provides information about the incidence of high, middle and low attainers by school type and gender.

Chart 1, below, compares the proportion of high attainers by type of school, showing changes since 2011.

The high attainer population across all state-funded mainstream schools has remained relatively stable over the period and currently stands at 32.9%. The corresponding percentage in LA-maintained mainstream schools is slightly lower: the difference is exactly two percentage points in 2014.

High attainers constitute only around one-fifth of the student population of sponsored academies, but close to double that in converter academies. The former percentage is relatively stable but the latter has fallen by some nine percentage points since 2011, presumably as the size of this sector has increased.

The percentage of high attainers in free schools is similar to that in converter academies but has fluctuated over the three years for which data is available. The comparison between 2014 and previous years will have been affected by the inclusion of UTCs and studio schools prior to 2014.

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*Pre-2014 includes UTCs and studio schools; 2014 includes free schools only

Chart 1: Percentage of high attainers by school type, 2011-2014

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Table 1 shows that, in each year since 2011, there has been a slightly higher percentage of female high attainers than male, the gap varying between 0.4 percentage points (2012) and 1.8 percentage points (2011).

The percentage of high-attaining boys in 2014 is the lowest it has been over this period, while the percentage of high attaining girls is slightly higher than it was in 2013 but has not returned to 2011 levels.

Year Boys Girls
2014 32.1 33.7
2013 32.3 33.3
2012 33.4 33.8
2011 32.6 34.4

Table 1: Percentage of high attainers by gender, all state-funded mainstream schools 2011-14

Table 2 shows that the percentage of high attainers in selective schools is almost unchanged from 2013, at just under 89%. This compares with almost 31% in comprehensive schools, unchanged from 2013, and 21% in modern schools, the highest it has been over this period.

The 11.2% of learners in selective schools who are middle attainers remind us that selection by ability through 11-plus tests gives a somewhat different sample than selection exclusively on the basis of KS2 attainment.

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Year Selective Comprehensive Modern
2014 88.8 30.9 21.0
2013 88.9 30.9 20.5
2012 89.8 31.7 20.9
2011 90.3 31.6 20.4

Table 2: Percentage of high attainers by admissions practice, 2011-14

The SFR shows that these middle attainers in selective schools are less successful than their high attaining peers, and slightly less successful than high attainers in comprehensives, but they are considerably more successful than middle attaining learners in comprehensive schools.

For example, in 2014 the 5+ A*-C grades including English and maths measure is achieved by:

  • 97.8% of high attainers in selective schools
  • 92.2% of high attainers in comprehensive schools
  • 88.1% of middle attainers in selective schools and
  • 50.8% of middle attainers in comprehensive schools.

A previous post ‘The Politics of Selection: Grammar schools and disadvantage’ (November 2014) explored how some grammar schools are significantly more selective than others – as measured by the percentage of high attainers within their GCSE cohorts – and the fact that some comprehensives are more selective than some grammar schools.

This is again borne out by the 2014 Performance Tables, which show that 10 selective schools have a cohort consisting entirely of high attainers, the same as in 2013. Eighty-nine selective schools have a high attainer population of 90% or more.

However, five are at 70% or below, with the lowest – Dover Grammar School for Boys – registering only 52% high attainers.

By comparison, comprehensives such as King’s Priory School, North Shields and Dame Alice Owen’s School, Potters Bar record 86% and 77% high attainers respectively. 

There is also huge variation in modern schools, from Coombe Girls’ in Kingston, at 45%, just seven percentage points shy of the lowest recorded in a selective school, to The Ellington and Hereson School, Ramsgate, at just 4%.

Two studio colleges say they have no high attainers at all, while 96 schools have 10% or fewer. A significant proportion of these are academies located in rural and coastal areas.

Even though results are suppressed where there are too few high attainers, it is evident that these small cohorts perform very differently in different schools.

Amongst those with a high attainer population of 10% or fewer, the proportion achieving:

  • 5+ A*-C grades including English and maths varies from 44% to100%
  • EBacc ranges from 0% to 89%
  • expected progress in English varies between 22% and 100% and expected progress in maths between 27% and 100%. 

5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) at A*-C including GCSEs in English and maths 

The Tables show that:

  • 92.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved five or more GCSEs (or equivalent) including GCSEs in English and maths. This compares with 56.6% of all learners. Allowing of course for the impact of 2014 reforms, the latter is a full four percentage points down on the 2013 outcome. By comparison, the outcome for high attainers is down 1.9 percentage points, slightly less than half the overall decline. Roughly one in every fourteen high attainers fails to achieve this benchmark.
  • 340 schools achieve 100% on this measure, significantly fewer than the 530 that did so in 2013 and the 480 managing this in 2012. In 2013, 14 schools registered 67% or fewer high attainers achieving this outcome, whereas in 2014 this number has increased substantially, to 57 schools. Five schools record 0%, including selective Bourne Grammar School, Lincolnshire, hopefully because of their choice of IGCSEs. Six more are at 25% or lower.

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A*-C grades in GCSE English and maths 

The Tables reveal that:

  • 93.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved A*-C grades in GCSE English and maths, compared with 58.9% of all pupils. The latter percentage is down by 2.4 percentage points but the former has fallen by only 1.3 percentage points. Roughly one in 16 high attainers fails to achieve this measure.
  • In 2014 the number of schools with 100% of high attainers achieving this measure has fallen to some 470, 140 fewer than in 2013 and 60 fewer than in 2012. There were 38 schools recording 67% or lower, a significant increase compared with 12 in 2013 and 18 in 2012. Of these, four are listed at 0% (Bourne Grammar is at 1%) and five more are at 25% or lower.
  • Amongst the 38 schools recording 67% or lower, five return a higher success rate for their middle attainers than for their high attainers. Four of these are the same that do so on the 5+ A*-C measure above. They are joined by Tong High School. 

Entry to and achievement of the EBacc 

The Tables indicate that:

  • 68.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools were entered for all EBacc subjects and 55.0% achieved the EBacc. The entry rate is up by 3.8 percentage points compared with 2013, and the success rate is up by 2.9 percentage points. By comparison, 31.5% of middle attainers were entered (up 3.7 points) and 12.7% passed (up 0.9 points). Between 2012 and 2013 the entry rate for high attainers increased by 19 percentage points, so the rate of improvement has slowed significantly. Given the impending introduction of the Attainment 8 measure, commitment to the EBacc is presumably waning.
  • Thirty-seven schools entered no high attainers for the EBacc, compared with 55 in 2013 and 186 in 2012. Only 53 schools had no high attainers achieving the EBacc, compared with 79 in 2013 and 235 in 2012. Of these 53, 11 recorded a positive success rate for their middle attainers, though the difference was relatively small in all cases.

At least 3 Levels of Progress in English and maths

The Tables show that:

  • Across all state-funded schools 85.6% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in English while 84.7% did so in maths. The corresponding figures for middle attainers are 70.2% in English and 65.3% in maths. Compared with 2013, the percentages for high attainers are down 0.6 percentage points in English and down 3.1 percentage points in maths, presumably because the first entry only rule has had more impact in the latter. Even allowing for the depressing effect of the changes outlined above, it is unacceptable that more than one in every seven high attainers fails to make the requisite progress in each of these core subjects, especially when the progress expected is relatively undemanding for such students.
  • There were 108 schools in which every high attainer made at least the expected progress in English, exactly the same as in 2013. There were 99 schools which achieved the same outcome in maths, down significantly from 120 in 2013. In 2013 there were 36 schools which managed this in both English in maths, but only 21 did so in 2014.
  • At the other extreme, four schools recorded no high attainers making the expected progress in English, presumably because of their choice of IGCSE. Sixty-five schools were at or below 50% on this measure. In maths 67 schools were at or below 50%, but the lowest recorded outcome was 16%, at Oasis Academy, Hextable.
  • Half of the schools achieving 50% or less with their high attainers in English or maths also returned better results with middle attainers. Particularly glaring differentials in English include Red House Academy (50% middle attainers and 22% high attainers) and Wingfield Academy (73% middle attainers; 36% high attainers). In maths the worst examples are Oasis Academy Hextable (55% middle attainers and 16% high attainers), Sir John Hunt Community Sports College (45% middle attainers and 17% high attainers) and Roseberry College and Sixth Form (now closed) (49% middle attainers and 21% high attainers).

Comparing achievement of these measures by school type and admissions basis 

SFR02/2015 compares the performance of high attainers in different types of school on each of the five measures discussed above. This data is presented in Chart 2 below.

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Chart 2: Comparison of high attainers’ GCSE performance by type of school, 2014

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It shows that:

  • There is significant variation on all five measures, though these are more pronounced for achievement of the EBacc, where there is a 20 percentage point difference between the success rates in sponsored academies (39.2%) and in converter academies (59.9%).
  • Converter academies are the strongest performers across the board, while sponsored academies are consistently the weakest. LA-maintained mainstream schools out-perform free schools on four of the five measures, the only exception being expected progress in maths.
  • Free schools and converter academies achieve stronger performance on progress in maths than on progress in English, but the reverse is true in sponsored academies and LA-maintained schools.
  • Sponsored academies and free schools are both registering relatively poor performance on the EBacc measure and the two progress measures.
  • One in four high attainers in sponsored academies fails to make the requisite progress in maths while one in five fail to do so in English. Moreover, one in five high attainers in free schools fails to make the expected progress in English and one in six in maths. This is unacceptably low.

Comparisons with 2013 outcomes show a general decline, with the exception of EBacc achievement.

This is particularly pronounced in sponsored academies, where there have been falls of 5.2 percentage points on 5+ A*-Cs including English and maths, 5.7 points on A*-C in English and maths and 4.7 points on expected progress in maths. However, expected progress in English has held up well by comparison, with a fall of just 0.6 percentage points.

Progress in maths has declined more than progress in English across the board. In converter academies progress in maths is down 3.1 points, while progress in English is down 1.1 points. In LA-maintained schools, the corresponding falls are 3.4 and 0.4 points respectively.

EBacc achievement is up by 4.5 percentage points in sponsored academies, 3.1 points in LA-maintained schools and 1.8 points in converter academies.

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Comparing achievement of these measures by school admissions basis 

SFR02/2015 compares the performance of high attainers in selective, comprehensive and modern schools on these five measures. Chart 3 illustrates these comparisons.

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Chart 3: Comparison of high attainers’ GCSE performance by school admissions basis, 2014

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It is evident that:

  • High attainers in selective schools outperform those in comprehensive schools on all five measures. The biggest difference is in relation to EBacc achievement (21.6 percentage points). There is a 12.8 point advantage in relation to expected progress in maths and an 8.7 point advantage on expected progress in English.
  • Similarly, high attainers in comprehensive schools outperform those in modern schools. They enjoy a 14.7 percentage point advantage in relation to achievement of the EBacc, but, otherwise, the differences are between 1.6 and 3.5 percentage points.
  • Hence there is a smaller gap, by and large, between the performance of high attainers in modern and comprehensive schools respectively than there is between high attainers in comprehensive and selective schools respectively.
  • Only selective schools are more successful in achieving expected progress in maths than they are in English. It is a cause for some concern that, even in selective schools, 6.5% of pupils are failing to make at least three levels of progress in English.

Compared with 2013, results have typically improved in selective schools but worsened in comprehensive and modern schools. For example:

  • Achievement of the 5+ GCSE measure is up 0.5 percentage points in selective schools but down 2.3 points in comprehensives and modern schools.
  • In selective schools, the success rate for expected progress in English is up 0.5 points and in maths it is up 0.4 points. However, in comprehensive schools progress in English and maths are both down, by 0.7 points and 3.5 points respectively. In modern schools, progress in English is up 0.3 percentage points while progress in maths is down 4.1 percentage points.

When it comes to EBacc achievement, the success rate is unchanged in selective schools, up 3.1 points in comprehensives and up 5 points in modern schools.

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Other measures

The Secondary Performance Tables also provide information about the performance of high attainers on several other measures, including:

  • Average Points Score (APS): Annex B of the Statement of Intent says that, as in 2013, the Tables will include APS (best 8) for ‘all qualifications’ and ‘GCSEs only’. At the time of writing, only the former appears in the 2014 Tables. For high attainers, the APS (best 8) all qualifications across all state-funded schools is 386.2, which compares unfavourably with 396.1 in 2013. Four selective schools managed to exceed 450 points: Pate’s Grammar School (455.1); The Tiffin Girls’ School (452.1); Reading School (451.4); and Colyton Grammar School (450.6). The best result in 2013 was 459.5, again at Colyton Grammar School. At the other end of the table, only one school returns a score of under 250 for their high attainers, Pent Valley Technology College (248.1). The lowest recorded score in 2013 was significantly higher at 277.3.
  • Value Added (best 8) prior attainment: The VA score for all state-funded schools in 2014 is 1000.3, compared with 1001.5 in 2013. Five schools returned a result over 1050, whereas four did so in 2013. The 2014 leaders are: Tauheedul Islam Girls School (1070.7); Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School (1057.8); The City Academy Hackney (1051.4); The Skinner’s School (1051.2); and Hasmonean High School (1050.9). At the other extreme, 12 schools were at 900 or below, compared with just three in 2013. The lowest performer on this measure is Hull Studio School (851.2). 
  • Average grade: As in the case of APS, the average grade per pupil per GCSE has not yet materialised. The average grade per pupil per qualification is supplied. Five selective schools return A*-, including Henrietta Barnett, Pate’s, Reading School, Tiffin Girls and Tonbridge Grammar. Only Henrietta Barnett and Pate’s managed this in 2013.
  • Number of exam entries: Yet again we only have number of entries for all qualifications and not for GCSE only. The average number of entries per high attainer across state-funded schools is 10.4, compared with 12.1 in 2013. This 1.7 reduction is smaller than for middle attainers (down 2.5 from 11.4 to 8.9) and low attainers (down 3.7 from 10.1 to 6.4). The highest number of entries per high attainer was 14.2 at Gable Hall School and the lowest was 5.9 at The Midland Studio College Hinkley.

16-18: A level outcomes

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A level grades AAB or higher in at least two facilitating subjects 

The 16-18 Tables show that 11.9% of students in state-funded schools and colleges achieved AAB+ with at least two in facilitating subjects. This is slightly lower than the 12.1% recorded in 2013.

The best-performing state-funded institution is a further education college, Cambridge Regional College, which records 83%. The only other state-funded institution above 80% is The Henrietta Barnett School. At the other end of the spectrum, some 443 institutions are at 0%.

Table 3, derived from SFR03/2015, reveals how performance on this measure has changed since 2013 for different types of institution and, for schools with different admission arrangements.

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2013 2014
LA-maintained school 11.4 11.5
Sponsored academy 5.4 5.3
Converter academy 16.4 15.7
Free school* 11.3 16.4
Sixth form college 10.4 10
Other FE college 5.8 5.7
 
Selective school 32.4 32.3
Comprehensive school 10.7 10.5
Modern school 2 3.2

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The substantive change for free schools will be affected by the inclusion of UTCs and studio schools in that line in 2013 and the addition of city technology colleges and 16-19 free schools in 2014.

Otherwise the general trend is slightly downwards but LA-maintained schools have improved very slightly and modern schools have improved significantly.

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Other measures of high A level attainment

SFR03/15 provides outcomes for three other measures of high A level attainment:

  • 3 A*/A grades or better at A level, or applied single/double award A level
  • Grades AAB or better at A level, or applied single/double award A level
  • Grades AAB or better at A level all of which are in facilitating subjects.

Chart 4, below, compares performance across all state-funded schools and colleges on all four measures, showing results separately for boys and girls.

Boys are in the ascendancy on three of the four measures, the one exception being AAB grades or higher in any subjects. The gaps are more substantial where facilitating subjects are involved.

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Chart 4: A level high attainment measures by gender, 2014

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The SFR provides a time series for the achievement of the 3+ A*/A measure, for all schools – including independent schools – and colleges. The 2014 success rate is 12.0%, down 0.5 percentage points compared with 2013.

The trend over time is shown in Chart 5 below. This shows how results for boys and girls alike are slowly declining, having reached their peak in 2010/11. Boys established a clear lead from that year onwards.

As they decline, the lines for boys and girls are steadily diverging since girls’ results are falling more rapidly. The gap between boys and girls in 2014 is 1.3 percentage points.

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Chart 5: Achievement of 3+ A*/A grades in independent and state-funded schools and in colleges, 2006-2014

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Chart 6, compares performance on the four different measures by institutional type. It shows a similar pattern across the piece.

Success rates tend to be highest in either converter academies or free schools, while sponsored academies and other FE institutions tend to bring up the rear. LA-maintained schools and sixth form colleges lie midway between.

Converter academies outscore free schools when facilitating subjects do not enter the equation, but the reverse is true when they do. There is a similar relationship between sixth form colleges and LA-maintained schools, but it does not quite hold with the final pair.

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Chart 6: Proportion of students achieving different A level high attainment measures by type of institution, 2014

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Chart 7 compares performance by admissions policy in the schools sector on the four measures. Selective schools enjoy a big advantage on all four. More than one in four selective school students achieving at least 3 A grades and almost one in 3 achieves AAB+ with at least two in facilitating subjects.

There is a broadly similar relationship across all the measures, in that comprehensive schools record roughly three times the rates achieved in modern schools and selective schools manage roughly three times the success rates in comprehensive schools. 

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Chart 7: Proportion of students achieving different A level high attainment measures by admissions basis in schools, 2014

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Other Performance Table measures 

Some of the other measures in the 16-18 Tables are relevant to high attainment:

  • Average Point Score per A level student: The APS per student across all state funded schools and colleges is 772.7, down slightly on the 782.3 recorded last year. The highest recorded APS in 2014 is 1430.1, by Colchester Royal Grammar School. This is almost 100 ahead of the next best school, Colyton Grammar, but well short of the highest score in 2013, which was 1650. The lowest APS for a state-funded school in 2014 is 288.4 at Hartsdown Academy, which also returned the lowest score in 2013. 
  • Average Point Score per A level entry: The APS per A level entry for all state-funded institutions is 211.2, almost identical to the 211.3 recorded in 2013. The highest score attributable to a state-funded institution is 271.1 at The Henrietta Barnett School. This is very slightly slower than the 271.4 achieved by Queen Elizabeth’s Barnet in 2013. The lowest is 108.6, again at Hartsdown Academy, which exceeds the 2013 low of 97.7 at Appleton Academy. 
  • Average grade per A level entry: The average grade across state-funded schools and colleges is C. The highest average grade returned in the state-funded sector is A at The Henrietta Barnett School, Pate’s Grammar School, Queen Elizabeth’s Barnet and Tiffin Girls School. In 2013 only the two Barnet schools achieved the same outcome. At the other extreme, an average U grade is returned by Hartsdown Academy, Irlam and Cadishead College and Swadelands School. 

SFR06/2015 also supplies the percentage of A* and A*/A grades by type of institution and schools’ admissions arrangements. The former is shown in Chart 8 and the latter in Chart 9 below.

The free school comparisons are affected by the changes to this category described above.

Elsewhere the pattern is rather inconsistent. Success rates at A* exceed those set in 2012 and 2013 in LA-maintained schools, sponsored academies, sixth form colleges and other FE institutions. Meanwhile, A*/A grades combined are lower than both 2012 and 2013 in converter academies and sixth form colleges.

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Chart 8: A level A* and A*/A performance by institutional type, 2012 to 2014

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Chart 9 shows A* performance exceeding the success rates for 2012 and 2013 in all three sectors.

When both grades are included, success rates in selective schools have returned almost to 2012 levels following a dip in 2013, while there has been little change across the three years in comprehensive schools and a clear improvement in modern schools, which also experienced a dip last year.

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Chart 9: A level A* and A*/A performance in schools by admissions basis, 2012 to 2014.

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Disadvantaged high attainers 

There is nothing in either of the Performance Tables or the supporting SFRs to enable us to detect changes in the performance of disadvantaged high attainers relative to their more advantaged peers.

I dedicated a previous post to the very few published statistics available to quantify the size of these excellence gaps and establish if they are closing, stable or widening.

There is continuing uncertainty whether this will be addressed under the new assessment and accountability arrangements to be introduced from 2016.

Although results for all high attainers appear to be holding up better than those for middle and lower attainers, the evidence suggests that FSM and disadvantaged gaps at lower attainment levels are proving stubbornly resistant to closure.

Data from SFR06/2015 is presented in Charts 10-12 below.

Chart 10 shows that, when the 2014 methodology is applied, three of the gaps on the five headline measures increased in 2014 compared with 2013.

That might have been expected given the impact of the changes discussed above but, if the 2013 methodology is applied, so stripping out much (but not all) of the impact of these reforms, four of the five headline gaps worsened and the original three are even wider.

This seems to support the hypothesis that the reforms themselves are not driving this negative trend, athough Teach First has suggested otherwise.

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Chart 10: FSM gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2013-2014

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Chart 11 shows how FSM gaps have changed on each of these five measures since 2011. Both sets of 2014 figures are included.

Compared with 2011, there has been improvement on two of the five measures, while two or three have deteriorated, depending which methodology is applied for 2014.

Since 2012, only one measure has improved (expected progress in English) and that by slightly more or less than 1%, according to which 2014 methodology is selected.

Deteriorations have been small however, suggesting that FSM gaps have been relatively stable over this period, despite their closure being a top priority for the Government, backed up by extensive pupil premium funding.

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Chart 11: FSM/other gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2011 to 2014.

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Chart 12 shows a slightly more positive pattern for the gaps between disadvantaged learners (essentially ‘ever 6 FSM’ and looked after children) and their peers.

There have been improvements on four of the five headline measures since 2011. But since 2012, only one or two of the measures has improved, according to which 2014 methodology is selected. Compared with 2013, either three or four of the 2014 headline measures are down.

The application of the 2013 methodology in 2014, rather than the 2014 methodology, causes all five of the gaps to increase, so reinforcing the point in bold above.

It is unlikely that this pattern will be any different at higher attainment levels, but evidence to prove or disprove this remains disturbingly elusive.

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Chart 12: Disadvantaged/other gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2011 to 2014

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Taken together, this evidence does not provide a ringing endorsement of the Government’s strategy for closing these gaps.

There are various reasons why this might be the case:

  • It is too soon to see a significant effect from the pupil premium or other Government reforms: This is the most likely defensive line, although it begs the question why more urgent action was/is discounted.
  • Pupil premium is insufficiently targeted at the students/school that need it most: This is presumably what underlies the Fair Education Alliance’s misguided recommendation that pupil premium funding should be diverted away from high attaining disadvantaged learners towards their lower attaining peers.
  • Schools enjoy too much flexibility over how they use the pupil premium and too many are using it unwisely: This might point towards more rigorous evaluation, tighter accountability mechanisms and stronger guidance.
  • Pupil premium funding is too low to make a real difference: This might be advanced by institutions concerned at the impact of cuts elsewhere in their budgets.
  • Money isn’t the answer: This might suggest that the pupil premium concept is fundamentally misguided and that the system as a whole needs to take a different or more holistic approach.

I have proposed a more targeted method of tackling secondary excellence gaps and simultaneously strengthening fair access, where funding topsliced from the pupil premium is fed into personal budgets for disadvantaged high attainers.

These would meet the cost of coherent, long-term personalised support programmes, co-ordinated by their schools and colleges, which would access suitable services from a ‘managed market’ of suppliers.

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Conclusion

This analysis suggests that high attainers, particularly those in selective schools, have been relatively less affected by the reforms that have depressed GCSE results in 2014.

While we should be thankful for small mercies, three issues are of particular concern:

  • There is a stubborn and serious problem with the achievement of expected progress in both English and maths. It cannot be acceptable that approximately one in seven high attainers fails to make three levels of progress in each core subject when this is a relatively undemanding expectation for those with high prior attainment. This issue is particularly acute in sponsored academies where one in four or five high attainers are undershooting their progress targets.
  • Underachievement amongst high attainers is prevalent in far too many state-funded schools and colleges. At KS4 there are huge variations in the performance of high-attaining students depending on which schools they attend. A handful of schools achieve better outcomes with their middle attainers than with their high attainers. This ought to be a strong signal, to the schools as well as to Ofsted, that something serious is amiss.
  • Progress in closing KS4 FSM gaps continues to be elusive, despite this being a national priority, backed up by a pupil premium budget of £2.5bn a year. In the absence of data about the performance of disadvantaged high attainers, we can only assume that this is equally true of excellence gaps.

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February 2015

A Primary Assessment Progress Report

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This post tracks progress towards the introduction of the primary assessment and accountability reforms introduced by England’s Coalition Government.

pencil-145970_640It reviews developments since the Government’s consultation response was published, as well as the further action required to ensure full and timely implementation.

It considers the possibility of delay as a consequence of the May 2015 General Election and the potential impact of a new government with a different political complexion.

An introductory section outlines the timeline for reform. This is followed by seven thematic sections dealing with:

There are page jumps from each of the bullets above, should readers wish to refer to these specific sections.

Each section summarises briefly the changes and commitments set out in the consultation response (and in the original consultation document where these appear not to have been superseded).

Each then reviews in more detail the progress made to date, itemising the tasks that remain outstanding.

I have included deadlines for all outstanding tasks. Where these are unknown I have made a ‘best guess’ (indicated by a question mark after the date).

I have done my best to steer a consistent path through the variety of material associated with these reforms, pointing out apparent conflicts between sources wherever these exist.

A final section considers progress across the reform programme as a whole – and how much remains to be done.

It discusses the likely impact of Election Purdah and the prospects for changes in direction consequent upon the outcome of the Election.

I have devoted previous posts to ‘Analysis of the Primary Assessment and Accountability Consultation Document’ (July 2013) and to the response in ‘Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms’ (April 2014) so there is inevitably some repetition here, for which I apologise.

This is a long and complex post, even by my standards. I have tried to construct the big picture from a variety of different sources, to itemise all the jigsaw pieces already in place and all those that are still missing.

If you spot any errors or omissions, do let me know and I will do my best to correct them.

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[Please note that I have added several postscripts to this document since the original date of publication. If you are revisiting, do pause at the new emboldened paragraphs below.]

Timeline for Reform

The consultation document ‘Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum’ was published on 7 July 2013.

It contained a commitment to publish a response in ‘autumn 2013’, but ‘Reforming assessment and accountability for primary schools’ did not appear until March 2014.

The implementation timetable has to be inferred from a variety of sources but seems to be as shown in the table below. (I have set aside interim milestones until the thematic sections below.)

Month/year Action
Sept 2014 Schools no longer expected to use levels for non-statutory assessment
May 2015 End of KS1 and KS2 national curriculum tests and statutory teacher assessment reported through levels for the final time. .
Summer term 2015 Final 2016 KS1 and KS2 test frameworks, sample materials and mark schemes published.
Guidance published on reporting of test results.
Sept 2015 Schools can use approved reception baseline assessments (or a KS1 baseline).
Sept/Autumn term 2015 New performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment published.
Dec 2015 Primary Performance Tables use levels for the final time.
May 2016 New KS1 and KS tests introduced, reported through new attainment and progress measures.
June 2016 Statutory teacher assessment reported through new performance descriptors.
Sept 2016 Reception baseline assessment the only baseline option for all-through primaries
Schools must publish new headline measures on their websites.
New floor standards come into effect (with progress element still derived from KS1 baseline).
Dec 2016 New attainment and performance measures published in Primary Performance Tables.

The General Election takes place on 7 May 2015, but pre-Election Purdah will commence on 30 March, almost exactly a year on from publication of the consultation response.

At the time of writing, some 40 weeks have elapsed since the response was published – and there are some 10 weeks before Purdah descends.

Assuming that the next Government is formed within a week of the Election (which might be optimistic), there is a second working period of roughly 10 weeks between that and the end of the AY 2014/15 summer term.

The convention is that all significant assessment and accountability reforms are notified to schools a full academic year before implementation, so allowing them sufficient time to plan for implementation.

A full year’s lead time is no longer sacrosanct (and has already been set aside in some instances below) but any shorter notification period may have significant implications for teacher workload – something that the Government is committed to tackling.

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[Postscript: On 6 February the Government published its response to the Workload Challenge, which contained a commitment to introduce, from ‘Spring 2015′, a:

‘DfE Protocol setting out minimum lead-in times for significant curriculum, qualifications and accountability changes…’

Elsewhere the text says that the minimum lead time will be a year, thus reinforcing the convention described above.

 

The term ‘significant’ allows some wriggle room, but one might reasonably expect it to be applied to some of the outstanding actions below.

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We now know that it will not be applied to the introduction of new performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment (see below). The original timescale did not fit this description and it has not been adjusted in the light of consultation.]

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Announcements made during the long summer holiday are much disliked by schools, so the end of summer term 2015 becomes the de facto target for any reforms requiring implementation from September 2016.

One might therefore conclude that:

  • We are about two-thirds of the way through the main implementation period.
  • There is a period of some 100 working days in which to complete the reforms expected to be notified to schools before the end of the AY2014/15 summer term. This is divided into two windows of some 50 working days on either side of Purdah.
  • There is some scope to extend more deadlines into the summer break and autumn 2015, but the costs of doing so – including loss of professional goodwill – might outweigh the benefits.

Purdah will act as a brake on progress across the piece. It will delay announcements that might otherwise have been made in April and early May, such as those related to new tests scheduled for May 2016.

The implications of Purdah are discussed further in the final section of this post.

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Reception Baseline Assessment

Consultation response

A new Reception Baseline will be introduced from September 2015. This will be undertaken by children within their first few weeks of school (so not necessarily during the first half of the autumn term).

Teachers will be able to select from a range of assessments ‘but most are likely to be administered by the reception teaching staff’.  Assessments will be ‘short’ and ‘sit within teachers’ broader assessments of children’s development’.

They will be:

‘…strong predictors of key stage 1 and key stage 2 attainment whilst reflecting the age and abilities of children in reception’

Schools that use an approved baseline assessment ‘in September 2015’ (and presumably later during the 2015/16 academic year) will have their progress measured in 2022 against that or a KS1 baseline, whichever gives the best result.

However, only the reception baseline will be available from September 2016 and, from this point, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile will no longer be compulsory.

The reception baseline will not be compulsory either, since:

‘Schools that choose not to use an approved baseline assessment from 2016 will be judged on an attainment floor standard alone.’

But, since the attainment floor standard is so demanding (see below), this apparent choice may prove illusory for most schools.

Further work includes:

  • Engaging experts to develop criteria for the baselines.
  • A study in autumn 2014 of schools that already use such assessments, to inform decisions on moderation and the reporting of results to parents.
  • Communicating those decisions about moderation and reporting results – to Ofsted as well as to parents – ensuring they are ‘contextualised by teachers’ broader assessments’.
  • Publishing a list of assessments that meet the prescribed criteria.

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Developments to date

Baseline criteria were published by the STA in May 2014.

The purpose of the assessments is described thus:

‘…to support the accountability framework and help assess school effectiveness by providing a score for each child at the start of reception which reflects their attainment against a pre-determined content domain and which will be used as the basis for an accountability measure of the relative progress of a cohort of children through primary school.’

This emphasis on the relevance of the baseline to floor targets is in marked contrast with the emphasis on reporting progress to parents in the original consultation document.

Towards the end of the document here is a request for ‘supporting information in addition to the criteria’:

‘What guidance will suppliers provide to schools in order to enable them to interpret the results and report them to parents in a contextualised way, for example alongside teacher observation?’

This seems to refer to the immediate reporting of baseline outcomes rather than of subsequent progress measures. Suitability for this purpose does not appear within the criteria themselves.

Interestingly, the criteria specify that the content domain:

‘…must demonstrate a clear progression towards the key stage 1 national curriculum in English and mathematics’,

but there is no reference to progression to KS2, and nothing about assessments being ‘strong predictors’ of future attainment, whether at KS1 or KS2.

Have expectations been lowered, perhaps because of concerns about the predictive validity of the assessments currently available?

A research study was commissioned in June 2014 (so earlier than anticipated) with broader parameters than originally envisaged.

The Government awarded a 9-month contract to NFER worth £49.7K, to undertake surveys of teachers’, school leaders’ and parents’ views on baseline assessment.

The documentation reveals that CEM is also involved in a parallel quantitative study which will ‘simulate an accountability environment’ for a group of schools, to judge changes in their behaviour.

Both of these organisations are also in the running for concession contracts to deliver the assessments from September 2015 (see below).

The aims of the project are to identify:

  • The impact of the introduction of baseline assessments in an accountability context.
  • Challenges to the smooth introduction of baseline assessments as a means to constructing an accountability measure.
  • Potential needs for monitoring and moderation approaches.
  • What reporting mechanisms and formats stakeholders find most useful.

Objectives are set out for an accountability strand and a reporting strand respectively. The former refer explicitly to identification of ‘gaming’ and the exploration of ‘perverse incentives’.

It is not entirely clear from the latter whether researchers are focused solely on initial contexualised reporting of reception baseline outcomes, or are also exploring the subsequent reporting of progress.

The full objectives are reproduced below

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Reception baseline capture

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The final ‘publishable’ report is to be delivered by March 2015. It will be touch and go whether this can be released before Purdah descends. Confirmation of policy decisions based on the research will likely be delayed until after the Election.

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The process has begun to identify and publish a list of assessments that meet the criteria.

A tender appeared on Contracts Finder in September 2014 and has been updated several times subsequently, the most recent version appearing in early December.

The purpose is to award several concession contracts, giving holders the right to compete with each other to deliver baseline assessments.

Contracts were scheduled to be awarded on 26 January 2015, but there was no announcement. Each will last 19 months (to August 2016), with an option to extend for a further year. The total value of the contracts, including extensions, is calculated at £4.2m.

There is no limit to the number of concessions to be awarded, but providers must meet specified (and complex) school recruitment and delivery targets which essentially translate into a 10% sample of all eligible schools.

Under-recruiting providers can be included if fewer than four meet the 10% target, as long as they have recruited at least 1,000 eligible schools.

Moreover:

‘The minimum volume requirement may be waived if the number of schools choosing to administer the reception baseline is fewer than 8,887 [50% of the total number of schools with a reception class].’

Hence the number of suppliers in the market is likely to be limited to 10 or so: there will be some choice, but not too much.

My online researches unearthed four obvious candidates:

And suggestions that this might constitute the entire field

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The initial deadline for recruiting the target number of schools is 30 April 2015, slap-bang in the middle of Purdah. This may prove problematic.

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[Postscript: The award of six concession contracts was quietly confirmed on Wednesday 4 February, via new guidance on DfE’s website. The two contractors missing from the list above are Early Excellence and Hodder Education.

The guidance confirms that schools must sign up with their preferred supplier. They can do so after the initial deadline of 30 April but, on 3 June, schools will be told if they have chosen a provider that has been suspended for failing to recruit sufficient schools.  They will then need to choose an alternative provider.

It adds that, in AY2015/16, LA-maintained schools, academies and free schools will be reimbursed for the ‘basic cost’ of approved reception baselines. Thereafter, school budgets will include the necessary funding.

It will be interesting to see whether the Government will contribute to publicity or leave it to suppliers to make the running. The initial low-key approach suggests the latter. (It is perhaps telling that the links in the guidance are to the contractors’ home pages rather than to details of their baseline offers.)

In any case, Purdah will prevent such activity from 30 March so the window for such publicity is only about eight weeks.]

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It seems likely that the decision to allow a range of baseline assessments – as opposed to a single national measure – will create significant comparability issues.

One of the ‘clarification questions’ posed by potential suppliers is:

‘We can find no reference to providing a comparability score between provider assessments. Therefore, can we assume that each battery of assessments will be independent, stand-alone and with no need to cross reference to other suppliers?’

The answer given is:

‘The assumption is correct at this stage. However, STA will be conducting a comparability study with successful suppliers in September 2015 to determine whether concordance tables can be constructed between assessments.’

This implies that progress measures will need to be calculated separately for users of each baseline assessment – and that these will be comparable only through additional ‘concordance tables’, should these prove feasible.

There are associated administrative and workload issues for schools, particularly those with high mobility rates, which may find themselves needing to engage with several different baseline assessment products.

One answer to a supplier’s question reveals that:

‘As currently, children will be included in performance measures for the school in which they take their final assessment (i.e. key stage 2 tests) regardless of which school they were at for the input measure (i.e. reception baseline on key stage 1). We are currently reviewing how long a child needs to have attended a school in order for their progress outcome to be included in the measure.’

The issue of comparability also raises questions about their aggregation for floor target purposes. Will targets based on several different baseline assessments be comparable with those based on only one? Will schools with high mobility rates be disadvantaged?

Schools will pay for the assessments. The supporting documentation says that:

‘The amount of funding that schools will be provided with is still to be determined. This will not be determined until after bids have been submitted to avoid accusations of price fixing.’

One of the answers to a clarification question says:

‘The funding will be available to schools from October 2015 to cover the reception baseline for the academic year 2015/16.’

Another says this funding is unlikely to be ringfenced.

There is some confusion over the payment mechanism. One answer says:

‘…the mechanism for this is still to be determined. In the longer term, money will be provided to schools through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) to purchase the reception baseline. However, the Department is still considering options for the first year and may pay suppliers directly depending on the amount of data provided.’

But yet another is confident that:

‘Suppliers will be paid directly by schools. The Department will reimburse schools separately.’

The documentation also reveals that there has as yet been no decision on how to measure progress between the baseline and the end of KS2:

‘The Department is still considering how to measure this and is keen for suppliers to provide their thoughts.’

The ‘Statement of requirements’ once again foregrounds the use of the baseline for floor targets rather than reporting individual learners’ progress.

‘On 27 March 2014, the Department for Education (DfE) announced plans to introduce a new floor standard from September 2016. This will be based on the progress made by pupils from reception to the end of primary school.  The DfE will use a new Reception Baseline Assessment to capture the starting point from which the progress that schools make with their pupils will be measured.  The content of the Reception Baseline will reflect the knowledge and understanding of children at the start of reception, and will be clearly linked to the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage and key stage 1 national curriculum in English and mathematics.  The Reception Baseline will be administered within the first half term of a pupil’s entry to a reception class.’

In relation to reporting to parents, one of the answers to suppliers’ questions states:

‘Some parents will be aware of the reception baseline from the national media coverage of the policy announcement. We anticipate that awareness of the reception baseline will develop over time. As with other assessments carried out by a school, we would expect schools to share information with parents if asked, though there will be no requirement to report the outcome of the reception baseline to parents.’

So it appears that, regardless of the outcomes of the research above, initial short term reporting of reception baseline outcomes will be optional.

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[Postscript: This position is still more vigorously stated in a letter dated November 2014 from Ministers to a primary group formed by two maths associations. It says (my emphasis):

‘Let me be clear that we do not intend the baseline assessment to be used to monitor the progress of individual children. You rightly point out that any assessment that was designed to be reliable at individual child level would need to take into account the different ages at which children start reception and be sufficiently detailed to account for the variation in performance one expects from young children day-to-day. Rather, the baseline assessment is about capturing the starting point for the cohort which can then be used to assess the progress of that cohort at the end of primary school,’

This distinction has not been made sufficiently explicit in material published elsewhere.]

 

The overall picture is of a process in which procurement is running in parallel with research and development work intended to help resolve several significant and outstanding issues. This is a consequence of the September 2015 deadline for introduction, which seems increasingly problematic.

Particularly so given that many professionals are yet to be convinced of the case for reception baseline assessment, expressing reservations on several fundamental grounds, extending well beyond the issues highlighted above.

A January 2015 Report from the Centre Forum – Progress matters in Primary too – defends the plan against its detractors, citing six key points of concern. Some of the counter-arguments summarised below are rather more convincing than others:

  • Validity: The contention that reception level assessments are accurate predictors of attainment at the end of KS2 is justified by reference to CEM’s PIPS assessment, which was judged in 2001 to give a correlation of 0.7. But of course KS2 tests were very different in those days.
  • Reliability: The notion that attainment can be reliably determined in reception is again justified with reference to PIPS data from 2001 (showing a 0.98 correlation on retesting). The authors argue that the potentially negative effects of test conditions on young children and the risks of bias should be ‘mitigated’ (but not eliminated) through the development and selection process.
  • Contextualisation: The risk of over-simplification through reporting a single numerical score, independent of factors such as age, needs to be set against the arguments in favour of a relatively simple and transparent methodology. Schools are free to add such context when communicating with parents.
  • Labelling: The argument that baseline outcomes will tend to undermine universally high expectations is countered by the view that assessment may actually challenge labelling attributable to other causes, and can in any case be managed in reporting to parents by providing additional contextual information.
  • Pupil mobility: Concern that the assessment will be unfair on schools with high levels of mobility is met by reference to planned guidance on ‘how long a pupil needs to have attended a school in order to be included in the progress measure’. However, the broader problems associated with a choice of assessments are acknowledged.
  • Gaming: The risk that schools will artificially depress baseline outcomes will be managed through effective moderation and monitoring.

The overall conclusion is that:

‘…the legitimate concerns raised by stakeholders around the reliability and fairness of a baseline assessment do not present fundamental impediments to implementing the progress measure. Overall, a well-designed assessment and appropriate moderation could address these concerns to the extent that a baseline assessment could provide a reasonable basis for constructing a progress measure.

That said, the Department for Education and baseline assessment providers need to address, and, where indicated, mitigate the concerns. However, in principle, there is nothing to prevent a well-designed baseline test being used to create a progress-based accountability measure.’

The report adds:

‘However, this argument still needs to be won and teachers’ concerns assuaged….

.. Since the majority of schools will be reliant on the progress measure under the new system, they need to be better informed about the validity, reliability and purpose of the baseline assessment. To win the support of school leaders and teachers, the Department for Education must release clear, defensible evidence that the baseline assessment is indeed valid, fair and reliable.’

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Outstanding tasks

  • Publish list of contracts for approved baseline assessments (26 January 2015) 
  • Explain funding arrangements for baseline assessments and how FY2015-16 funding will be distributed (January 2015?) 
  • Publish research on baseline assessment (March/April 2015) 
  • Confirm monitoring and moderation arrangements (March/April 2015?) 
  • Deadline for contractors recruiting schools for initial baseline assessments (30 April 2015) 
  • Publish guidance on the reporting of baseline assessment results (May 2015?) 
  • Undertake comparability study with successful suppliers to determine whether concordance tables can be constructed (Autumn 2015) 
  • Determine funding required for AY2015/16 assessment and distribute to schools (or suppliers?) (October 2015?)

KS1 and KS2 tests

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Consultation response

The new tests will comprise:

  • At KS1 – externally set and internally marked tests of maths and reading and an externally set test of grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS). It is unclear from the text whether the GPS test will be externally marked.
  • At KS2 – externally set and externally marked tests of maths, reading and science, plus a sampling test in science.

Outcomes of both KS1 and KS2 tests (other than the science sampling test) will be expressed as scaled scores. A footnote makes it clear that, in both cases, a score of ‘100 will represent the new expected standard for that stage’

The consultation document says of the scaled scores:

‘Because it is not possible to create tests of precisely the same difficulty every year, the number of marks needed to meet the secondary readiness standard will fluctuate slightly from one year to another. To ensure that results are comparable over time, we propose to convert raw test marks into a scaled score, where the secondary readiness standard will remain the same from year to year. Scaled scores are used in all international surveys and ensure that test outcomes are comparable over time.’

It adds that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) will develop the scale.

Otherwise very little detail is provided about next steps. The consultation response is silent on the issue. The original consultation document says only that:

‘The Standards and Testing Agency will develop new national curriculum tests, to reflect the new national curriculum programmes of study.’

Adding, in relation to the science sampling test:

‘We will continue with national sample tests in science, designed to monitor national standards over time. A nationally-representative sample of pupils will sit a range of tests, designed to produce detailed information on the cohort’s performance across the whole science curriculum. The design of the tests will mean that results cannot be used to hold individual schools or pupils accountable.’

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Developments to date

On March 31 2014, the STA published  draft test frameworks for the seven KS1 and KS2 tests to be introduced from 2016:

  • KS1 GPS: a short written task (20 mins); short answer questions (20 mins) and a spelling task (15 mins)
  • KS1 reading: two reading tests, one with texts and questions together, the other with a separate answer booklet (2 x 20 mins)
  • KS1 maths: an arithmetic test (15 mins) and a test of fluency, problem-solving and reasoning (35 mins)
  • KS2 GPS: a grammar and punctuation test (45 mins) and a spelling task (15 mins)
  • KS2 reading: a single test (60 mins)
  • KS2 maths: an arithmetic test (30 mins) and two tests of fluency, problem-solving and reasoning (2 x 40 mins)
  • KS2 science (sampling): tests in physics, chemistry and biology contexts (3 x 25 mins).

Each test will be designed for the full range of prior attainment and questions will typically be posed in order of difficulty.

Each framework explains that all eligible children at state-funded schools will be required to take the tests, but some learners will be exempt.

For further details of which learners will be exempted, readers are referred to the current Assessment and Reporting Arrangements (ARA) booklets.

According to these, the KS1 tests should be taken by all learners working at level 1 or above and the KS2 tests by all learners working at level 3 and above. Teacher assessment data must be submitted for pupils working below the level of the tests.

But of course levels will no longer exist – and we have no equivalent in the form of scaled scores – so the draft frameworks do not define clearly the lower parameter of the range of prior attainment the tests are intended to accommodate.

It will not be straightforward to design workable tests for such broad spans of prior attainment.

Each framework has a common section on the derivation of scaled scores:

‘The raw score on the test…will be converted into a scaled score. Translating raw scores into scaled scores ensures performance can be reported on a consistent scale for all children. Scaled scores retain the same meaning from one year to the next. Therefore, a particular scaled score reflects the same level of attainment in one year as in the previous year, having been adjusted for any differences in difficulty of the test.

Additionally, each child will receive an overall result indicating whether or not he or she has achieved the required standard on the test. A standard-setting exercise will be conducted on the first live test in 2016 in order to determine the scaled score needed for a child to be considered to have met the standard. This process will be facilitated by the performance descriptor… which defines the performance level required to meet the standard. In subsequent years, the standard will be maintained using appropriate statistical methods to translate raw scores on a new test into scaled scores with an additional judgemental exercise at the expected standard. The scaled score required to achieve the expected level on the test will always remain the same.

The exact scale for the scaled scores will be determined following further analysis of trialling data. This will include a full review of the reporting of confidence intervals for scaled scores.’

In July 2014 STA also published sample questions, mark schemes and associated commentaries for each test.

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Outstanding tasks

I have been unable to trace any details of the timetable for test development and trialling.

As far as I can establish, STA has not published an equivalent to QCDA’s ‘Test development, level setting and maintaining standards’ (March 2010) which describes in some detail the different stages of the test development process.

This old QCA web-page describes a 22-month cycle, from the initial stages of test development to the administration of the tests.

This aligns reasonably well with the 25-month period between publication of the draft test frameworks on 31 March 2014 and the administration of the tests in early May 2016.

Applying the same timetable to the 2016 tests – using publication of the draft frameworks as the starting point – suggests that:

  • The first pre-test should have been completed by November 2014
  • The second pre-test should take place by February 2015 
  • Mark schemes and tests should be finalised by July 2015

STA commits to publishing, the final test frameworks and a full set of sample tests and mark schemes for each of the national curriculum tests at key stages 1 and 2 ‘during the 2015 summer term’.

Given Purdah, these seem most likely to appear towards the end of the summer term rather than a full year ahead of the tests.

In relation to the test frameworks, STA says:

‘We may make small changes as a result of this work; however, we do not expect the main elements of the frameworks to change.’

They will also produce, to the same deadline, guidance on how the results of national curriculum tests will be reported, including an explanation of scaled scores.

So we have three further outstanding tasks:

  • Publishing the final test frameworks (summer term 2015) 
  • Finalising the scale to be used for the tests (summer term 2015) 
  • Publishing guidance explaining the use and reporting of scaled scores (summer term 2015)

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[Postscript: Since publishing this post, I have found on Contracts Finder various STA contracts, as follows:

How these square with the timetable above is, as yet, unclear. If there is a possibility that final test frameworks cannot be finalised until Autumn 2015, the Workload Challenge Protocol may well bite here too.]

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Statutory teacher assessment

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Consultation response

The response confirms statutory teacher assessment of:

  • KS1 maths, reading, writing, speaking and listening and science
  • KS2 maths, reading, writing and science.

There are to be performance descriptors for each statutory teacher assessment:

  • a single descriptor for KS1 science and KS2 science, reading and maths
  • several descriptors for KS1 maths, reading, writing and speaking and listening, and also for KS2 writing.

There is a commitment to improve KS1 moderation, given concerns expressed by Ofsted and the NAHT Commission.

In respect of low attaining pupils the response says:

‘All pupils who are not able to access the relevant end of key stage test will continue to have their attainment assessed by teachers. We will retain P-scales for reporting teachers’ judgements. The content of the P-scales will remain unchanged. Where pupils are working above the P-scales but below the level of the test, we will provide further information to enable teachers to assess attainment at the end of the relevant key stage in the context of the new national curriculum.’

And there is to be further consideration of whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment.

So, to summarise, the further work involves:

  • Developing new performance descriptors – to be drafted by an expert group. According to the response, the KS1 descriptors would be introduced in ‘autumn 2014’. No date is given for the KS2 descriptors.
  • Improving moderation of KS1 teacher assessment, working closely with schools and Ofsted.
  • Providing guidance to support teacher assessment of those working above the P-scales but below the level of the tests.
  • Deciding whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment.

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Developments to date

Updated statutory guidance on the P-Scale attainment targets for pupils with SEN was released in July 2014, but neither it nor the existing guidance on when to use the P-Scales relates them to the new scaled scores, or discusses the issue of moderation.

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In September 2014, a guidance noteNational curriculum and assessment from September 2014: Information for schools’ revised the timeline for the development of performance descriptors:

‘New performance descriptors will be published (in draft) in autumn 2014 which will inform statutory teacher assessment at the end of key stage 1 and 2 in summer 2016. Final versions will be published by September 2015.’

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A consultation document on performance descriptors: ‘Performance descriptors for use in key stage 1 and 2 statutory teacher assessment for 2015 to 2016’ was published on 23 October 2014.

The descriptors were:

‘… drafted with experts, including teachers, representatives from Local Authorities, curriculum and subject experts. Also Ofsted and Ofqual have observed and supported the drafting process’

A November 2014 FoI response revealed the names of the experts involved and brief biographies were provided in the media.

A further FoI has been submitted requesting details of their remit but, at the time of writing, this has not been answered.

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[Postscript: The FoI response setting out the remit was published on 5 February.]

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The consultation document revealed for the first time the complex structure of the performance descriptor framework.

It prescribes four descriptors for KS1 reading, writing and maths but five for KS2 writing.

The singleton descriptors reflect ‘working at the national standard’.

Where four descriptors are required these are termed (from the top down): ‘mastery’, ‘national’, ‘working towards national’ and ‘below national’ standard.

In the case of KS2 writing ‘above national standard’ is sandwiched between ‘mastery’ and ‘national’.

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Performance descriptor Capture 1Perfromance Decriptor Capture 2

The document explains how these different levels cross-reference to the assessment of learners exempted from the tests.

In the case of assessments with only a single descriptor, it becomes clear that a further distinction is needed:

‘In subjects with only one performance descriptor, all pupils not assessed against the P-scales will be marked in the same way – meeting, or not meeting, the ‘national standard’.

So ‘not meeting the national standard’ should also be included in the table above. The relation between ‘not meeting’ and ‘below’ national standard is not explained.

But still further complexity is added since:

‘There will be some pupils who are not assessed against the P-scales (because they are working above P8 or because they do not have special educational needs), but who have not yet achieved the contents of the ‘below national standard’ performance descriptor (in subjects with several descriptors). In such cases, pupils will be given a code (which will be determined) to ensure that their attainment is still captured.’

This produces a hierarchy as follows (from the bottom up):

  • P Scales
  • In cases of assessments with several descriptors, an attainment code yet to be determined
  • In case of assessments with single descriptors, an undeclared ‘not meeting the national standard’ descriptor
  • The single descriptor or four/five descriptors listed above.

However, the document says:

‘The performance descriptors do not include any aspects of performance from the programme of study for the following key stage. Any pupils considered to have attained the ‘Mastery standard’ are expected to explore the curriculum in greater depth and build on the breadth of their knowledge and skills within that key stage.’

This places an inappropriate brake on the progress of the highest attainers because the assessment ceiling is pitched too low to accommodate them.

It is acknowledging that some high attainers will be performing above the level of the highest descriptors but, regardless of whether or not they move into the programme for the next key stage, there is no mechanism to record their performance.

This raises the further question whether the mastery standard is pitched at the equivalent of level 6, or below it. It will be interesting to see whether this is addressed in the consultation response.

The consultation document says that the draft descriptors will be trialled during summer term 2015 in a representative sample of schools.

These trials and the consultation feedback will together inform the development of the final descriptors, but also:

  • ‘statutory arrangements for teacher assessment using the performance descriptors;
  • final guidance for schools (and those responsible for external moderation arrangements) on how the performance descriptors should be used;
  • an updated national model for the external moderation of teacher assessment; and
  • nationally developed exemplification of the work of pupils for each performance descriptor at the end of each key stage.’

Published comments on the draft descriptors have been almost entirely negative, which might suggest that the response could be delayed. The consultation document said it should appear ‘around 26 February 2015’.

According to the document, the final descriptors will be published either ‘in September 2015’ or ‘in the autumn term 2015’, depending whether you rely on the section headed ‘Purpose’ or the one called ‘Next Steps’. The first option would allow them to appear as late as December 2015.

A recent newspaper report suggested that the negative reception had resulted in an ‘amber/red’ assessment of primary assessment reform as a whole. The leaked commentary said that any decision to review the approach would increase the risk that the descriptors could not be finalised ‘by September as planned’.

However, the story concludes:

‘The DfE says: “We do not comment on leaks,” but there are indications from the department that the guidance will be finalised by September. Perhaps ministers chose, in the end, not to “review their approach”, despite the concerns.’

Hence it would appear that delay until after the beginning of AY2015/16 will not be countenanced

Note that the descriptors are for use in academic year 2015/16, so even publication in September is problematic, since teachers will begin the year not knowing which descriptors to apply.

The consultation document refers only to descriptors for AY2015/16, which might imply that they will be further refined for subsequent years. Essentially therefore, the arrangements proposed here would be an imperfect interim solution.

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[Postscript: On 26 February 2015 the Consultation Response was published – so on the date commited to in the consultation document. 

As expected, it revealed significant opposition to the original proposals:

  • 74% of respondents were concerned about nomenclature
  • 76% considered that the descriptors were not spaced effectively across the range of pupils’ performance
  • 69% of respondents considered them not clear or easy to understand

The response acknowledges that the issues raised:

‘….amount to a request for greater simplicity, clarity and consistency to support teachers in applying performance descriptors and to help parents understand their meaning.’

But goes on to allege that: 

‘…there are some stakeholders who valued the levels system and would like performance descriptors to function in a similar way across the key stages, which is not their intention.’

Even so, although the Descriptors are not intended to inform formative assessment, respondents have raised concerns that they could be applied in this manner.

There is also the issue of comparability between formative and summative assessment measures, but this is not addressed.

The response does not entirely acknowledge that opposition to the original proposals is sending it back to the drawing board but:

‘As a result of some of the conflicting responses to the consultation, we will work with relevant experts to determine the most appropriate course of action to address the concerns raised and will inform schools of the agreed approach according to the timetable set out in the consultation document – i.e. by September 2015.

The new assessment commission (see below) will have an as yet undefined role in this process. 

There is no reference to the trials in schools, which may or may not continue.

Implementation will not be delayed by a year, despite the commitment to allow a full year’s notice for significant reforms announced in the response to the Workload Challenge.

This part of the timetable is now seriously concertina’d and there must be serious doubt whether the timescale is feasible, especially if proper trialling is to be accommodated.]

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Outstanding tasks 

  • Publish response to performance descriptors consultation document (26 February 2015) 
  • Trial (revised?) draft performance descriptors (summer term 2015) 
  • Experts and commission on assessment produce response to concerns raised and inform schools of outcomes (September 2015)
  • Confirm statutory arrangements for use of the performance descriptors (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish final performance descriptors for AY2015/16 (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish final guidance on the use of performance descriptors (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish exemplification of each performance descriptor at each key stage (September/autumn term 2015)
  • Publish an updated model for the external moderation of teacher assessment (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Confirm plans for the moderation of KS1 teacher assessment and use of the P-scales (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Publish guidance on assessment of those working above the P-scales but below the level of the tests (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Decide whether performance descriptors require adjustment for AY2016/17 onwards (summer term 2016)

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Schools’ internal assessment and tracking systems

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Consultation response

The consultation document outlined some of the Government’s justification for the removal of national curriculum levels. The statement that:

‘Schools will be able to focus their teaching, assessment and reporting not on a set of opaque level descriptions, but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn’

may be somewhat called into question by the preceding discussion of performance descriptors.

The consultation document continues:

‘There will be a clear separation between ongoing, formative assessment (wholly owned by schools) and the statutory summative assessment which the government will prescribe to provide robust external accountability and national benchmarking. Ofsted will expect to see evidence of pupils’ progress, with inspections informed by the school’s chosen pupil tracking data.’

A subsequent section adds:

‘We will not prescribe a national system for schools’ ongoing assessment….

…. We expect schools to have a curriculum and assessment framework that meets a set of core principles…

 … Although schools will be free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system, we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow. We will work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’

The consultation response does not cover this familiar territory again, saying only:

‘Since we launched the consultation, we have had conversations with our expert group on assessment about how to support schools to make best use of the new assessment freedoms. We have launched an Assessment Innovation Fund to enable assessment methods developed by schools and expert organisations to be scaled up into easy-to-use packages for other schools to use.’

Further work is therefore confined to the promulgation of core principles, the application of the Assessment Innovation Fund and possibly further work to ‘signpost schools to a range of potential approaches’.

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Developments to date

The Assessment Innovation Fund was originally announced initially in December 2013.

A factsheet released at that time explains that many schools are developing new curriculum and assessment systems and that the Fund is intended to enable schools to share these.

Funding of up to £10K per school is made available to help up to 10 schools to prepare simple, easy-to-use packages that can be made freely available to other schools.

They must commit to:

‘…make their approach available on an open licence basis. This means that anyone who wishes to use the package (and any trade-marked name) must be granted a non-revocable, perpetual, royalty-free licence to do so with the right to sub-licence. The intellectual property rights to the system will remain with the school/group which devised it.’

Successful applicants were to be confirmed ‘in the week commencing 21 April 2014’

In the event, nine successful applications were announced on 1 May, although one subsequently withdrew, apparently over the licensing terms.

The packages developed with this funding are stored – in a rather user-unfriendly fashion – on this TES Community Blog, along with other material supportive of the decision to dispense with levels.

Much other useful material has been published online which has not been collected into this repository and it is not clear to what extent it will develop beyond its present limits, since the most recent addition was in early November 2014.

A recent survey by Capita Sims (itself a provider of assessment support) conducted between June and September 2014, suggested that:

  • 25% of primary and secondary schools were unprepared for and 53% had not yet finalised plans for replacing levels.
  • 28% were planning to keep the existing system of levels, 21% intended to introduce a new system and 28% had not yet made a decision.
  • 50% of those introducing an alternative expected to do so by September 2015, while 23% intended to do so by September 2016.
  • Schools’ biggest concern (53% of respondents) is measuring progress and setting targets for learners.

Although the survey is four months old and has clear limitations (there were only 126 respondents) this would suggest further support may be necessary, ideally targeted towards the least confident schools.

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In April 2014 the Government published a set of Assessment Principles, building on earlier material in the primary consultation document. These had been developed by an ‘independent expert panel’.

It is not entirely clear whether the principles apply solely to primary schools and to schools’ own assessment processes (as opposed to statutory assessment).

The introductory statement says:

‘The principles are designed to help all schools as they implement arrangements for assessing pupils’ progress against their school curriculum; Government will not impose a single system for ongoing assessment.

Schools will be expected to demonstrate (with evidence) their assessment of pupils’ progress, to keep parents informed, to enable governors to make judgements about the school’s effectiveness, and to inform Ofsted inspections.’

This might suggest they are not intended to cover statutory assessment and testing but are relevant to secondary schools.

There are nine principles in all, divided into three groups:

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Principles Capture

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The last of these seems particularly demanding.

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In July 2014, Ofsted published guidance in the form of a ‘Note for inspectors: use of assessment information during inspections in 2014/15’. This says that:

‘In 2014/15, most schools, academies and free schools will have historic performance data expressed in national curriculum levels, except for those pupils in Year 1. Inspectors may find that schools are tracking attainment and progress using a mixture of measures for some, or all, year groups and subjects.

As now, inspectors will use a range of evidence to make judgements, including by looking at test results, pupils’ work and pupils’ own perceptions of their learning. Inspectors will not expect to see a particular assessment system in place and will recognise that schools are still working towards full implementation of their preferred approach.’

It goes on to itemise the ways in which inspectors will check that these systems are effective, without judging the systems themselves, but by gathering evidence of effective implementation through leadership and management, the accuracy of assessment, effectiveness in securing progress and quality of reporting to parents.

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In September 2014, NCTL published a research reportBeyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools.’

The report summarises the outcomes of small-scale research conducted in 34 teaching school alliances. It offers six rather prolix recommendations for schools and DfE to consider, which can be summarised as follows:

  • A culture shift is necessary in recognition of the new opportunities provided by the new national curriculum and the removal of levels.
  • Schools need access to conferences and seminars to help develop their assessment expertise.
  • Schools would benefit from access to peer reviewed commercial tracking systems relating to the new national curriculum. Clarification is needed about what data will be collected centrally.
  • Teaching school alliances and schools need financial support to further develop assessment practice, especially practical classroom tools, which should be made freely available online.
  • Financial support is needed for teachers to undertake postgraduate research and courses in this field.
  • It is essential to develop professional knowledge about emerging effective assessment practice.

I can find no government response to these recommendations and so have not addressed them in the list of outstanding tasks below.

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[Postscript: On 25 February 2015, the Government announced the establishment of a ‘commission on assessment without levels':

‘To help schools as they develop effective and valuable assessment schemes, and to help us to identify model approaches we are today announcing the formation of a commission on assessment without levels. This commission will continue the evidence-based approach to assessment which we have put in place, and will support primary and secondary schools with the transition to assessment without levels, identifying and sharing good practice in assessment.’

This appears to suggest belated recognition that the steps outlined above have provided schools with insufficient support for the transition to levels-free internal assessment. It is also a response to the possibility that Labour might revisit the decision to remove them (see below).

The Consultation Response on Performance Descriptors released on 26 February (see above) says that the commission will help to determine the most appropriate response to concerns raised about the Descriptors, while also suggesting that this task will not be devolved exclusively to them.

It adds that the commission will:

‘…collate, quality assure, publish and share best practice in assessment with schools across the country…and will help to foster innovation and success in assessment practice more widely.’

The commission will hold an inaugural meeting in March 2015 and will ‘publish a statement of its intended outputs’ before Purdah descends.

The commission’s role in relation to Performance Descriptors suggests that it is partly intended as a convenient mechanism for ‘parking’ some difficult issues until the other side of the Election.]  

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Outstanding tasks

  • Further dissemination of good practice through the existing mechanisms (ongoing) 
  • Further ‘work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’ (ongoing)
  • Additional work (via the commission) to ‘collate, quality assure, publish and share’ best practice (timescale tbc)

Reporting to parents

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Consultation response

The consultation document envisaged three outcomes for each test:

  • A scaled score
  • The learner’s position in the national cohort, expressed as a decile
  • The rate of progress from a baseline, derived by comparing a learner’s scaled score with that of other learners with the same level of prior attainment.

Deciles did not survive the consultation

The consultation response confirms that, for each test, parents will receive:

  • Their own child’s scaled score; and
  • The average scaled score for the school, ‘the local area’ (presumably the geographical area covered by the authority in which the school is situated) and the country as a whole.

They must also receive information about progress, but the response only discusses how this might be published on school websites and for the purposes of the floor targets (see sections below), rather than how it should be reported directly to parents.

We have addressed already the available information about the calculation of the scaled scores.

The original consultation document also outlined the broad methodology underpinning the progress measures:

‘In order to report pupils’ progress through the primary curriculum, the scaled score for each pupil at key stage 2 would be compared to the scores of other pupils with the same prior attainment. This will identify whether an individual made more or less progress than pupils with similar prior attainment…

…. Using this approach, a school might report pupils’ national curriculum test results to parents as follows:

In the end of key stage 2 reading test, Sally received a scaled score of 126 (the secondary ready standard is 100), placing her in the top 10% of pupils nationally. The average scaled score for pupils with the same prior attainment was 114, so she has made more progress in reading than pupils with a similar starting-point.’

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Developments to date

On this web page first published in April 2014 STA commits to publishing guidance during summer term 2015 on how the results of national curriculum tests will be reported, including an explanation of scaled scores.

In September 2014, a further guidance note ‘National curriculum and assessment from September 2014: Information for schools’ shed a little further light on the calculation of the progress measures:

‘Pupil progress will be determined in relation to the average progress made by pupils with the same baseline (i.e. the same KS1 average point score). For example, if a pupil had an APS of 19 at KS1, we will calculate the average scaled score in the KS2 tests for all pupils with an APS of 19 and see whether the pupil in question achieved a higher or lower scaled score than that average The exact methodology of how this will be reported is still to be determined.’

It is hard to get a clear sense of the full range of assessment information that parents will receive.

I have been unable to find any comprehensive description, which would suggest that this is being held back until the methodology for calculating the various measures is finalised.

The various sections above suggest that they will receive details of:

  • Reception baseline assessment outcomes.
  • Attainment in end of KS1 and end of KS2 tests, now expressed as scaled scores (or via teacher assessment, code or P-scales if working below the level of the tests). This will be supplemented by a series of average scaled scores for each test.
  • Progress between the baseline assessment (reception baseline from 2022; KS1 baseline beforehand) and end of KS2 tests, relative to learners with similar prior attainment at the baseline.
  • Attainment in statutory teacher assessments, normally expressed through performance descriptors, but with different arrangements for low attainers.
  • Attainment and progress between reception baseline, KS1 and KS2 tests, provided through schools’ own internal assessment and tracking systems.

We have seen that reporting mechanisms for the first and fourth are not yet finalised.

The fifth is now for schools to determine, taking account of Ofsted’s guidance and, if they wish, the Assessment Principles.

The scales necessary to report the second are not yet published, and these also form the basis of the remaining progress measures.

Parents will be receiving this information in a variety of different formats: scaled scores, average scaled scores, baseline scores, performance descriptors, progress scores and internal tracking measures.

Moreover, the performance descriptor scales will vary according to the assessment and internal tracking will vary from school to school.

This is certainly much more complex than the current unified system of reporting based on levels. Parents will require extensive support to understand what they are receiving.

Outstanding tasks

Previous sections have already referenced expected guidance on reporting baseline assessments, scaled scores and the use of performance descriptors (which presumably includes parental reporting).

One assumes that there will also need to be unified guidance on all aspects of reporting to parents, intended for parental consumption.

So, avoiding duplication of previous sections, the remaining outstanding tasks are to:

  • Finalise the methodology for reporting on pupil progress (summer term 2015) 
  • Provide comprehensive guidance to parents on all aspects of reporting (summer term 2015?)

Publication of outcomes

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Consultation response

This section covers publication of material for public consumption, within and alongside the Primary School Performance Tables and on schools’ websites.

The initial consultation document has much to say about first of these, while the consultation response barely mentions the Tables, focusing almost exclusively on school websites

The original document suggests that the Performance Tables will include a variety of measures, including:

  • The percentage of pupils meeting the secondary readiness standard
  • The average scaled score
  • Where the school’s pupils fit in the national cohort
  • Pupils’ rate of progress
  • How many of the school’s pupils are among the highest-attaining nationally, through a measure showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject.
  • Teacher assessment outcomes in English maths and science
  • Comparisons of each school’s performance with that of schools with similar intake
  • Data about the progress of those with very low prior attainment.

All the headline measures will be published separately for pupils in receipt of the pupil premium.

All measures will be published as three year rolling averages in addition to annual results.

There is also a commitment to publish a wide range of test and teacher assessment data, relating to both attainment and progress, through a Data Portal:

‘The department is currently procuring a new data portal or “data warehouse” to store the school performance data that we hold and provide access to it in the most flexible way. This will allow schools, governors and parents to find and analyse the data about schools in which they are most interested, for example focusing on the progress of low attainers in mathematics in different schools or the attainment of certain pupil groups.’

The consultation response acknowledges as a guiding principle:

‘…a broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.’

The accountability system will:

‘…require schools to publish information on their websites so that parents can understand both the progress pupils make and the standards they achieve.’

Data on low attainers’ attainment and progress will not be published since the diversity of this group demands extensive contextual information.

But when it comes to Performance Tables, the consultation response says only:

‘As now, performance tables will present a wide range of information about primary school performance.’

By implication, they will include progress measures since the text adds:

‘In 2022 performance tables, we will judge schools on whichever is better: their progress from the reception baseline to key stage 2; or their progress from key stage 1 to key stage 2.

However, schools will be required to publish a suite of indicators in standard format on their websites, including:

  • The average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and maths
  • The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard at the end of KS2 in reading, writing and maths
  • The average score of pupils in their end of KS2 assessments and
  • The ‘percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas’ at the end of KS2.

The precise form of the last of these indicators is not explained. This is not quite the same as the ‘measure showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject’ mentioned in the original consultation document.

Does ‘all areas’ mean reading, writing and maths? Must learners achieve a minimum score in each assessment, or a single aggregate score above a certain threshold?

In addition:

‘So that parents can make comparisons between schools, we would like to show each school’s position in the country on these measures and present these results in a manner that is clear for all audiences to understand. We will discuss how best to do so with stakeholders, to ensure that the presentation of the data is clear, fair and statistically robust.’

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Developments to date

In June 2014, a consultation document was issued ‘Accountability: publishing headline performance measures on school and college websites’. This was accompanied by a press release.

The consultation document explains the intended relationship between the Performance Tables, Data Portal and material published on schools’ websites:

‘Performance tables will continue to provide information about individual schools and colleges and be the central source of school and college performance information.’

Moreover:

‘Future changes to the website, through the school and college performance data portal, will improve accessibility to a wide range of information, including the headline performance measures. It will enable interested parents, students, schools, colleges and researchers to interrogate educational data held by the Department for Education to best meet their requirements.’

But:

‘Nevertheless, the first place many parents and students look for information about a school or college is the institution’s own website’

Schools are already required to publish such information, but there is inconsistency in where and how it is presented. The document expresses the intention that consistent information should be placed ‘on the front page of every school and college website’.

The content proposed for primary school’s websites covers the four headline measures set out in the consultation response.

A footnote says:

‘These measures will apply to all-through primary, junior and middle schools. Variants of these measures will apply for infant and first schools.’

But the variants are not set out.

There is no reference to the plan to show ‘each school’s position in the country on these measures’ as mentioned in the consultation response.

The consultation proposes a standard visual presentation which, for primary schools, looks like this

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school websites Capture

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The response to this consultation ‘Publishing performance measures on school and college websites’ appeared in December 2014 (the consultation document had said ‘Autumn 2014’).

The summary of responses says:

‘The majority of respondents to the consultation welcomed the proposals to present headline performance measures in a standard format. There was also strong backing for the proposed visual presentation of data to aid understanding of performance. However, many respondents suggested that without some sense of scale or spread to provide some context to the visual presentation, the data could be misleading. Others said that the language used alongside the charts should be clearer…’

…Whilst most respondents favoured a data application tool that would remove the burden of annually updating performance data on school and college websites, they also highlighted the difficulties of developing a data application that would be compatible with a wide range of school and college websites.’

It is clear that some respondents had questioned why school websites should not simply carry a link on their homepage to the School Performance Tables.

In the light of this reaction, further research will be undertaken to:

  • develop a clear and simple visual representation of the data, but with added contextual information.
  • establish how performance tables data can be presented ‘in a way that reaches more parents’.

The timeline suggests that this will result in ‘proposals for redevelopment of performance tables’ by May 2015, so we can no longer assume that the Tables will cover the list of material suggested in the original consultation document.

The timeline indicates that if initial user research concludes that a data application is required, that will be developed and tested between June and October 2015, for roll out between September 2016 and January 2017.

Schools will be informed by autumn 2015 whether they should carry a link to the Tables, download a data application or pursue a third option.

But, nevertheless:

‘All schools and colleges, including academies, free schools and university technical colleges, will be required to publish the new headline performance measures in a consistent, standard format on their websites from 2016.’

So, if an application is not introduced, it seems that schools will still have to publish the measures on their websites: they will not be able to rely solely on a link to the Performance Tables.

Middle schools will only be required to publish the primary measures. No mention is made of infant or first schools.

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There is no further reference to the data portal, since this project was quietly shelved in September 2014, following unexplained delays in delivery.

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There has been no subsequent explanation of the implications of this decision. Will the material intended for inclusion in the Portal be included in the Performance Tables, or published by another route, or will it no longer be published?

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Finally, some limited information has emerged about accountability arrangements for infant schools.

This appears on a web page – New accountability arrangements for infant schools from 2016 – published in June 2014.

It explains that the reception baseline will permit the measurement of progress alongside attainment. The progress of infant school pupils will be published for the first time in the 2019 Performance Tables.

This might mean a further addition to the list of information reported to parents set out in the previous section.

There is also a passing reference to moderation:

‘To help increase confidence and consistency in our moderation of infant schools, we will be increasing the proportion of schools where KS1 assessments are moderated externally. From summer 2015, half of all infant schools will have their KS1 assessments externally moderated.’

But no further information is forthcoming about the nature of other headline measures and how they will be reported.

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Outstanding tasks

  • Complete user research and publish proposals for redevelopment of Performance Tables (May 2015) 
  • Confirm what data will be published in the 2016 Performance Tables (summer Term 2015?)
  • Confirm how material originally intended for inclusion in Data Portal will be published (summer term 2015?)
  • Confirm the format and publication route for data showing each school’s position in the country on the headline measures (summer term 2015?) 
  • Confirm headline performance measures for infant and first schools (summer term 2015?) 
  • If necessary, further develop and test a prototype data application for schools’ websites (October 2015) 
  • Inform schools whether a data application will be introduced (autumn 2015) 
  • Amend School Information Regulations to require publication of headline measures in standard format (April 2016) 
  • If proceeding, complete development and testing of a data application (May 2016) 
  • If proceeding, complete roll out of data application (February 2017)

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Floor standards

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Consultation response

Minimum expectations of schools will continue to be embodied in floor standards. Schools falling below the floor will attract ‘additional scrutiny through inspection’ and ‘intervention may be required’.

Although the new standard:

‘holds schools to account both on the progress they make and on how well their pupils achieve.’

In practice they are able to choose between one or the other.

An all-through primary school will be above the floor standards if:

  • Pupils make sufficient progress between the reception baseline and the end of KS2 in all of reading, writing and maths or
  • 85% or more of pupils meet the new expected standard at the end of KS2 (similar to Level 4b under the current system).

A junior or middle school will be above the floor standard if:

  • pupils make sufficient progress at key stage 2 from their starting point at key stage 1; or
  • 85% or more of pupils meet the new expected standard at the end of key stage 2

At this stage arrangements for measuring the progress of pupils in infant or first schools are still to be considered.

Since the reception baseline will be introduced in 2015, progress in all-through primary schools will continue to be measured from the end of KS1 until 2022.

This should mean that, prior to 2022, the standard would be achieved by ensuring that the progress made by pupils in a school – in reading, writing and maths – equals or exceeds the national average progress made by pupils with similar prior attainment at the end of KS1.

Exactly how individual progress will be aggregated to create a whole school measure is not yet clear. The original consultation document holds up the possibility that slightly below average progress will be acceptable:

‘…we expect the value-added score required to be above the floor to be between 98.5 and 99 (a value-added score of 100 represents average progress).’

The consultation response says the amount of progress required will be determined in 2016:

‘The proposed progress measure will be based on value-added in each of reading, writing and mathematics. Each pupil’s scaled scores in each area at key stage 2 will be compared with the scores of pupils who had the same results in their assessments at key stage 1.

For a school to be above the progress floor, pupils will have to make sufficient progress in all of reading, writing and mathematics. For 2016, we will set the precise extent of progress required once key stage 2 tests have been sat for the first time. Once pupils take a reception baseline, progress will continue to be measured using a similar value added methodology.’

In 2022 schools will be assessed against either the reception or KS1 baseline, whichever gives the best result. From 2023 only the reception baseline will be in play.

The attainment standard will be based on achievement of ‘a scaled score of 100 or more’ in each of the reading and maths tests and achievement, via teacher assessment, of the new expected standard in writing (presumably the middle of the five described above).

The attainment standard is significantly more demanding, in that the present requirement is for 65% of learners to meet the expected standard – and the standard itself will now be pitched higher, at the equivalent of Level 4B.

The original consultation document says:

‘Our modelling suggests that a progress measure set at this level, combined with the 85% threshold attainment measure, would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present. Over time we will consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards.’

The consultation response does not confirm this judgement.

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Developments

The only significant development since the publication of the consultation response is the detail provided on the June 2014 webpage New accountability arrangements for infant schools from 2016.

In addition to the points in the previous section, this also confirms that:

‘…there will not be a floor standard for infant schools’

But this statement has been called into question, since the table from the performance descriptors consultation, reproduced above, appears to suggest that KS1 teacher assessments in reading, writing and maths do contribute to a floor standard – whether for infant or all-through primary schools is unclear.

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The aforementioned Centre Forum Report ‘Progress matters in Primary too’ (January 2015) also appears to call into question the results of the modelling reported in the initial consultation document.

It says:

‘…the likelihood is that, based on current performance, progress will be the measure used for the vast majority of schools, at least in the short to medium term. Even those schools which achieve the attainment floor target will only do so by ensuring at least average progress is made by their pupils. As a result, progress will in practice be the dominant accountability metric.’

It undertakes modelling based on 2013 attainment data – ie simulating the effect of the new standards had they been in place in 2013, using selected learning areas within the EYFSP as a proxy for the reception baseline – which suggests that just 10% of schools in 2013 would have met the new attainment floor.

It concludes that:

‘For the vast majority of schools, progress will be their only option for avoiding intervention when the reforms come into effect.’

Unfortunately though, it does not provide an estimate of the proportion of schools likely to achieve the progress floor standard, with either the current KS1 baseline or its proxy for a reception baseline.

Outstanding Tasks

  • Confirm the detailed methodology for deriving both the attainment and progress elements of the floor standards, in relation to both the new reception baseline and the interim KS1 baseline (summer 2015?)
  • Set the amount of progress required to achieve the progress element of the floor standards (summer 2016)
  • (In the consultation document) Consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards and ‘move to three year rolling averages for floor standard measures’ (long term)

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Overall progress, Purdah and General Election outcomes

Progress to date and actions outstanding

The lists of outstanding actions above record some 40 tasks necessary to the successful implementation of the primary assessment and accountability reforms.

If the ‘advance notice’ conventions are observed, roughly half of these require completion by the end of the summer term in July 2015, within the two windows of 50 working days on either side of Purdah.

These conventions have already been set aside in some cases, most obviously in respect of reception baseline assessment and the performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment.

Unsurprisingly, the commentary above suggests that these two strands of the reform programme are the most complex and potentially the most problematic.

The sheer number of outstanding tasks and the limited time in which to complete them could pose problems.

It is important to remember that there are similar reforms in the secondary and post-16 sectors that need to be managed in parallel.

The leaked amber/red rating was attributed solely to the negative reaction to the draft performance descriptors, but it could also reflect a wider concern that all the necessary steps may not be completed in time to give schools the optimal period for planning and preparation.

Schools may be able to cope with shorter notice in a few instances, where the stakes are relatively low, but if too substantive a proportion of the overall reform programme is delayed into next academic year, they will find the cumulative impact much harder to manage.

In a worst case scenario, implementation of some elements might need to be delayed by a year, although the corollary would be an extended transition period for schools that would be less than ideal. It may also be difficult to disentangle the different strands given the degree of interdependency between them.

Given the proximity of a General Election, it may not be politic to confirm such delays before Purdah intervenes: the path of least resistance is probably to postpone any difficult decisions for consideration by the incoming government.

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The implications of Purdah

As noted above, if the General Election result is clear-cut, Purdah will last some five-and-a-half weeks and will occur at a critical point in the implementation timetable.

The impact of Purdah should not be under-estimated.

From the point at which Parliament is dissolved on Monday 30 March, the Government must abstain from major policy decisions and announcements.

The Election is typically announced a few days before the dissolution of Parliament. This ‘wash up’ period between announcement and dissolution is typically used to complete essential unfinished business.

The Cabinet Office issues guidance on conduct during Purdah shortly before it begins.

The 2015 guidance has not yet issued so the 2010 guidance is the best source of information about what to expect.

Key points include:

  • ‘Decisions on matters of policy on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the Election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.’
  • ‘Officials should not… be asked to devise new policies or arguments…’
  • ‘Departmental communications staff may…properly continue to discharge during the Election period their normal function only to the extent of providing factual explanation of current Government policy, statements and decisions.’
  • ‘There would normally be no objection to issuing routine factual publications, for example, health and safety advice but these will have to be decided on a case by case basis taking account of the subject matter and the intended audience.’
  • ‘Regular statistical releases and research reports (e.g. press notices, bulletins, publications or electronic releases) will continue to be issued and published on dates which have been pre-announced. Ad hoc statistical releases or research reports should be released only where a precise release date has been published prior to the Election period. Where a pre-announcement has specified that the information would be released during a specified period (e.g. a week, or longer time period), but did not specify a precise day, releases should not be published within the Election period.’
  • ‘Research: Fieldwork involving interviews with the public or sections of it will be postponed or abandoned although regular, continuous and on-going statistical surveys may continue.’
  • ‘Official websites…the release of new online services and publication of reworked content should not occur until after the General Election… Content may be updated for factual accuracy but no substantial revisions should be made and distributed.’
  • The general principles and conventions set out in this guidance apply to NDPBs and similar public bodies.

Assuming similar provisions in 2015, most if not all of the assessment and accountability work programme would grind to a halt.

To take an example, it is conceivable that those awarded baseline assessment contracts would be able to recruit schools after 30 March, but they will receive little or no help from the DfE during the Purdah period. Given that the recruitment deadline is 30 April, this may be expected to depress recruitment significantly.

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The impact of different General Election outcomes

Forming a Government in the case of a Hung Parliament may also take some time, further delaying the process.

The six days taken in 2010 may not be a guide to what will happen in 2015.

The Cabinet Manual (2011) says:

‘Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative…

…The nature of the government formed will be dependent on discussions between political parties and any resulting agreement. Where there is no overall majority, there are essentially three broad types of government that could be formed:

  • single-party, minority government, where the party may (although not necessarily) be supported by a series of ad hoc agreements based on common interests;
  • formal inter-party agreement, for example the Liberal–Labour pact from 1977 to 1978; or
  • formal coalition government, which generally consists of ministers from more than one political party, and typically commands a majority in the House of Commons’.

If one or more of the parties forming the next government has a different policy on assessment and accountability, this could result in pressure to amend or withdraw parts of the reform programme.

If a single party is involved, pre-Election contact with civil servants may have clarified its intentions, enabling work to resume as soon as the new government is in place but, if more than one party is involved, it may take longer to agree the preferred way forward.

Under a worst case scenario, planners might need to allow for Purdah and post-Election negotiations to consume eight weeks or longer.

The impact of the Election on the shape and scope of the primary assessment and accountability reforms will also depend on which party or parties enter government.

If the same Coalition partners are returned, one might expect uninterrupted implementation, unless the minority Lib Dems seek to negotiate different arrangements, which seems unlikely.

But if a different party or a differently constituted Coalition forms the Government, one might expect decisions to abandon or delay some aspects of the programme.

If Labour forms the Government, or is the major party in a Coalition, some unravelling will be necessary.

They are broadly committed to the status quo:

‘Yet when it comes to many of the technical day-to-day aspects of school leadership – child protection, curriculum reform, assessment and accountability – we believe that a period of stability could prove beneficial for raising pupil achievement. This may not be an exciting rallying cry, but it is crucial that the incoming government takes account of the classroom realities.’

Hunt has also declared:

‘Do not mistake me: I am zealot for minimum standards, rigorous assessment and intelligent accountability.

But if we choose to focus upon exam results and league tables to the detriment of everything else, then we are simply not preparing our young people for the demands of the 21st century.’

And, thus far, Labour has made few specific commitments in this territory.

  • They support reception baseline assessment but whether that extends to sustaining a market of providers is unknown. Might they be inclined to replace this with a single national assessment?.
  • There is very little about floor targets – a Labour invention – although the Blunkett Review appears to suggest that Directors of School Standards will enjoy some discretion in respect of their enforcement.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely that they would delay some of the strands described above – and potentially simplify others.

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Conclusion

The primary assessment reform programme is both extensive and highly complex, comprising several strands and many interdependencies.

Progress to date can best be described as halting.

There are still many steps to be taken and difficult issues to resolve, about half of which should be completed by the end of this academic year. Pre-Election Purdah will cut significantly into the time available.

More announcements may be delayed into the summer holidays or the following autumn term, but this reduces the planning and preparation time available to schools and has potentially significant workload implications.

Alternatively, implementation of some elements or strands may be delayed by a year, but this extends the transition period between old and new arrangements. Any such rationalisation seems likely to be delayed until after the Election and decisions will be influenced by its outcome.

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[Postscript: The commitment in the Government’s Workload Challenge response to a one-year lead time, to be encapsulated in a Protocol published in ‘spring 2015′, may result in earlier commitments to delay, provided that the Protocol is published by 30 March.

The performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment are one obvious example of a reform that may be caught by the Protocol]

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If Labour is the dominant party, they may be more inclined to simplify some strands, especially baseline assessment and statutory teacher assessment, while also providing much more intensive support for schools wrestling with the removal of levels.

Given the evidence set out above, ‘amber/red’ seems an appropriate rating for the programme as a whole.

It seems increasingly likely that some significant adjustments will be essential, regardless of the Election outcome.

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GP

January 2015

Addressed to Teach First and its Fair Education Alliance

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This short opinion piece was originally commissioned by the TES in November.

My draft reached them on 24 November; they offered some edits on 17 December.

Betweentimes the Fair Education Alliance Report Card made its appearance on 9 December.

Then Christmas intervened.

On 5 January I offered the TES a revised version they said should be published on 27 February.

It wasn’t, so we’re over 100 days on from when the post was first commissioned.

But there’s no reason why you should wait any longer. This version is more comprehensive anyway, in that it includes several relevant Twitter comments and additional explanatory material.

I very much hope that Teach First and members of the Fair Education Alliance will read it and reflect seriously on the proposal it makes.

As the last sequence of Tweets shows, Teach First committed to an online response on 14 February. Still waiting…

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How worried are you that so few students on free school meals make it to Oxbridge?

Many different reasons are offered by those who argue that such concern may be misplaced:

  • FSM is a poor proxy for disadvantage; any number of alternatives is preferable;
  • We shouldn’t single out Oxbridge when so many other selective universities have similarly poor records;
  • We obsess about Oxbridge when we should be focused on progression to higher education as a whole;
  • We should worry instead about progression to the most selective courses, which aren’t necessarily at the most selective universities;
  • Oxbridge suits a particular kind of student; we shouldn’t force square pegs into round holes;
  • We shouldn’t get involved in social engineering.

Several of these points are well made. But they can be deployed as a smokescreen, obscuring the uncomfortable fact that, despite our collective best efforts, there has been negligible progress against the FSM measure for a decade or more.

Answers to Parliamentary Questions supplied  by BIS say that the total fluctuated between 40 and 45 in the six years from 2005/06 to 2010/11.

The Department for Education’s experimental destination measures statistics suggested that the 2010/11 intake was 30, rising to 50 in 2011/12, of which 40 were from state-funded schools and 10 from state-funded colleges. But these numbers are rounded to the nearest 10.

By comparison, the total number of students recorded as progressing to Oxbridge from state-funded schools and colleges in 2011/12 is 2,420.

This data underpins the adjustment of DfE’s  ‘FSM to Oxbridge’ impact indicator, from 0.1% to 0.2%. It will be interesting to see whether there is stronger progress in the 2012/13 destination measures, due later this month.

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[Postscript: The 2012/13 Destinations Data was published on 26 January 2014. The number of FSM learners progressing to Oxbridge is shown only in the underlying data (Table NA 12).

This tells us that the numbers are unchanged: 40 from state-funded schools; 10 from state-funded colleges, with both totals again rounded to the nearest 10.

So any improvement in 2011/12 has stalled in 2012/13, or is too small to register given the rounding (and the rounding might even mask a deterioration)

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The non-FSM totals progressing to Oxbridge in 2012/13 are 2,080 from state-funded schools and 480 from state-funded colleges, giving a total of 2,560. This is an increase of some 6% compared with 2011/12.

Subject to the vagaries of rounding, this suggests that the ratio of non-FSM to FSM learners progressing from state-funded institutions deteriorated in 2012/13 compared with 2011/12.]

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The routine explanation is that too few FSM-eligible students achieve the top grades necessary for admission to Oxbridge. But answers to Parliamentary Questions reveal that, between 2006 and 2011, the number achieving three or more A-levels at grade A or above increased by some 45 per cent, reaching 546 in 2011.

Judged on this measure, our national commitment to social mobility and fair access is not cutting the mustard. Substantial expenditure – by the taxpayer, by universities and the third sector – is making too little difference too slowly. Transparency is limited because the figures are hostages to fortune.

So what could be done about this? Perhaps the answer lies with Teach First and the Fair Education Alliance.

Towards the end of last year Teach First celebrated a decade of impact. It published a report and three pupil case studies, one of which featured a girl who was first in her school to study at Oxford.

I tweeted

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Teach First has a specific interest in this area, beyond its teacher training remit. It runs a scheme, Teach First Futures, for students who are  “currently under-represented in universities, including those whose parents did not go to university and those who have claimed free school meals”.

Participants benefit from a Teach First mentor throughout the sixth form, access to a 4-day Easter school at Cambridge, university day trips, skills workshops and careers sessions. Those applying to Oxbridge receive unspecified additional support.

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Information about the number of participants is not always consistent, but various Teach First sources suggest there were some 250 in 2009, rising to 700 in 2013. This year the target is 900. Perhaps some 2,500 have taken part to date.

Teach First’s impact report  says that 30 per cent of those who had been through the programme in 2013 secured places at Russell Group universities and that 60 per cent of participants interviewed at Oxbridge received an offer.

I searched for details of how many – FSM or otherwise – had actually been admitted to Oxbridge. Apart from one solitary case study, all I could find was a report that mentioned four Oxbridge offers in 2010.

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Through the Fair Education Alliance, Teach First and its partners are committed to five impact goals, one of which is to:

‘Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25% most selective universities, by 8%’*

Last month the Alliance published a Report Card which argued that:

‘The current amount of pupil premium allocated per disadvantaged pupil should be halved, and the remaining funds redistributed to those pupils who are disadvantaged and have low prior attainment. This would give double-weighting to those low income pupils most in need of intervention without raising overall pupil premium spend.’

It is hard to understand how this would improve the probability of achieving the impact goal above, even though the gaps the Alliance wishes to close are between schools serving high and low income communities.

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Perhaps it should also contemplate an expanded Alliance Futures Scheme, targeting simultaneously this goal and the Government’s ‘FSM to Oxbridge’ indicator, so killing two birds with one stone.

A really worthwhile Scheme would need to be ambitious, imposing much-needed coherence without resorting to prescription.

Why not consider:

  • A national framework for the supply side, in which all providers – universities included – position their various services.
  • Commitment on the part of all secondary schools and colleges to a coherent long-term support programme for FSM students, with open access at KS3 but continuing participation in KS4 and KS5 subject to successful progress.
  • Schools and colleges responsible for identifying participants’ learning and development needs and addressing those through a blend of internal provision and appropriate services drawn from the national framework.
  • A personal budget for each participant, funded through an annual £50m topslice from the Pupil Premium (there is a precedent) plus a matching sum from universities’ outreach budgets. Those with the weakest fair access records would contribute most. Philanthropic donations would be welcome.
  • The taxpayer’s contribution to all university funding streams made conditional on them meeting challenging but realistic fair access and FSM graduation targets – and publishing full annual data in a standard format.

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*In the Report card, this impact goal is differently expressed, as narrowing the gap in university graduation, so that at least 5,000 more students from low income backgrounds graduate each year, 1,600 of them from the most selective universities. This is to be achieved by 2022.

‘Low income backgrounds’ means schools where 50% or more pupils come from the most deprived 30% of families according to IDACI.

The gap to be narrowed is between these and pupils from ‘high income backgrounds’, defined as schools where 50% or more pupils come from the least deprived 30% of families according to IDACI.

‘The most selective universities’ means those in the Sutton Trust 30 (the top 25% of universities with the highest required UCAS scores).

The proposed increases in graduation rates from low income backgrounds do not of themselves constitute a narrowing gap, since there is no information about the corresponding changes in graduation rates from high income grounds.

This unique approach to closing gaps adds yet another methodology to the already long list applied to fair access. It risks adding further density to the smokescreen described at the start of this post.

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GP

January 2015

2014 Primary and Secondary Transition Matrices: High Attainers’ Performance

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This is my annual breakdown of what the Transition Matrices tell us about the national performance of high attainers.

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

It complements my reviews of High Attainment in the 2014 Primary Performance Tables (December 2014) and of High Attainment in the 2014 Secondary and Post-16 Performance Tables (forthcoming, in February 2015).

The analysis is based on:

  • The 2014 Static national transition matrices for reading, writing and mathematics – Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 (October 2014) and
  • The 2014 Static key Stage 2 to 4 National transition matrices unamended – English and maths (December 2014).

There is also some reference to SFR41/2014: Provisional GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2013 to 2014.

The post begins with some important explanatory notes, before examining the primary and then the secondary matrices. There is a commentary on each matrix, followed by a summary of the key challenges for each sector.

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Explanatory notes

The static transition matrices take into account results from maintained mainstream and maintained and non-maintained special schools. 

The tables reproduced below use colour coding:

  • purple = more than expected progress
  • dark green = expected progress
  • light green = less than expected progress and
  • grey = those excluded from the calculation.

I will assume that readers are familiar with expectations of progress under the current system of national curriculum levels.

I have written before about the assumptions underpinning this approach and some of the issues it raises.

(See in particular the sections called:

 ‘How much progress does the accountability regime expect from high attainers?’ and

‘Should we expect more progress from high attainers?’)

I have not reprised that discussion here.

The figures within the tables are percentages – X indicates data that has been suppressed (where the cohort comprises only one or two learners). Because of rounding, lines do not always add up to 100%.

In the case of the primary matrices, the commentary below concentrates on the progress made by learners who achieved level 3 or level 4 at KS1. In the case of the secondary matrices, it focuses on those who achieved sub-levels 5A, 5B or 5C at KS2.

Although the primary matrices include progression from KS1 level 4, the secondary matrices do not include progression from KS2 level 6 since the present level 6 tests were introduced only in 2012. Those completing GCSEs in 2014 will typically have undertaken KS2 assessment five years earlier.

The analysis includes comparison with the matrices for 2012 and 2013 respectively.

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The impact of policy change on the secondary matrices

This comparison is straightforward for the primary sector (KS1 to KS2) but is problematic when it comes to the secondary matrices (KS2 to KS4).

As SFR41/2014 makes clear, the combined impact of:

  • vocational education reforms (restricting eligible qualifications and significantly reducing the weighting of some of them) and 
  • early entry policy (recording in performance measures only the first result achieved, rather than the outcome of any retakes)

has depressed overall KS4 results.

The impact of these factors on progress is not discussed within the text, although one of the tables gives overall percentages for those making the expected progress under the old and new methodologies respectively.

It does so for two separate groups of institutions, neither of which is perfectly comparable with the transition matrices because of the treatment of special schools:

  • State funded mainstream schools (excluding state-funded special schools and non-maintained special schools) and
  • State-funded schools (excluding non-maintained special schools).

However, the difference is likely to be marginal.

There is certainly very little difference between the two sets of figures for the categories above, though the percentages are very slightly larger for the first.

They show:

  • A variation of 2.3 percentage points in English (72.1% making at least the expected progress under the new methodology compared with 74.4% under the old) and
  • A variation of 2.4 percentage points in maths (66.4% making at least the expected progress compared with 68.8%).

There is no such distinction in the static transition matrices, nor does the SFR provide any information about the impact of these policy changes for different levels of prior attainment.

It seems a reasonable starting hypothesis that the impact will be much reduced at higher levels of prior attainment, because comparatively fewer students will be pursuing vocational qualifications.

One might also expect comparatively fewer high attainers to require English and/or maths retakes, even when the consequences of early entry are factored in, but that is rather more provisional.

It may be that the differential impact of these reforms on progression from different levels of prior attainment will be discussed in the statistical releases to be published alongside the Secondary Performance Tables. In that case I will update this treatment.

For the time being, my best counsel is:

  • To be aware that these policy changes have almost certainly had some impact on the progress of secondary high attainers, but 
  • Not to fall into the trap of assuming that they must explain all – or even a substantial proportion – of any downward trends (or absence of upward trends for that matter).

There will be more to say about this in the light of the analysis below.

Is this data still meaningful?

As we all know, the measurement of progression through national curriculum levels will shortly be replaced by a new system.

There is a temptation to regard the methodology underpinning the transition matrices as outmoded and irrelevant.

For the time being though, the transition matrices remain significant to schools (and to Ofsted) and there is an audience for analysis based on them.

Moreover, it is important that we make our best efforts to track annual changes under the present system, right up to the point of changeover.

We should also be thinking now about how to match progression outcomes under the new model with those available under the current system, so as to secure an uninterrupted perspective of trends over time.

Otherwise our conclusions about the longer-term impact of educational policies to raise standards and close gaps will be sadly compromised.

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2014 Primary Transition Matrices

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Reading

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TM reading KS12 Capture

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Commentary:

  • It appears that relatively few KS1 learners with L4 reading achieved the minimum expected 2 levels of progress by securing L6 at the end of KS2. It is not possible for these learners to make more than the expected progress. The vast majority (92%) recorded a single level of progress, to KS2 L5. This contrasts with 2013, when 12% of KS1 L4 learners did manage to progress to KS2 L6, while only 88% were at KS2 L5. Caution is necessary since the sample of L1 KS4 readers is so small. (The X suggests the total cohort could be as few as 25 pupils.)
  • The table shows that 1% of learners achieving KS1 L3 reading made 3 levels of progress to KS2 L6, exactly the same proportion as in 2012 and 2013. But we know that L6 reading test entries were up 36% compared with 2013: one might reasonably have expected some increase in this percentage as a consequence. The absence of improvement may be attributable to the collapse in success rates on the 2014 L6 reading test.
  • 90% of learners achieving KS1 L3 made the expected 2 or more levels of progress to KS2 L5 or above, 89% making 2 levels of progress to L5. The comparable figures for those making 2 LoP in 2013 and 2012 were 85% and 89% respectively.
  • In 2014 only 10% of those achieving LS1 L3 made a single level of progress to KS2 L4, compared with 13% in 2013 and 10% in 2012. 
  • So, when it comes to L3 prior attainers, the 2013 dip has been overcome, but there has been no improvement beyond the 2012 outcomes. Chart 1 makes this pattern more obvious, illustrating clearly that there has been relatively little improvement across the board.

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TM chart 1

Chart 1: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 reading making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014

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  • The proportion of learners with KS1 L3 making the expected progress is significantly lower than the proportions with KS1 L2A, L2B or L2 overall who do so. This pattern is unchanged from 2012 and 2013.
  • The proportion exceeding 2 LoP is also far higher for every other level of KS1 prior achievement, also unchanged from 2012 and 2013.
  • Whereas the gap between KS1 L2 and L3 making more than 2 LoP was 36 percentage points in 2013, by 2014 it had increased substantially to 43 percentage points (44% versus 1%). This may again be partly attributable to the decline in L6 reading results.

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Writing

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TM writing KS12 Capture

Commentary:

  • 55% of learners with L4 in KS1 writing made the expected 2 levels of progress to KS2 L6, while only 32% made a single level of progress to KS2 L5. This throws into sharper relief the comparable results for L4 readers. 
  • On the other hand, the 2013 tables recorded 61% of L4 writers making the expected progress, six percentage points higher than the 2014 success rate, so there has been a decline in success rates in both reading and writing for this small cohort. The reason for this is unknown, but it may simply be a consequence of the small sample.
  • Of those achieving KS1 L3, 12% made 3 LoP to KS2 L6, up from 6% in 2012 and 9% in 2013. The comparison with reading is again marked. A further 2% of learners with KS1 L2A made 4 levels of progress to KS2 L6.
  • 91% of learners with KS1 L3 writing made the expected 2 or more levels of progress, up from 89% in 2013. Some 79% made 2 LoP to L5, compared with 80% in 2013 and 79% in 2012, so there has been relatively little change.
  • However, in 2014 9% made only a single level of progress to KS2 L4. This is an improvement on 2013, when 11% did so and continues an improving trend from 2012 when 15% fell into this category, although the rate of improvement has slowed somewhat. 
  • These positive trends are illustrated in Chart 2 below, which shows reductions in the proportion achieving a single LoP broadly matched by corresponding improvements in the proportion achieving 3 LoP.

TM chart 2 

Chart 2: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 writing making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014

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  • The proportion of learners with KS1 L3 making the expected progress is again lower than the proportions with KS1 L2A, L2B or L2 overall doing so. It is even lower than the proportion of those with KS1 L1 achieving this outcome. This is unchanged from 2013.
  • The proportion exceeding 2 LoP is far higher for every other level of KS1 achievement excepting L2C, again unchanged from 2013.
  • The percentage point gap between those with KS1 L2 overall and LS1 L3 making more than 2 LoP was 20 points in 2013 and remains unchanged at 20 points in 2014. Once again again there is a marked contrast with reading. 

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Maths

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TM maths KS12 Capture

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Commentary:

  • 95% of those achieving L4 maths at KS1 made the expected 2 levels of progress to KS2 L6. These learners are unable to make more than expected progress. Only 5% made a single level of progress to KS2 L5. 
  • There is a marked improvement since 2013, when 89% made the expected progress and 11% fell short. This is significantly better than KS1 L4 progression in writing and hugely better than KS1 L4 progression in reading.
  • 35% of learners with KS1 L3 maths also made 3 levels of progress to KS2 L6. This percentage is up from 26% in 2013 and 14% in 2012, indicating a continuing trend of strong improvement. In addition, 6% of those with L2A and 1% of those at L2B managed 4 levels of progress to KS2 L6.
  • 91% of learners with KS1 L3 made the expected progress (up one percentage point compared with 2013). Of these, 56% made 2 LoP to KS2 L5. However, 9% made only a single level of progress to KS2 L4 (down a single percentage point compared with 2013).
  • Chart 3 illustrates these positive trends. It contrasts with the similar charts for writing above, in that the rate at which the proportion of L3 learners making a single LoP is reducing is much slower than the rate of improvement in the proportion of KS1 L3 learners making 3 LoP.

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TM chart 3

Chart 3: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 maths making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014

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  • The proportion of learners with KS1 L3 in maths who achieved the expected progress is identical to the proportion achieving L2 overall that do so, at 91%. However, these rates are lower than for learners with KS1 2B and especially 2A.
  • The proportion exceeding 2 LoP is also identical for those with KS1 L3 and L2 overall (whereas in 2013 there was a seven percentage point gap in favour of those with KS1 L2). The proportion of those with KS1 L2A exceeding 2 LoP remains significantly higher, but the gap has narrowed by six percentage points compared with 2013.

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Key Challenges: Progress of High Attainers between KS1 and KS2

The overall picture from the primary transition matrices is one of comparatively strong progress in maths, positive progress in writing and a much more mixed picture in reading. But in none of these areas is the story unremittingly positive.

Priorities should include:

  • Improving progression from KS1 L4 to KS2 L6, so that the profile for writing becomes more similar to the profile for maths and, in particular, so that the profile for reading much more closely resembles the profile for writing. No matter how small the cohort, it cannot be acceptable that 92% of KS1 L4 readers make only a single level of progress.
  • Reducing to negligible the proportion of KS1 L3 learners making a single level of progress to KS2 L4. Approximately 1 in 10 learners continue to do so in all three assessments, although there has been some evidence of improvement since 2012, particularly in writing. Other than in maths, the proportion of KS1 L3 learners making a single LoP is significantly higher than the proportion of KS1 L2 learners doing so. 
  • Continuing to improve the proportion of KS1 L3 learners making 3 LoP in each of the three assessments, maintaining the strong rate of improvement in maths, increasing the rate of improvement in writing and moving beyond stagnation at 1% in reading. 
  • Eliminating the percentage point gaps between those with KS1 L2A making at least the expected progress and those with KS1 L3 doing so (5 percentage points in maths and 9 percentage points in each of reading and writing). At the very least, those at KS1 L3 should be matching those at KS1 L2B, but there are presently gaps between them of 2 percentage points in maths, 5 percentage points in reading and 6 percentage points in writing.

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Secondary Transition Matrices

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English

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TM English KS24 Capture

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Commentary:

  • 98% of learners achieving L5A English at KS2 made at least 3 levels of progress to GCSE grade B or above in 2014. The same is true of 93% of those with KS2 L5B and 75% of those with KS2 L5C. All three figures have improved by one percentage point compared with 2013. The comparable figures in 2012 were 98%, 92% and 70% respectively.
  • 88% of learners achieving L5A at KS2 achieved at least four levels of progress from KS2 to KS4, so achieving a GCSE grade of A* or A, as did 67% of those with L5B and 34% of those with 5C. The comparable figures in 2013 were 89%, 66% and 33% respectively, while in 2012 they were 87%, 64% and 29% respectively.
  • 51% of learners with KS2 L5A made 5 levels of progress by achieving an A* grade at GCSE, compared with 25% of those with L5B, 7% of those with L5C and 1% of those with L4A. The L5B and L5C figures were improvements on 2013 outcomes. The 2014 success rate for those with KS2 L5A is down by two percentage points, while that for L5B is up by two points.
  • These cumulative totals suggest relatively little change in 2014 compared with 2013, with the possible exception of these two-percentage-point swings in the proportions of students making 5 LoP. 
  • The chart below compares the proportion of students with KS2 L5A, 5B and 5C respectively making exactly 3, 4 and 5 LoP. (NB: these are not the same as the cumulative totals quoted above). This again shows relatively small changes in 2014, compared with 2013, and no obvious pattern.

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TM chart 4

Chart 4: Percentage of learners with KS2 L5A, L5B and L5C in English achieving 3, 4 and 5 levels of progress, 2012-2014

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  • 1% of learners with KS2 L5A made only 2 levels of progress to GCSE grade C, as did 6% of those with L5B and 20% of those with L5C. These percentages are again little changed compared with 2013, following a much more significant improvement between 2012 and 2013).
  • The percentages of learners with KS2 L4A who achieve at least 3 and at least 4 levels of progress – at 87% and 48% respectively – are significantly higher than the corresponding percentages for those with KS2 L5C. These gaps have also changed very little compared with 2013.

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Maths

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TM Maths KS24 Capture

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Commentary:

  • 96% of learners with L5A at KS2 achieved the expected progress between KS2 and KS4 in 2014, as did 86% of those with KS2 L5B and 65% of those with KS2 L5C. The comparable percentages in 2013 were 97%, 88% and 70%, while in 2012 they were 96%, 86% and 67%. This means there have been declines compared with 2013 for L5A (one percentage point) L5B (two percentage points) and L5C (five percentage points).
  • 80% of learners with KS2 L5A made 4 or more levels of progress between KS2 and KS4, so achieving a GCSE grade A* or A. The same was true of 54% of those with L5B and 26% of those with L5C. In 2013, these percentages were 85%, 59% and 31% respectively, while in 2012 they were 84%, 57% and 30% respectively. So all the 2014 figures – for L5A, L5B and L5C alike, are five percentage points down compared with 2013.
  • In 2014 48% of learners with KS2 L5A made 5 levels of progress by achieving a GCSE A* grade, compared with 20% of those with L5B, 5% of those with L5C and 1% of those with L4A. All three percentages for those with KS2 L5 are down compared with 2013 – by 3 percentage points in the case of those with L5A, 2 points for those with L5B and 1 point for those with L5C.
  • It is evident that there is rather more volatility in the trends in maths progression and some of the downward swings are more pronounced than in English.
  • The chart below compares the proportion of students with KS2 L5A, 5B and 5C respectively making exactly 3, 4 and 5 LoP. (NB, these are not the cumulative totals quoted above). The only discernible pattern is that any improvement is confined to those making 3 LoP.

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TM chart 5

Chart 5: Percentage of learners with KS2 L5A, L5B and L5C in Maths achieving 3, 4 and 5 levels of progress, 2012-2014

  • 4% of those with KS2 L5A made only 2 LoP to GCSE grade C, as did 13% of those with L5B and 31% of those with L5C. All three percentages have worsened compared with 2013, by 1, 2 and 4 percentage points respectively.
  • The percentages of learners with KS2 L4A who achieve at least 3 and at least 4 levels of progress – at 85% and 37% respectively – are significantly higher than the corresponding percentages for those with L5C, just as they are in English. And, as is the case with English, the percentage point gaps have changed little compared with 2013.

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Key Challenges: Progress of High Attainers Between KS2 and KS4

The overall picture for high attainers from the secondary transition matrices is of relatively little change in English and of rather more significant decline in maths, though not by any means across the board.

It may be that the impact of the 2014 policy changes on high attainers has been relatively more pronounced in maths than in English – and perhaps more pronounced in maths than might have been expected.

If this is the case, one suspects that the decision to restrict reported outcomes to first exam entries is the most likely culprit.

On the other hand, it might be true that relatively strong improvement in English progression has been cancelled out by these policy changes, though the figures provided in the SFR for expected progress regardless of prior attainment make this more unlikely.

Leaving causation aside, the most significant challenges for the secondary sector are to:

  • Significantly improve the progression rates for learners with KS2 L5A to A*. It should be a default expectation that they achieve five levels of progress, yet only 48% do so in maths and 51% in English – and these percentages are down 5 and 2 percentage points respectively compared with 2013.
  • Similarly, significantly improve the progression rates for learners with KS2 L5B to grade A. It should be a default expectation that they achieve at least 4 LoP, yet only 67% do so in English and 54% in maths – down one point since 2013 in English and 5 points in maths.
  • Reduce and ideally eliminate the rump of high attainers who make a single LoP. This is especially high for those with KS2 L5C – 20% in English and, still worse, 31% in maths – but there is also a problem for those with 5B in maths, 13% of whom fall into this category. The proportion making a single LoP from 5C in maths has risen by 4 percentage points since 2013, while there has also been a 2 point rise for those with 4B. (Thankfully the L5C rate in English has improved by 2 points, but there is a long way still to go.)
  • Close significantly, the progression performance gaps between learners with KS2 L5C and KS2 L4A, in both English and maths. In English there is currently a 12 percentage point gap for those making expected progress and a 14-point gap for those exceeding it. In maths, these gaps are 20 and 11 percentage points respectively. The problem in maths seems particularly pronounced. These gaps have changed little since 2013.

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Conclusion

This analysis of high attainers’ progression suggests a very mixed picture, across the primary and secondary sectors and beween English and maths. There is some limited scope for congratulation, but too many persistent issues remain.

The commentary has identified four key challenges for each sector, which can be synthesised under two broad headings:

  • Raising expectations beyond the minimum expected progress – and significantly reducing our tolerance of underachievement amongst this cohort. 
  • Ensuring that those at the lower end of the high attaining spectrum sustain their initial momentum, at least matching the rather stronger progress of those with slightly lower prior attainment.

The secondary picture has become confused this year by the impact of policy changes.

We do not know to what extent these explain any downward trends – or depress any upward trends – for those with high prior attainment, though one may tentatively hypothesise that any impact has been rather more significant in maths than in English.

It would be quite improper to assume that the changes in high attainers’ progression rates compared with 2013 are entirely attributable to the impact of these policy adjustments.

It would be more accurate to say that they mask any broader trends in the data, making those more difficult to isolate.

We should not allow this methodological difficulty – or the impending replacement of the present levels-based system – to divert us from continuing efforts to improve the progression of high attainers.

For Ofsted is intensifying its scrutiny of how schools support the most able – and they will expect nothing less.

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GP

January 2015

Gifted Phoenix 2014 Review and Retrospective

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I am rounding out this year’s blogging with my customary backwards look at the various posts I published during 2014.

This is partly an exercise in self-congratulation but also flags up to readers any potentially useful posts they might have missed.

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Norwegian Panorama by Gifted Phoenix

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This is my 32nd post of the year, three fewer than the 35 I published in 2013. Even so, total blog views have increased by 20% compared with 2013.

Almost exactly half of these views originate in the UK. Other countries generating a large number of views include the United States, Singapore, India, Australia, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Canada and South Korea. The site has been visited this year by readers located in157 different countries.

My most popular post during 2014 was Gifted Education in Singapore: Part 2, which was published back in May 2012. This continues to attract interest in Singapore!

The most popular post written during 2014 was The 2013 Transition Matrices and High Attainers’ Performance (January).

Other 2014 posts that attracted a large readership were:

This illustrates just how strongly the accountability regime features in the priorities of English educators.

I have continued to feature comparatively more domestic topics: approximately 75% of my posts this year have been about the English education system. I have not ventured beyond these shores since September.

The first section below reviews the minority of posts with a global perspective; the second covers the English material. A brief conclusion offers my take on future prospects.

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Global Gifted Education

I began the year by updating my Blogroll, with the help of responses to Gifted Education Activity in the Blogosphere and on Twitter.

This post announced the creation of a Twitter list containing all the feeds I can find that mention gifted education (or a similar term, whether in English or another language) in their profile.

I have continued to update the list, which presently includes 1,312 feeds and has 22 subscribers. If you want to be included – or have additions to suggest – please don’t hesitate to tweet me.

While we’re on the subject, I should take this opportunity to thank my 5,960 Twitter followers, an increase of some 28% compared with this time last year.

In February I published A Brief Discussion about Gifted Labelling and its Permanency. This recorded a debate I had on Twitter about whether the ‘gifted label’ might be used more as a temporary marker than a permanent sorting device.

March saw the appearance of How Well Does Gifted Education Use Social Media?

This proposed some quality criteria for social media usage and blogs/websites that operate within the field of gifted education.

It also reviewed the social media activity of six key players (WCGTC, ECHA, NAGC, SENG, NACE and Potential Plus UK) as well as wider activity within the blogosphere, on five leading social media platforms and utilising four popular content creation tools.

Some of the websites mentioned above have been recast since the post was published and are now much improved (though I claim no direct influence).

Also in March I published What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part One and Part Two.

These posts were scheduled just ahead of a conference organised by the Hungarian sponsors of the network. I did not attend, fearing that the proceedings would have limited impact on the future direction of this once promising initiative. I used the posts to set out my reservations, which include a failure to engage with constructive criticism.

Part One scrutinises the Hungarian talent development model on which the European Network is based. Part Two describes the halting progress made by to date. It identifies several deficiencies that need to be addressed if the Network is to have a significant and lasting impact on pan-European support for talent development and gifted education.

During April I produced PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving: International Comparison of High Achievers’ Performance

This analyses the performance of high achievers from a selection of 11 jurisdictions – either world leaders or prominent English-speaking nations – on the PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving assessment.

It is a companion piece to a 2013 post which undertook a similar analysis of the PISA 2012 assessments in Reading, Maths and Science.

In May I contributed to the Hoagies’ Bloghop for that month.

Air on the ‘G’ String: Hoagies’ Bloghop, May 2014 was my input to discussion about the efficacy of ‘the G word’ (gifted). I deliberately produced a provocative and thought-provoking piece which stirred typically intense reactions in several quarters.

Finally, September saw the production of Beware the ‘short head’: PISA’s Resilient Students’ Measure.

This takes a closer look at the relatively little-known PISA ‘resilient students’ measure – focused on high achievers from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds – and how well different jurisdictions perform against it.

The title reflects the post’s conclusion that, like many other countries, England:

‘…should be worrying as much about our ‘short head’ as our ‘long tail’’.

And so I pass seamlessly on to the series of domestic posts I published during 2014…

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English Education Policy

My substantive post in January was High Attainment in the 2013 Secondary and 16-18 Performance Tables, an analysis of the data contained in last year’s Tables and the related statistical publications.

Also in January I produced a much briefer commentary on The 2013 Transition Matrices and High Attainers’ Performance.

The purpose of these annual posts (and the primary equivalent which appears each December) is to synthesise data about the performance of high attainers and high attainment at national level, so that schools can more easily benchmark their own performance.

In February I wrote What Becomes of Schools that Fail their High Attainers?*

It examines the subsequent history of schools that recorded particularly poor results with high attainers in the Secondary Performance Tables. (The asterisk references a footnote apologising ‘for this rather tabloid title’.)

By March I was focused on Challenging NAHT’s Commission on Assessment subjecting the Commission’s Report to a suitably forensic examination and offering a parallel series of recommendations derived from it.

My April Fool’s joke this year was Plans for a National Centre for Education Research into Free Schools (CERFS). This has not materialised but, had our previous Secretary of State for Education not been reshuffled, I’m sure it would have been only a matter of time!

Also in April I was Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms, exposing some of the issues and uncertainties embodied in the government’s response to consultation on its proposals.

Some of the issues I highlighted eight months ago are now being more widely discussed – not least the nature of the performance descriptors, as set out in the recent consultation exercise dedicated to those.

But the reform process is slow. Many other issues remain unresolved and it seems increasingly likely that some of the more problematic will be delayed deliberately until after the General Election.

May was particularly productive, witnessing four posts, three of them substantial:

  • How well is Ofsted reporting on the most able? explores how Ofsted inspectors are interpreting the references to the attainment and progress of the most able added to the Inspection Handbook late last year. The sample comproses the 87 secondary inspection reports that were published in March 2014. My overall assessment? Requires Improvement.

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  • A Closer Look at Level 6 is a ‘data-driven analysis of Level 6 performance’. As well as providing a baseline against which to assess future Level 6 achievement, this also identifies several gaps in the published data and raises as yet unanswered questions about the nature of the new tests to be introduced from 2016.
  • One For The Echo Chamber was prompted by The Echo Chamber reblogging service, whose founder objected that my posts are too long, together with the ensuing Twitter debate. Throughout the year the vast majority of my posts have been unapologetically detailed and thorough. They are intended as reference material, to be quarried and revisited, rather than the disposable vignettes that so many seem to prefer. To this day they get reblogged on The Echo Chamber only when a sympathetic moderator is undertaking the task.
  • ‘Poor but Bright’ v ‘Poor but Dim’ arose from another debate on Twitter, sparked by a blog post which argued that the latter are a higher educational priority than the former. I argued that both deserved equal priority, since it is inequitable to discriminate between disadvantaged learners on the basis of prior attainment and the economic arguments cut both ways. This issue continues to bubble like a subterranean stream, only to resurface from time to time, most recently when the Fair Education Alliance proposed that the value of pupil premium allocations attached to disadvantaged high attainers should be halved.

In June I asked Why Can’t We Have National Consensus on Educating High Attainers? and proposed a set of core principles that might form the basis for such consensus.

These were positively received. Unfortunately though, the necessary debate has not yet taken place.

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The principles should be valuable to schools considering how best to respond to Ofsted’s increased scrutiny of their provision for the most able. Any institution considering how best to revitalise its provision might discuss how the principles should be interpreted to suit their particular needs and circumstances.

July saw the publication of Digging Beneath the Destination Measures which explored the higher education destinations statistics published the previous month.

It highlighted the relatively limited progress made towards improving the progression of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to selective universities.

There were no posts in August, half of which was spent in Norway, taking the photographs that have graced some of my subsequent publications.

In September I produced What Happened to the Level 6 Reading Results? an investigation into the mysterious collapse of L6 reading test results in 2014.

Test entries increased significantly. So did the success rates on the other level 6 tests (in maths and in grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS)).  Even teacher assessment of L6 reading showed a marked upward trend.

Despite all this, the number of pupils successful on the L6 reading test fell from 2,062 in 2013 to 851 (provisional). The final statistics – released only this month – show a marginal improvement to 935, but the outcome is still extremely disappointing. No convincing explanation has been offered and the impact on 2015 entries is unlikely to be positive.

That same month I published Closing England’s Excellence Gaps: Part One and Part Two.

These present the evidence base relating to high attainment gaps between disadvantaged and other learners, to distinguish what we know from what remains unclear and so to provide a baseline for further research.

The key finding is that the evidence base is both sketchy and fragmented. We should understand much more than we do about the size and incidence of excellence gaps. We should be strengthening the evidence base as part of a determined strategy to close the gaps.

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In October 16-19 Maths Free Schools Revisited marked a third visit to the 16-19 maths free schools programme, concentrating on progress since my previous post in March 2013, especially at the two schools which have opened to date.

I subsequently revised the post to reflect an extended series of tweeted comments from Dominic Cummings, who was a prime mover behind the programme. The second version is called 16-19 Maths Free Schools Revisited: Oddyssean Edition .

The two small institutions at KCL and Exeter University (both very similar to each other) constitute a rather limited outcome for a project that was intended to generate a dozen innovative university-sponsored establishments. There is reportedly a third school in the pipeline but, as 2014 closes, details have yet to be announced.

Excellence Gaps Quality Standard: Version One is an initial draft of a standard encapsulating effective whole school practice in supporting disadvantaged high attainers. It updates and adapts the former IQS for gifted and talented education.

This first iteration needs to be trialled thoroughly, developed and refined but, even as it stands, it offers another useful starting point for schools reviewing the effectiveness of their own provision.

The baseline standard captures the essential ‘non-negotiables’ intended to be applicable to all settings. The exemplary standard is pitched high and should challenge even the most accomplished of schools and colleges.

All comments and drafting suggestions are welcome.

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In November I published twin studies of The Politics of Setting and The Politics of Selection: Grammar Schools and Disadvantage.

These issues have become linked since Prime Minister Cameron has regularly proposed an extension of the former as a response to calls on the right wing of his party for an extension of the latter.

This was almost certainly the source of autumn media rumours that a strategy, originating in Downing Street, would be launched to incentivise and extend setting.

Newly installed Secretary of State Morgan presumably insisted that existing government policy (which leaves these matters entirely to schools) should remain undisturbed. However, the idea might conceivably be resuscitated for the Tory election manifesto.

Now that UKIP has confirmed its own pro-selection policy there is pressure on the Conservative party to resolve its internal tensions on the issue and identify a viable alternative position. But the pro-grammar lobby is unlikely to accept increased setting as a consolation prize…

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Earlier in December I added a companion piece to ‘The Politics of Selection’.

How Well Do Grammar Schools Perform With Disadvantaged Students? reveals that the remaining 163 grammar schools have very different records in this respect. The poor performance of a handful is a cause for concern.

I also published High Attainment in the 2014 Primary School Performance Tables – another exercise in benchmarking, this time for primary schools interested in how well they support high attainers and high attainment.

This shows that HMCI’s recent distinction between positive support for the most able in the primary sector and a much weaker record in secondary schools is not entirely accurate. There are conspicuous weaknesses in the primary sector too.

Meanwhile, Chinese learners continue to perform extraordinarily well on the Level 6 maths test, achieving an amazing 35% success rate, up six percentage points since 2013. This domestic equivalent of the Shanghai phenomenon bears closer investigation.

My penultimate post of the year HMCI Ups the Ante on the Most Able collates all the references to the most able in HMCI’s 2014 Annual Report and its supporting documentation.

It sets out Ofsted’s plans for the increased scrutiny of schools and for additional survey reports that reflect this scrutiny.

It asks the question whether Ofsted’s renewed emphasis will be sufficient to rectify the shortcomings they themselves identify and – assuming it will not – outlines an additional ten-step plan to secure system-wide improvement.

Conclusion

So what are the prospects for 2015 and beyond?

My 2013 Retrospective was decidedly negative about the future of global gifted education:

‘The ‘closed shop’ is as determinedly closed as ever; vested interests are shored up; governance is weak. There is fragmentation and vacuum where there should be inclusive collaboration for the benefit of learners. Too many are on the outside, looking in. Too many on the inside are superannuated and devoid of fresh ideas.’

Despite evidence of a few ‘green shoots’’ during 2014, my overall sense of pessimism remains.

Meanwhile, future prospects for high attainers in England hang in the balance.

Several of the Coalition Government’s education reforms have been designed to shift schools’ focus away from borderline learners, so that every learner improves, including those at the top of the attainment distribution.

On the other hand, Ofsted’s judgement that a third of secondary inspections this year

‘…pinpointed specific problems with teaching the most able’

would suggest that schools’ everyday practice falls some way short of this ideal.

HMCI’s commitment to champion the interests of the most able is decidedly positive but, as suggested above, it might not be enough to secure the necessary system-wide improvement.

Ofsted is itself under pressure and faces an uncertain future, regardless of the election outcome. HMCI’s championing might not survive the arrival of a successor.

It seems increasingly unlikely that any political party’s election manifesto will have anything significant to say about this topic, unless  the enthusiasm for selection in some quarters can be harnessed and redirected towards the much more pertinent question of how best to meet the needs of all high attainers in all schools and colleges, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But the entire political future is shrouded in uncertainty. Let’s wait and see how things are shaping up on the other side of the election.

From a personal perspective I am closing in on five continuous years of edutweeting and edublogging.

I once expected to extract from this commitment benefits commensurate with the time and energy invested. But that is no longer the case, if indeed it ever was.

I plan to call time at the end of this academic year.

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GP

December 2014

HMCI Ups the Ante on the Most Able

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Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Wilshaw made some important statements about the education of what Ofsted most often calls ‘the most able’ learners in his 2013/14 Annual Report and various supporting documents.

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Another Norwegian Landscape by Gifted Phoenix

This short post compiles and summarises these statements, setting them in the context of current inspection policy and anticipated changes to the inspection process.

It goes on to consider what further action might be necessary to remedy the deficiencies Ofsted has identified in schools and to boost our national capacity to educate high attainers.

It continues a narrative which runs through several of my previous posts including:

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What the Annual Report documents said

Ofsted’s press release marking publication of the 2013/14 Annual Report utilises a theme that runs consistently through all the documentation: while the primary sector continues to improve, progress has stalled in the secondary sector, resulting in a widening performance gap between the two sectors.

It conveys HMCI’s judgement that primary schools’ improvement is attributable to the fact that they ‘attend to the basics’, one of which is:

‘Enabling the more able [sic] pupils to reach their potential’

Conversely, the characteristics of secondary schools where improvement has stalled include:

‘The most able not being challenged’.

It is unclear whether Ofsted maintains a distinction between ‘more able’ and ‘most able’ since neither term is defined at any point in the Annual Report documentation.

In his speech launching the Annual Report, HMCI Wilshaw said:

‘The problem is also acute for the most able children. Primaries have made steady progress in helping this group. The proportion of pupils at Key Stage 2 gaining a Level 5 or above rose from 21% in 2013 to 24% this year. Attainment at Level 6 has also risen, particularly in mathematics, where the proportion reaching the top grade has increased from 3% to 9% in two years.

Contrast that with the situation in secondary schools. In 2013, nearly a quarter of pupils who achieved highly at primary school failed to gain even a B grade at GCSE. A third of our inspections of secondary schools this year pinpointed specific problems with teaching the most able – a third of inspections this year.

We cannot allow this lack of progress to persist. Imagine how dispiriting it must be for a child to arrive at a secondary school bursting with enthusiasm and keen to learn, only to be forced to repeat lessons already learnt and endure teaching that fails to stimulate them. To help tackle this problem, I have commissioned a report into progress at Key Stage 3 and it will report next year.’

HMCI’s written Commentary on the Annual Report says of provision in primary schools:

‘Many primary schools stretch the more able

Good and outstanding schools encourage wider reading and writing at length. Often, a school’s emphasis on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects of the curriculum benefits all pupils but especially the more able, providing them with opportunities to engage with complex issues.

The proportion of pupils at Key Stage 2 attaining a Level 5 or above in reading, writing and mathematics increased from 21% in 2013 to 24% in 2014.

Attainment at Level 6 has also risen. In mathematics, the proportion of pupils achieving Level 6 rose from 3% in 2012 to 9% in 2014. The proportion achieving Level 6 in grammar, punctuation and spelling rose by two percentage points in the last year to 4%.

These improvements suggest that primary schools are getting better at identifying the brightest children and developing their potential.’ (Page 9)

The parallel commentary on provision in secondary schools says:

Too many secondary schools are not challenging the most able

In 2013, almost two thirds of the pupils in non-selective schools who attained highly at primary school in English and mathematics did not reach an A or A* in those subjects at GCSE. Nearly a quarter of them did not even achieve a B grade.

Around a third of our inspections of secondary schools this year identified issues in the teaching of the most able pupils. Inspectors found that teachers’ expectations of the most able were too low. There is a worrying lack of scholarship permeating the culture of too many schools.

In the year ahead, Ofsted will look even more closely at the performance of the brightest pupils in routine school inspections and will publish a separate report on what we find.’ (Page 13)

The Annual Report itself adds:

‘Challenging the most able

England’s schools are still not doing enough to help the most able children realise their potential. Ofsted drew attention to this last year, but the story has yet to change significantly. Almost two thirds of the pupils in non-selective schools who attained highly at primary school in English and mathematics did not reach an A* or A in those subjects at GCSE in 2013. Nearly a quarter of them did not even achieve a B grade and a disproportionate number of these are boys. Our brightest pupils are not doing as well as their peers in some other countries that are significantly outperforming England. In PISA 2012, fewer 15-year-olds in England were attaining at the highest levels in mathematics than their peers in Germany, Poland and Belgium. In reading, however, they were on a par.

This year, our inspectors looked carefully at how schools were challenging their most able pupils. Further action for individual schools was recommended in a third of our inspection reports. The majority of recommendations related to improved teaching of this group of pupils. Inspectors called on schools to ensure that the most able pupils are being given challenging work that takes full account of their abilities. Stretching the most able is a task for the whole school. It is important that schools promote a culture that supports the most able pupils to flourish, giving them opportunities to develop the skills needed by top universities and tracking their progress at every stage.

‘Ofsted will continue to press schools to stretch their most able pupils. Over the coming year, inspectors will be looking at this more broadly, taking into account the leadership shown in this area by schools. We will also further sharpen our recommendations so that schools have a better understanding of how they can help their most able pupils to reach their potential. Ofsted will follow up its 2013 publication on the most able in secondary schools with another survey focusing on non-selective primary and secondary schools. As part of this survey, we will examine the transition of the most able pupils from one phase to the next.’

Rather strangely, there are substantive references in only two of the accompanying regional reports.

The Report on London – the region that arguably stands above all others in terms of overall pupil performance – says:

More able pupils [sic]

London does reasonably well overall for more able pupils. In 2012/13 the proportion of pupils who were high attainers in Year 6 and then went on to gain A* or A in GCSE English was 46% in London compared with 41% in England.  In mathematics, the proportions were 49% across England and 58% in London.

However, in 2012/13, seven local authorities – Croydon, Bexley, Havering, Lewisham, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – were below the London and national proportions of previously high attaining pupils who went on to attain grade A* or A in GCSE English. With the exception of Bexley, the same local authorities also fell below the London and national levels for the proportion of previously high-attaining pupils who went on to attain grade A* or A in GCSE mathematics.

We have identified the need to secure more rapid progress for London’s more able pupils as one of our key priorities. Inspectors will be paying particular attention to the performance of the more able pupils in schools and local authorities where these pupils are not reaching their full potential.’

The Report on the North-West identifies a problem:

‘Too many of the more able students underperform at secondary school. Of the 23 local authorities in the North West, 13 are below the national level for the percentage of children achieving at least Level 5 at Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics. The proportion subsequently attaining A* or A at GCSE is very low in some areas, particularly Knowsley, Salford and Blackpool.’

But it does not mention tackling this issue amongst its regional priorities.

The six remaining regional reports are silent on the issue.

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Summarising the key implications

Synthesising the messages from these different sources, it seems that:

  • Primary schools have made ‘steady progress’ in supporting the most able, improving their capacity to identify and develop their potential. 
  • Inspection evidence suggests one third of secondary schools have specific problems with teaching the most able. This is a whole school issue. Too many high attainers at the end of KS2 are no longer high attainers at the end of KS4. Teachers’ expectations are too low. A positive school culture is essential but there is ‘a worrying lack of scholarship permeating the culture of too many schools’.  
  • Ofsted will increase the scrutiny it gives to the performance of the most able in routine school inspections, taking account of the leadership shown by schools (which appears to mean the contribution made by school leaders within schools), and will sharpen their recommendations within school inspection reports to reflect this increased scrutiny. 
  • They will also publish a survey report in 2015 that will feature: the outcomes of their increased scrutiny; provision in ‘non-selective primary and secondary schools’ including transition between phases; and the progress of the most able learners in KS3. 
  • In London the need to secure more rapid progress for more able pupils is a priority for Ofsted’s regional team. They will focus particularly on progress in English and maths between KS2 and KS4 in seven local authorities performing below the national and London average. 

[Postscript: In his Select Committee appearance on 28 January 2015, HMCI said that the 2015 survey report will be published in May.

However, there were press reports a few days ahead that it would be brought forward to Wednesday 4 March.

Publication ahead of the General Election, rather than immediately afterwards, puts pressure on the political parties to set out their response.

Will they continue to advance the familiar line that their generic standards-raising policies will ‘lift all ships’, or will they commit to a more targeted solution, such as the one I proposed here?]

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All this suggests that schools would be wise to concentrate on strengthening leadership, school culture and transition – as well as eradicating any problems associated with teaching the most able.

KS3 is a particular concern in secondary schools. Although there will be comparatively more attention paid to the secondary sector, primary schools will not escape Ofsted’s increased scrutiny.

This is as it should be since my recent analysis of high attainers and high attainment in the 2014 Primary Performance Tables demonstrates that there is significant underachievement amongst high attainers in the primary sector and, in particular, very limited progress in closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged and other learners at higher attainment levels.

Ofsted does not say that they will give particular attention to most able learners in receipt of the pupil premium. The 2013 survey report committed them to doing so, but I could find no such emphasis in my survey of secondary inspection reports.

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Will this be enough?

HMCI’s continuing concern about the quality of provision for the most able raises the question whether Ofsted’s increased scrutiny will be sufficient to bring about the requisite improvement.

Government policy is to leave this matter entirely to schools, although this has been challenged in some quarters. Labour in Opposition has been silent on the matter since Burnham’s Demos speech in July 2011.

More recent political debate about selection and setting has studiously avoided the wider question of how best to meet the needs of the most able, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If HMCI Wilshaw were minded to up the ante still further, what additional action might he undertake within Ofsted and advocate beyond it?

I sketch out below a ten-step plan for his and your consideration.

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  1. Ofsted should strengthen its inspection procedures by publishing a glossary and supplementary inspection guidance, so that schools and inspectors alike have a clearer, shared understanding of Ofsted’s expectations and what provision should look like in outstanding and good schools. This should feature much more prominently the achievement, progress and HE destinations of disadvantaged high attainers, especially those in receipt of the Pupil Premium.

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  1. The initiative under way in Ofsted’s London region should be extended immediately to all eight regions and a progress report should be included in Ofsted’s planned 2015 survey.

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  1. The Better Inspection for All consultation must result in a clearer and more consistent approach to the inspection of provision for the most able learners across all sectors, with separate inspection handbooks adjusted to reflect the supplementary guidance above. Relevant high attainment, high attainer and excellence gaps data should be added to the School Data Dashboard.

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  1. Ofsted should extend its planned 2015 survey to include a thorough review of the scope and quality of support for educating the most able provided to schools through local authority school improvement services, academy chains, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances. It should make recommendations for extending and strengthening such support, eliminating any patchiness of provision.

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  1. Reforms to the assessment and accountability frameworks mean that less emphasis will be placed in future on the achievement of national benchmarks by borderline candidates and more on the attainment and progress of all learners. But there are still significant gaps in the data published about high attainment and high attainers, especially the differential performance of advantaged and disadvantaged learners. The decision to abandon the planned data portal – in which it was expected some of this data would be deposited – is problematic. Increased transparency would be helpful.

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  1. There are unanswered questions about the support that the new levels-free assessment regime will provide for the achievement and progression of the most able. There is a risk that a ‘mastery’-focused approach will emphasise progression through increased depth of study, at the expense of greater breadth and faster pace, thus placing an unnecessary constraint on their education. Guidance is desirable to help eliminate these concerns.

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  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) should extend its remit to include excellence gaps. All EEF-sponsored evaluations should routinely consider the impact on disadvantaged high attainers. The EEF should also sponsor projects to evaluate the blend of interventions that are most effective in closing excellence gaps. The Toolkit should be revised where necessary to highlight more clearly where specific interventions have a differential impact on high attainers.

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  1. Efforts should be made to establish national consensus on the effective education of high attainers through consultation on and agreement of a set of common core principles.

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  1. A ‘national conversation’ is needed to identify strategies for supporting (disadvantaged) high attainers, pushing beyond the ideological disagreements over selection and setting to consider a far wider range of options, including more innovative approaches to within-school and between-school provision.

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  1. A feasibility study should be conducted into the viability of a national, non-governmental learner-centred support programme for disadvantaged high attainers aged 11-18. This would be market-driven but operate within a supporting national framework. It would be managed entirely within existing budgets – possibly an annual £50m pupil premium topslice plus a matching contribution from universities’ fair access outreach funding.

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GP

December 2014

High Attainment in the 2014 Primary School Performance Tables

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This is my annual post reviewing data about high attainment and high attainers at the end of Key Stage 2.

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

It draws on:

and parallel material for previous years.

‘High attainment’ is taken to mean National Curriculum Level 5 and above.

‘High attainers’ are defined in accordance with the Performance Tables, meaning those with prior attainment above Level 2 in KS1 teacher assessments (average points score of 18 or higher). This measure obviously excludes learners who are particularly strong in one area but correspondingly weak in another.

The proportions of the end-of-KS2 cohort defined as high, middle and low attainers have remained fairly constant since 2012.

High attainers presently constitute the top quartile of the relevant population, but this proportion is not fixed: it will increase as and when KS1 performance improves.

High % Middle % Low %
2014 25 58 18
2013 25 57 18
2012 24 57 19

Table 1: Proportion of high, middle and low prior attainers in state-funded schools by year since 2012

 

The percentage of high attainers in different schools’ end-of-KS2 cohorts varies very considerably and is unlikely to remain constant from year to year. Schools with small year groups are particularly vulnerable to significant fluctuations.

The 2014 Performance Tables show that Minster School, in Southwell, Nottinghamshire and St Patrick’s Church of England Primary Academy in Solihull each had 88% high attainers.

Over 600 primary schools have 50% or more high attainers within their cohorts. But, at the other extreme, more than 570 have no high attainers at all, while some 1,150 have 5% or fewer.

This serves to illustrate the very unequal distribution of learners with high prior attainment between schools.

The commentary below opens with a summary of the headline findings. The subsequent sections focus in turn on the composite measure (reading, writing and maths combined), then on the outcomes of the reading, GPS (grammar, punctuation and spelling) and maths tests and finally on teacher assessment in writing.

I have tried to ensure that percentages are consistent throughout this analysis, but the effect of rounding means that some figures are slightly different in different SFR tables. I apologise in advance for – and will of course correct – any transcription errors.

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Headlines

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Overall Trends

Chart 1 below compares performance at level 5 and above (L5+) and level 4 and above (L4+) in 2013 and 2014. The bars on the left hand side denote L4+, while those corresponding to L5+ are on the right.

HA 1

Chart 1: L4+ and L5+ performance compared, 2013-2014

With the exception of maths, which has remained unchanged, there have been improvements across the board at L4+, of between two and four percentage points.

The same is true at L5+ and – in the case of reading, GPS and writing – the percentage point improvements are relatively larger. This is good news.

Chart 2 compares the gaps between disadvantaged learners (‘ever 6’ FSM plus children in care) and all other learners in state-funded schools on all five measures, for both 2013 and 2014.

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HA 2

Chart 2: Disadvantaged gaps at L4+ and L5+ for all five measures, 2013 and 2014

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With the sole exception of the composite measure in 2013, each L4+ gap is smaller than the corresponding gap at L5+, though the difference can be as little as one percentage point (the composite measure) and as high as 11 percentage points (reading).

Whereas the L4+ gap in reading is lower than for any other measure, the L5+ reading gap is now the biggest. This suggests there is a particular problem with L5+ reading.

The distance between L4+ and L5+ gaps has typically widened since 2013, except in the case of maths, where it has narrowed by one percentage point.

While three of the L4+ gaps have closed slightly (composite, reading, GPS) the remainder are unchanged. However, two of the L5+ gaps have increased (composite, writing) and only the maths gap has closed slightly.

This suggests that what limited progress there has been in closing disadvantaged gaps has focused more on L4+ than L5+.

The pupil premium is not bringing about a radical improvement – and its impact is relatively lower at higher attainment levels.

A similar pattern is discernible with FSM gaps as Chart 3 reveals. This excludes the composite measure as this is not supplied in the SFR.

Overall the picture at L4+ is cautiously positive, with small downward trends on three of the four measures, but the picture at L5+ is more mixed since two of the measures are unchanged.

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HA 3

Chart 3: FSM gaps at L4+ and L5+ compared, 2013 and 2014  

Composite measure

  • Although the proportion of learners achieving this benchmark is slightly higher in converter academies than in LA-maintained schools, the latter have improved faster since 2013. The success rate in sponsored academies is half that in converter academies. Free schools are improving but remain behind LA-maintained schools. 
  • Some 650 schools achieve 50% or higher, but another 470 record 0% (fewer than the 600 which did so in 2013). 
  • 67% of high attainers achieved this benchmark in 2014, up five percentage points on 2013 but one third still fall short, demonstrating that there is extensive underachievement amongst high attainers in the primary sector. This rather undermines HMCI’s observations in his Commentary on the 2014 Annual Report. 
  • Although over 670 schools have a 100% success rate amongst their high attainers, 42 schools have recorded 0% (down from 54 in 2013). Several of these do better by their middle attainers. In 10 primary schools no high attainers achieve L4+ in reading, writing and maths combined.

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Reading

  • The substantial improvement in L5+ reading performance since 2013 masks an as yet unexplained crash in Level 6 test performance. Only 874 learners in state-funded schools achieved L6 reading, compared with 2,137 in 2013. This is in marked contrast to a substantive increase in L6 test entries, the success rate on L6 teacher assessment and the trend in the other L6 tests. In 2013 around 12,700 schools had no pupils who achieved L6 reading, but this increased to some 13,670 schools in 2014. Even the performance of Chinese pupils (otherwise phenomenally successful on L6 tests) went backwards. 
  • The proportion of Chinese learners achieving L5 in reading has reached 65% (compared with 50% for White learners), having increased by seven percentage points since 2013 and overtaken the 61% recorded in 2012. 
  • 43 primary schools had a 100% success rate at Level 5 in the reading test, but 29 more registered 0%. 
  • Some 92% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in reading, fewer than the 94% of middle attainers who did so. However, this was a three percentage point improvement on the 89% who made the requisite progress in 2013. 

GPS

  •  The proportion of Chinese learners achieving L5+ in the GPS test is now 75%, a seven percentage point improvement on 2013. Moreover, 15% achieved Level 6, up eight percentage points on 2013. (The comparable Level 5+ percentage for White learners is 50%). There are unmistakeable signs that Chinese ascendancy in maths is being replicated with GPS. 
  • Some 7,210 schools had no learners achieving L6 in the GPS test, compared with 10,200 in 2013. While 18 schools recorded a perfect 100% record at Level 5 and above, 33 had no learners at L5+. 

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Maths

  • Chinese learners continue to make great strides. The percentage succeeding on the L6 test has climbed a further six percentage points and now stands at 35% (compared with 8% for White Pupils). Chinese boys are at 39%. The proportion of Chinese learners achieving level 6 is now comparable to the proportions of other ethnic groups achieving level 5. This lends further credence to the notion that we have our own domestic equivalent of Shanghai’s PISA success – and perhaps to the suggestion that focusing on Shanghai’s classroom practice may bring only limited benefits. 
  • While it is commendable that 3% of FSM and 4% of disadvantaged learners are successful in the L6 maths test, the gaps between them and other learners are increasing as the overall success rate grows. There are now seven percentage point gaps for FSM and disadvantaged alike. 
  • Ten schools managed a L6 success rate of 50% or higher, while some 280 were at 30% or higher. On the other hand, 3,200 schools had no L6 passes (down from 5,100 in 2013). 
  • About 94% of high attainers made the expected progress in maths a one percentage point improvement on 2013 – and two percentage points more than the proportion of successful middle attainers. But 27 schools posted a success rate of 50% or below.

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Writing (TA)

  • Chinese pupils do not match their performance on the GPS test, though 6% achieve L6 in writing TA compared with just 2% of white pupils. 
  • Three schools managed a 50% success rate at Level 6 and 56 were at 25% or above. Only one school managed 100% at L5, but some 200 scored 0%. 
  • Some 93% of all pupils make the expected progress in writing between KS1 and KS2. This is true of 95% of high attainers – and 95% of middle attainers too.

 

Composite measure: reading, writing and maths

Table 2 shows the overall proportion of learners achieving L5 or above in all of reading, writing and maths in each year since 2012.

 

2012 2013 2014
L5+ overall 20% 21% 24%
L5+ boys 17% 18% 20%
L5+ girls 23% 25% 27%

Table 2: Proportion of all learners achieving KS2 L5+ in reading, writing and maths, 2012-2014

The overall success rate has increased by three percentage points compared with 2013 and by four percentage points since 2012.

The percentage of learners achieving L4+ has also improved by four percentage points since 2012, so the improvement at L5+ is broadly commensurate.

Over this period, girls’ lead over boys has remained relatively stable at between six and seven percentage points.

The SFR reveals that success on this measure varies significantly between school type.

The percentages for LA-maintained schools (24%) and all academies and free schools (23%) are little different.

However mainstream converter academies stand at 26%, twice the 13% recorded by sponsored academies. Free schools are at 21%. These percentages have changed significantly compared with 2013.

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HA 4

Chart 4:  Comparison of proportion of learners achieving L5+ in reading writing and maths in 2013 and 2014

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Whereas free schools are making rapid progress and sponsored academies are also improving at a significant rate, converter academies are improving more slowly than LA-maintained schools.

The highest percentages on this measure in the Performance Tables are recorded by Fox Primary School in Kensington and Chelsea (86%) and Hampden Gurney CofE Primary School in Westminster (85%).

Altogether, some 650 schools have achieved success rates of 50% or higher, while 23 have managed 75% or higher.

At the other end of the spectrum about 470 schools have no learners at all who achieved this measure, fewer than the 600 recording this outcome in 2013.

Table 3 shows the gap between disadvantaged (ie ‘ever 6’ FSM and children in care) learners and others, as recorded in the Performance Tables.

2012 2013 2014
Disadv 9 10 12
Other 24 26 29
Gap 15 16 17

Table 3: Proportion of disadvantaged learners achieving L5+ in reading, writing and maths, 2012-2014

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Although the percentage of disadvantaged learners achieving this benchmark has improved somewhat, the percentage of other learners doing so has improved faster, meaning that the gap between advantaged and other learners is widening steadily.

This contrasts with the trend at L4+, where the Performance Tables show a gap that has narrowed from 19 percentage points in 2012 (80% versus 61%) to 18 points in 2013 (81% versus 63%) and now to 16 points in 2014 (83% versus 67%).

Chart 5 below illustrates this comparison.

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HA 5

Chart 5: Comparing disadvantaged/other attainment gaps in KS2 reading, writing and maths combined at L4+ and L5+, 2012-2014.

While the L4+ gap has closed by three percentage points since 2012, the L5+ gap has widened by two percentage points. This suggests that disadvantaged learners amongst the top 25% by prior attainment are not benefiting commensurately from the pupil premium.

There are 97 primary schools where 50% or more disadvantaged learners achieve L5+ across reading, writing and maths (compared with 40 in 2013).

The highest performers record above 80% on this measure with their disadvantaged learners, albeit with cohorts of 6 to 8. Only one school with a more substantial cohort (of 34) manages over 70%. This is Tollgate Primary School in Newham.

The percentage of high attainers who achieved L5+ in 2014 was 67%, up five percentage points from 62% in 2013. (In 2012 the Performance Tables provided a breakdown for English and maths, which is not comparable).

Although this is a significant improvement, it means that one third of high attainers at KS1 still do not achieve this KS2 benchmark, suggesting that there is significant underachievement amongst this top quartile.

Thirteen percent of middle attainers also achieved this outcome, compared with 10% in 2013.

A significant number of schools – over 670 – do manage a 100% success rate amongst their high attainers, but there are also 42 schools where no high attainers achieve the benchmark (there were 54 in 2013). In several of them, more middle attainers than high attainers achieve the benchmark.

There are ten primary schools in which no high attainers achieve L4 in reading writing and maths. Perhaps one should be thankful for the fact that no middle attainers in these schools achieve the benchmark either!

The KS2 average point score was 34.0 or higher in five schools, equivalent to a level 5A. The highest  APS was 34.7, recorded by Fox Primary School, with a cohort of 42 pupils.

Across all state-funded schools, the average value added measure for high attainers across reading, writing and maths is 99.8, the same as it was in 2013.

The comparable averages for middle attainers and low attainers are 100.0 and 100.2 respectively, showing that high attainers benefit slightly less from their primary education.

The highest value-added recorded for high attainers is 104.7 by Tudor Court Primary School in Thurrock, while the lowest is 93.7 at Sacriston Junior School in Durham (now closed).

Three more schools are below 95.0 and some 250 are at 97.5 or lower.

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Reading Test

Table 4 shows the percentage of all learners, boys and girls achieving L5+ in reading since 2010. There has been a five percentage point increase (rounded) in the overall result since 2013, which restores performance to the level it had reached in 2010.

A seven percentage point gap in favour of girls remains unchanged from 2013. This is four points less than the comparable gender gap in 2010.

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2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
L5+ overall 50 43 48 44 50
Boys 45 37 43 41 46
Girls 56 48 53 48 53

Table 4: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in reading since 2010

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As reported in my September 2014 post ‘What Happened to the Level 6 Reading Results?’ L6 performance in reading has collapsed in 2014.

The figures have improved slightly since the provisional results were released, but the collapse is still marked.

Table 5 shows the numbers successful since 2012.

The number of successful learners in 2014 is less than half the number successful in 2013 and almost back to the level in 2012 when the test was first introduced.

This despite the fact that the number of entries for the level 6 test – 95,000 – was almost exactly twice the 47,000 recorded in 2012 and significantly higher than the 70,000 entries in 2013.

For comparison, the number of pupils awarded level 6 in reading via teacher assessment was 15,864 in 2013 and 17,593 in 2014

We still have no explanation for this major decline which is entirely out of kilter with other L6 test outcomes.

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2012 2013 2014
% No % No % No
L6+ 0 900 0 2,262 0 935
Boys 0 200 0 592 0 263
Girls 0 700 1 1,670 0 672

Table 5: Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 on the KS2 reading test 2012-2014

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These figures include some pupils attending independent schools, but another table in the SFR reveals that 874 learners in state-funded primary schools achieved L6 (compared with 2,137 in 2013). Of these, all but 49 achieved L3+ in their KS1 reading assessment.

But some 13,700 of those with L3+ reading at the end of KS1 progressed to L4 or lower at the end of KS2.

The SFR does not supply numbers of learners with different characteristics achieving L6 and all percentages are negligible. The only group recording a positive percentage are Chinese learners at 1%.

In 2013, Chinese learners were at 2% and some other minority ethnic groups recorded 1%, so not even the Chinese have been able to withstand the collapse in the L6 success rate.

According to the SFR, the FSM gap at L5 is 21 percentage points (32% versus 53% for all other pupils). The disadvantaged gap is also 21 percentage points (35% versus 56% for all other pupils).

Chart 6 shows how these percentages have changed since 2012.

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HA 6

Chart 6: FSM and disadvantaged gaps for KS2 reading test at L5+, 2012-2014

FSM performance has improved by five percentage points compared with 2013, while disadvantaged performance has grown by six percentage points.

However, gaps remain unchanged for FSM and have increased by one percentage point for disadvantaged learners. There is no discernible or consistent closing of gaps in KS2 reading at L5.

These gaps of 21 percentage points for both FSM and disadvantaged, are significantly larger than the comparable gaps at L4+ of 12 (FSM) and 10 (disadvantaged) percentage points.

The analysis of level 5 performance in the SFR reveals that the proportion of Chinese learners achieving level 5 has reached 65%, having increased by seven percentage points since 2013 and overtaken the 61% recorded in 2012.

Turning to the Performance Tables, we can see that, in relation to L6:

  • The highest recorded percentage achieving L6 is 17%, at Dent CofE Voluntary Aided Primary School in Cumbria. Thirteen schools recorded a L6 success rate of 10% or higher. (The top school in 2013 recorded 19%).
  • In 2013 around 12,700 schools had no pupils who achieved L6 reading, whereas in 2014 this had increased to some 13,670 schools.

In relation to L5:

  • 43 schools achieved a 100% record in L5 reading (compared with only 18 in 2013). All but one of these recorded 0% at L6, which may suggest that they were concentrating on maximising L5 achievement rather than risking L6 entry.
  • Conversely, there are 29 primary schools where no learners achieved L5 reading.

Some 92% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in reading, fewer than the 94% of middle attainers who did so.  However, this was a three percentage point improvement on the 89% who made the requisite progress in 2013.

And 41 schools recorded a success rate of 50% or lower on this measure, most of them comfortably exceeding this with their low and middle attainers alike.

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GPS Test

Since the grammar, punctuation and spelling test was first introduced in 2013, there is only a two-year run of data. Tables 6 and 7 below show performance at L5+ and L6+ respectively.

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2013 % 2014 %
L5+ overall 48 52
Boys 42 46
Girls 54 58

Table 6: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in GPS, 2013 and 2014

2013 2014
% No % No
L6+ 2 8,606 4 21,111
Boys 1 3,233 3 8,321
Girls 2 5,373 5 12,790

Table 7: Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 in GPS, 2013 and 2014

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Table 6 shows an overall increase of four percentage points in 2014 and the maintenance of a 12 percentage point gap in favour of girls.

Table 7 shows a very healthy improvement in L6 performance, which only serves to emphasise the parallel collapse in L6 reading. Boys have caught up a little on girls but the latter’s advantage remains significant.

The SFR shows that 75% of Chinese learners achieve L5 and above, up seven percentage points from 68% in 2013. Moreover, the proportion achieving L6 has increased by eight percentage points, to 15%. There are all the signs that Chinese eminence in maths is repeating itself with GPS.

Chart 7 shows how the FSM gap and disadvantaged gap has changed at L5+ for GPS. The disadvantaged gap has remained stable at 19 percentage points, while the FSM gap has narrowed by one percentage point.

These gaps are somewhat larger than those at L4 and above, which stand at 17 percentage points for FSM and 15 percentage points for disadvantaged learners.

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HA 7

Chart 7:  FSM and disadvantaged gaps for KS2 GPS test at L5+, 2013 and 2014

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The Performance Tables show that, in relation to L6:

  • The school with the highest percentage achieving level 6 GPS is Fulwood, St Peter’s CofE Primary School in Lancashire, which records a 47% success rate. Some 89 schools achieve a success rate of 25% or higher.
  • In 2014 there were some 7,210 schools that recorded no L6 performers at all, but this compares favourably with 10,200 in 2013. This significant reduction is in marked contrast to the increase in schools with no L6 readers.

Turning to L5:

  • 18 schools recorded a perfect 100% record for L5 GPS. These schools recorded L6 success rates that vary between 0% and 25%.
  • There are 33 primary schools where no learners achieved L5 GPS.

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Maths test

Table 8 below provides the percentages of learners achieving L5+ in the KS2 maths test since 2010.

Over the five year period, the success rate has improved by eight percentage points, but the improvement in 2014 is less pronounced than it has been over the last few years.

The four percentage point lead that boys have over girls has changed little since 2010, apart from a temporary increase to six percentage points in 2012.

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2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
L5+ overall 34 35 39 41 42
Boys 36 37 42 43 44
Girls 32 33 36 39 40

Table 8: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in KS2 maths test, 2010-2014

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Table 9 shows the change in achievement in the L6 test since 2012. This includes pupils attending independent schools – another table in the SFR indicates that the total number of successful learners in 2014 in state-funded schools is 47,349, meaning that almost 95% of those achieving L6 maths are located in the state-funded sector.

There has been a healthy improvement since 2013, with almost 15,000 more successful learners – an increase of over 40%. Almost one in ten of the end of KS2 cohort now succeeds at L6. This places the reversal in L6 reading into even sharper relief.

The ratio between boys and girls has remained broadly unchanged, so boys continue to account for over 60% of successful learners.

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2012 2013 2014
% No % No % No
L6+ 3 19,000 7 35,137 9 50,001
Boys 12,400 8 21,388 11 30,173
Girls 6,600 5 13,749 7 19,828

Table 9 Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 in KS2 maths test 2012-2014

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The SFR shows that, of those achieving L6 in state-funded schools, some 78% had achieved L3 or above at KS1. However, some 9% of those with KS1 L3 – something approaching 10,000 pupils – progressed only to L4, or lower.

The breakdown for minority ethnic groups shows that the Chinese ascendancy continues. This illustrated by Chart 8 below.

HA 8

Chart 8: KS2 L6 maths test performance by ethnic background, 2012-2014

In 2014, the percentage of Chinese achieving L5+ has increased by a respectable three percentage points to 74%, but the L6 figure has climbed by a further six percentage points to 35%. More than one third of Chinese learners now achieve L6 on the maths test.

This means that the proportion of Chinese pupils achieving L6 is now broadly similar to the proportion of other minorities achieving Level 5 (34% of white pupils for example).

They are fifteen percentage points ahead of the next best outcome – 20% recorded by Indian learners. White learners stand at 8%.

There is an eight percentage point gap between Chinese boys (39%) and Chinese girls (31%). The gap for white boys and girls is much lower, but this is a consequence of the significantly lower percentages.

Given that Chinese pupils are capable of achieving such extraordinary results under the present system, these outcomes raise significant questions about the balance between school and family effects and whether efforts to emulate Chinese approaches to maths teaching are focused on the wrong target.

Success rates in the L6 maths test are high enough to produce percentages for FSM and disadvantaged learners. The FSM and disadvantaged gaps both stand at seven percentage points, whereas they were at 5 percentage points (FSM) and 6 percentage points (disadvantaged) in 2013. The performance of disadvantaged learners has improved, but not as fast as that of other learners.

Chart 9 shows how these gaps have changed since 2012.

While the L6 gaps are steadily increasing, the L5+ gaps have remained broadly stable at 20 percentage points (FSM) and 21 percentage points (disadvantaged). There has been a small one percentage point improvement in the gap for disadvantaged learners in 2014, matching the similar small improvement for L4+.

The gaps at L5+ remain significantly larger than those at L4+ (13 percentage points for FSM and 11 percentage points for disadvantaged).

HA 9

Chart 9: FSM and disadvantaged gaps, KS2 L5+ and L6 maths test, 2012 to 2014

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The Performance Tables reveal that:

  • The school with the highest recorded percentage of L6 learners is Fox Primary School (see above) at 64%, some seven percentage points higher than its nearest rival. Ten schools achieve a success rate of 50% or higher (compared with only three in 2013), 56 at 40% or higher and 278 at 30% or higher.
  • However, over 3,200 schools record no L6 passes. This is a significant improvement on the 5,100 in this category in 2013, but the number is still far too high.
  • Nine schools record a 100% success rate for L5+ maths. This is fewer than the 17 that managed this feat in 2013.

Some 94% of high attainers made the expected progress in maths a one percentage point improvement on 2013, two percentage points more than did so in reading in 2014 – and two percentage points more than the proportion of middle attainers managing this.

However, 27 schools had a success rate of 50% or below, the vast majority of them comfortably exceeding this with their middle attainers – and often their low attainers too.

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Writing Teacher Assessment

Table 10 shows how the percentage achieving L5+ through the teacher assessment of writing has changed since 2012.

There has been a healthy five percentage point improvement overall, and an improvement of three percentage points since last year, stronger than the comparable improvement at L4+. The large gender gap of 15 percentage points in favour of girls is also unchanged since 2013.

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2012 2013 2014
L5+ overall 28 30 33
Boys 22 23 26
Girls 35 38 41

Table 10: Percentage achieving level 5+ in KS2 writing TA 2012-2014

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Just 2% of learners nationally achieve L6 in writing TA – 11,340 pupils (10,654 of them located in state-funded schools).

However, this is a very significant improvement on the 2,861 recording this outcome in 2013. Just 3,928 of the total are boys.

Chinese ascendancy at L6 is not so significant. The Chinese success rate stands at 6%. However, if the comparator is performance at L5+ Chinese learners record 52%, compared with 33% for both White and Asian learners.

The chart below shows how FSM and disadvantaged gaps have changed at L5+ since 2012.

This indicates that the FSM gap, having widened by two percentage points in 2013, has narrowed by a single percentage point in 2014, so it remains higher than it was in 2012. Meanwhile the disadvantaged gap has widened by one percentage point since 2013.

The comparable 2014 gaps at L4+ are 15 percentage points (FSM) and 13 percentage points (disadvantaged), so the gaps at L5+ are significantly larger.

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HA 10

Chart 10: FSM and disadvantaged gaps, L5+ Writing TA, 2012-2014

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The Performance Tables show that:

  • Three schools record a L6 success rate of 50% and only 56 are at 25% or higher.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the number of schools with no L6s is some 9,780, about a thousand fewer than in 2013.
  • At L5+ only one school has a 100% success rate (there were four in 2013). Conversely, about 200 schools record 0% on this measure.

Some 93% of all pupils make the expected progress in writing between KS1 and KS2 and this is true of 95% of high attainers – the same percentage of middle attainers is also successful.

Conclusion

Taken together, this evidence presents a far more nuanced picture of high attainment and high attainers’ performance in the primary sector than suggested by HMCI’s Commentary on his 2014 Annual Report:

‘The proportion of pupils at Key Stage 2 attaining a Level 5 or above in reading, writing and mathematics increased from 21% in 2013 to 24% in 2014.

Attainment at Level 6 has also risen. In mathematics, the proportion of pupils achieving Level 6 rose from 3% in 2012 to 9% in 2014. The proportion achieving Level 6 in grammar, punctuation and spelling rose by two percentage points in the last year to 4%.

These improvements suggest that primary schools are getting better at identifying the brightest children and developing their potential.’

There are four particular areas of concern:

  • Underachievement amongst high attainers is too prevalent in far too many primary schools. Although there has been some improvement since 2013, the fact that only 67% of those with high prior attainment at KS1 achieve L5 in reading, writing and maths combined is particularly worrying.
  • FSM and disadvantaged achievement gaps at L5+ remain significantly larger than those at L4+ – and there has been even less progress in closing them. The pupil premium ought to be having a significantly stronger impact on these excellence gaps.
  • The collapse of L6 reading test results is all the more stark when compared with the markedly improved success rates in GPS and maths which HMCI notes. We still have no explanation of the cause.
  • The success rates of Chinese pupils on L6 tests remains conspicuous and in maths is frankly extraordinary. This evidence of a ‘domestic Shanghai effect’ should be causing us to question why other groups are so far behind them – and whether we need to look beyond Shanghai classrooms when considering how best to improve standards in primary maths.

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GP

December 2014

How Well Do Grammar Schools Perform With Disadvantaged Students?

This supplement to my previous post on The Politics of Selection  compares the performance of disadvantaged learners in different grammar schools.

It adds a further dimension to the evidence base set out in my earlier post, intended to inform debate about the potential value of grammar schools as engines of social mobility.

The commentary is based on the spreadsheet embedded below, which relies entirely on data drawn from the 2013 Secondary School Performance Tables.

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If you find any transcription errors please alert me and I will correct them.

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Preliminary Notes

The 2013 Performance Tables define disadvantaged learners as those eligible for free school meals in the last six years and children in care. Hence both these categories are caught by the figures in my spreadsheet.

Because the number of disadvantaged pupils attending grammar schools is typically very low, I have used the three year average figures contained in the ‘Closing the Gap’ section of the Tables.

These are therefore the number of disadvantaged students in each school’s end of KS4 cohort for 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined. They should illustrate the impact of pupil premium support and wider closing the gap strategies on grammar schools since the Coalition government came to power.

Even when using three year averages the data is frustratingly incomplete, since 13 of the 163 grammar schools have so few disadvantaged students – fewer than six across all three cohorts combined – that the results are suppressed. We have no information at all about how well or how badly these schools are performing in terms of closing gaps.

My analysis uses each of the three performance measures within this section of the Performance Tables:

  • The percentage of pupils at the end of KS4 achieving five or more GCSEs (or equivalents) at grades A*-C, including GCSEs in English and maths. 
  • The proportion of pupils who, by the end of KS4, have made at least the expected progress in English. 
  • The proportion of pupil who, by the end of KS4, have made at least the expected progress in maths.

In each case I have recorded the percentage of disadvantaged learners who achieve the measure and the percentage point gap between that and the corresponding figure for ‘other’ – ie non-disadvantaged – students.

For comparison I have also included the corresponding percentages for all disadvantaged pupils in all state-funded schools and for all high attainers in state-funded schools. The latter is for 2013 only rather than a three-year average.

Unfortunately the Tables do not provide data for high attaining disadvantaged students. The vast majority of disadvantaged students attending grammar schools will be high-attaining according to the definition used in the Tables (average points score of 30 or higher across KS2 English, maths and science).

But, as my previous post showed, some grammar schools record 70% or fewer high attainers, disadvantaged or otherwise. These include: Clarendon House (Kent, now merged), Fort Pitt (Medway), Skegness (Lincolnshire), Dover Boys’ and Girls’ (Kent), Folkestone Girls’ (Kent), St Joseph’s (Stoke), Boston High (Lincolnshire) and the Harvey School (Kent).

Some of these schools feature in the analysis below, while some do not, suggesting that the correlation between selectivity and the performance of disadvantaged students is not straightforward.

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Number of disadvantaged learners in each school

The following schools are those with suppressed results, placed in order according to the number of disadvantaged learners within scope, from lowest to highest:

  • Tonbridge Grammar School, Kent (2)
  • Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School, Wiltshire (3)
  • Caistor Grammar School, Lincolnshire (3)
  • Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Buckinghamshire (3)
  • Adams’ Grammar School, Telford and Wrekin (4)
  • Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Essex (4)
  • Dr Challoner’s High School, Buckinghamshire (4)
  • King Edward VI School, Warwickshire (4)
  • Alcester Grammar School, Warwickshire (5)
  • Beaconsifeld High School, Buckinghamshire (5)
  • King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, Essex (5)
  • Reading School, Reading (5)
  • St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School, Slough (5).

Some of these schools feature among those with the lowest proportions of ‘ever 6 FSM’ pupils on roll, as shown in the spreadsheet accompanying my previous post, but some do not.

The remaining 152 schools each record a combined cohort of between six and 96 students, with an average of 22.

A further 19 schools have a combined cohort of 10 or fewer, meaning that 32 grammar schools in all (20% of the total) are in this category.

At the other end of the distribution, only 16 schools (10% of all grammar schools) have a combined cohort of 40 disadvantaged students or higher – and only four have one of 50 disadvantaged students or higher.

These are:

  • Handsworth Grammar School, Birmingham (96)
  • Stretford Grammar School, Trafford (76)
  • Dane Court Grammar School, Kent (57)
  • Slough Grammar School (Upton Court) (50).

Because the ratio of disadvantaged to other pupils in the large majority of grammar schools is so marked, the results below must be treated with a significant degree of caution.

Outcomes based on such small numbers may well be misleading, but they are all we have.

Arguably, grammar schools should find it relatively easier to achieve success with a very small cohort of students eligible for the pupil premium – since fewer require separate monitoring and, potentially, additional support.

On the other hand, the comparative rarity of disadvantaged students may mean that some grammar schools have too little experience of addressing such needs, or believe that closing gaps is simply not an issue for them.

Then again, it is perhaps more likely that grammar schools will fall short of 100% success with their much larger proportions of ‘other’ students, simply because the probability of special circumstances arising is relatively higher. One might expect therefore to see ‘positive gaps’ with success rates for disadvantaged students slightly higher than those for their relatively more advantaged peers.

Ideally though, grammar schools should be aiming for a perfect 100% success rate for all students on these three measures, regardless of whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. None is particularly challenging, for high attainers in particular – and most of these schools have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

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Five or more GCSE A*-C grades or equivalent including GCSEs in English and maths

In all state-funded schools, the percentage of disadvantaged students achieving this measure across the three year period is 38.7% while the percentage of other students doing so is 66.3%, giving a gap of 27.6 percentage points.

In 2013, 94.7% of all high attainers in state-funded secondary schools achieved this measure.

No grammar school falls below the 38.7% benchmark for its disadvantaged learners. The nearest to it is Pate’s Grammar School, at 43%. But these results were affected by the School’s decision to sit English examinations which were not recognised for Performance Table purposes.

The next lowest percentages are returned by:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (59%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (65%)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls, Warwickshire (71%)
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire (74%)

These were the only four schools below 75%.

Table 1 below illustrates these percentages and the percentage point gap for each of these four schools.

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Table 1

Table 1: 5+ GCSEs at A*-C or equivalent including GCSEs in English and maths: Lowest performing and largest gaps

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A total of 46 grammar schools (31% of the 150 without suppressed results) fall below the 2013 figure for high attainers across all state-funded schools.

On the other hand, 75 grammar schools (exactly 50%) achieve 100% on this measure, for combined student cohorts ranging in size from six to 49.

Twenty-six of the 28 schools that had no gap between the performance of their advantaged and disadvantaged students were amongst those scoring 100%. (The other two were at 97% and 95% respectively.)

The remaining 49 with a 100% record amongst their disadvantaged students demonstrate a ‘positive gap’, in that the disadvantaged do better than the advantaged.

The biggest positive gap is seven percentage points, recorded by Clarendon House Grammar School in Kent and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Alford, Lincolnshire.

Naturally enough, schools recording relatively lower success rates amongst their disadvantaged students also tend to demonstrate a negative gap, where the advantaged do better than the disadvantaged.

Three schools had an achievement gap higher than the 27.6 percentage point national average. They were:

  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys (30 percentage points)
  • Spalding Grammar School (28 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (28 percentage points)

So three of the four with the lowest success rates for disadvantaged learners demonstrated the biggest gaps. Twelve more schools had double digit achievement gaps of 10% or higher.

These 15 schools – 10% of the total for which we have data – have a significant issue to address, regardless of the size of their disadvantaged populations.

One noticeable oddity at this end of the table is King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys in Birmingham, which returns a positive gap of 14 percentage points (rounded): with 80% for disadvantaged and 67% for advantaged. On this measure at least, it is doing relatively badly with its disadvantaged students, but considerably worse with those from advantaged backgrounds!

However, this idiosyncratic pattern is also likely to be attributable to the School using some examinations not eligible for inclusion in the Tables.

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At least expected progress in English

Across all state-funded schools, the percentage of disadvantaged students making at least three levels of progress in English is 55.5%, compared with 75.1% of ‘other’ students, giving a gap of 19.6 percentage points.

In 2013, 86.2% of high attainers achieved this benchmark.

If we again discount Pate’s from consideration, the lowest performing school on this measure is The Boston Grammar School which is at 53%, lower than the national average figure.

A further 43 schools (29% of those for which we have data) are below the 2013 average for all high attainers. Six more of these fall below 70%:

  • The Skegness Grammar School, Lincolnshire (62%)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Cumbria (62%)
  • Plymouth High School for Girls (64%)
  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (65%)
  • Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (65%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (67%)

Table 2 below illustrates these outcomes, together with the attainment gaps recorded by these schools and others with particularly large gaps.

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Table 2

Table 2: At least expected progress in English from KS2 to KS4: Lowest performing and largest gaps

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At the other end of the table, 44 grammar schools achieve 100% on this measure (29% of those for which we have data.) This is significantly fewer than achieved perfection on the five or more GCSEs benchmark.

When it comes to closing the gap, only 16 of the 44 achieve a perfect 100% score with both advantaged and disadvantaged students, again much lower than on the attainment measure above.

The largest positive gaps (where disadvantaged students outscore their advantaged classmates) are at The King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth, Lincolnshire (11 percentage points) and John Hampden Grammar School Buckinghamshire (10 percentage points).

Amongst the schools propping up the table on this measure, six record negative gaps of 20 percentage points or higher, so exceeding the average gap in state-funded secondary schools:

  • The Skegness Grammar School (30 percentage points)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Cumbria (28 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (27 percentage points)
  • Plymouth High School for Girls (25 percentage points)
  • Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (23 percentage points)
  • Loreto Grammar School, Trafford (20 percentage points).

There is again a strong correlation between low disadvantaged performance and large gaps, although the relationship does not apply in all cases.

Another 23 grammar schools have a negative gap of 10 percentage points or higher.

There is again a curious trend for King Edward VI Camp Hill in Birmingham, which comes in at 75% on this measure, yet its disadvantaged students outscore the advantaged, which are at 65%, ten percentage points lower. As noted above, there may well be extenuating circumstances.

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At least expected progress in maths

The percentage of disadvantaged students making at least three levels of progress in maths across all state-funded schools is 50.7%, compared with a figure for ‘other’ students of 74.1%, giving a gap of 23.4 percentage points.

In 2013, 87.8% of high attainers achieved this.

On this occasion Pate’s is unaffected (in fact scores 100%), as does King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys (in its case for advantaged and disadvantaged alike).

No schools come in below the national average for disadvantaged students, in fact all comfortably exceed it. However, the lowest performers are still a long way behind some of their fellow grammar schools.

The worst performing grammar schools on this measure are:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (59%)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Cumbria (62%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (63%)
  • Dover Grammar School for Boys, Kent (67%)
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire (68%)
  • Borden Grammar School, Kent (68%)

These are very similar to the corresponding rates for the lowest performers in English.

Table 3 illustrates these outcomes, together with other schools demonstrating very large gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

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Table 3

Table 3: At least expected progress in maths from KS2 to KS4: Lowest performing and largest gaps

A total of 32 schools (21% of those for which we have data) undershoot the 2013 average for high attainers, a slightly better outcome than for English.

At the other extreme, there are 54 schools (36% of those for which we have data) that score 100% on this measure, slightly more than do so on the comparable measure for English, but still significantly fewer than achieve this on the 5+ GCSE measure.

Seventeen of the 54 also achieve a perfect 100% for advantaged students.

The largest positive gaps recorded are 11 percentage points at The Harvey Grammar School in Kent (which achieved 94% for disadvantaged students) and 7 percentage points at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Alford, Lincolnshire (91% for disadvantaged students).

The largest negative gaps on this measure are equally as substantial as those relating to English. Four schools perform significantly worse than the average gap of 23.4 percentage points:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (32 percentage points)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Cumbria (31 percentage points)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (31 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (27 percentage points)

Queen Elizabeth’s and Stratford Girls’ appeared in the same list for English. Stratford Girls’ appeared in the same list for the 5+ GCSE measure.

A further 20 schools have a double-digit negative gap of 10 percentage points or higher, very similar to the outcome in English.

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Comparison across the three measures

As will be evident from the tables and lists above, some grammar schools perform consistently poorly on all three measures.

Others perform consistently well, while a third group have ‘spiky profiles’

The number of schools that achieve 100% on all three measures with their disadvantaged students is 25 (17% of those for which we have data).

Eight of these are located in London; none is located in Birmingham. Just two are in Buckinghamshire and there is one each in Gloucestershire, Kent and Lincolnshire.

Only six schools achieve 100% on all three measures with advantaged and disadvantaged students alike. They are:

  • Queen Elizabeth’s, Barnet
  • Colyton Grammar School, Devon
  • Nonsuch High School for Girls, Sutton
  • St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School, Bromley
  • Tiffin Girls’ School, Kingston
  • Kendrick School, Reading

Five schools recorded comparatively low performance across all three measures (ie below 80% on each):

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls
  • St Joseph’s College, Stoke on Trent

Their overall performance is illustrated in Table 4.

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Table 4

Table 4: Schools where 80% or fewer disadvantaged learners achieved each measure

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This small group of schools are a major cause for concern.

A total of 16 schools (11% of those for which we have data) score 90% or less on all three measures and they, too, are potentially concerning.

Schools which record negative gaps of 10 percentage points or more on all three measures are:

  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • Dover Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls
  • Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • St Joseph’s College, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Table 5 records these outcomes

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Table 5

Table 5: Schools with gaps of 10% or higher on all three measures

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Of these, Boston and Stratford have gaps of 20 percentage points or higher on all three measures.

A total of 32 grammar schools (21% of those for which we have data) record a percentage of 80 percentage points or lower on at least one of the three measures.

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Selective University Destinations

I had also wanted to include in the analysis some data on progression to selective (Russell Group) universities, drawn from the experimental destination statistics.

Unfortunately, the results for FSM students are suppressed for the vast majority of schools, making comparison impossible. According to the underlying data for 2011/12, all I can establish with any certainty is that:

  • In 29 grammar schools, there were no FSM students in the cohort.
  • Five schools returned 0%, meaning that no FSM students successfully progressed to a Russell Group university. These were Wycombe High School, Wallington High School for Girls, The Crossley Heath School in Calderdale, St Anselm’s College on the Wirral and Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School.
  • Three schools were relatively successful – King Edward VI Five Ways in Birmingham reported 58% of FSM students progressing, while King Edward VI Handsworth reported 53% and the Latymer School achieved an impressive 75%.
  • All remaining grammar schools – some 127 in that year – are reported as ‘x’ meaning that there were either one or two students in the cohort, so the percentages are suppressed.

We can infer from this that, at least in 2011/12, very few grammar schools indeed were specialising in providing an effective route to Russell Group universities for FSM students.

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Conclusion

Even allowing for the unreliability of statistics based on very small cohorts, this analysis is robust enough to show that the performance of grammar schools in supporting disadvantaged students is extremely disparate.

While there is a relatively large group of consistently high performers, roughly one in five grammar schools is a cause for concern on at least one of the three measures. Approximately one in ten is performing no more than satisfactorily across all three. 

The analysis hints at the possibility that the biggest problems tend to be located in rural and coastal areas rather than in London and other urban centres, but this pattern is not always consistent. The majority of the poorest performers seem to be located in wholly selective authorities but, again, this is not always the case.

A handful of grammar schools are recording significant negative gaps between the performance of disadvantaged students and their peers. This is troubling. There is no obvious correlation between the size of the disadvantaged cohort and the level of underperformance.

There may be extenuating circumstances in some cases, but there is no public national record of what these are – an argument for greater transparency across the board.

One hopes that the grammar schools that are struggling in this respect are also those at the forefront of the reform programme described in my previous post – and that they are improving rapidly.

One hopes, too, that those whose business it is to ensure that schools make effective use of the pupil premium are monitoring these institutions closely. Some of the evidence highlighted above would not, in my view, be consistent with an outstanding Ofsted inspection outcome.

If the same pattern is evident when the 2014 Performance Tables are published in January 2015, there will be serious cause for concern.

As for the question whether grammar schools are currently meeting the needs of their – typically few – disadvantaged students, the answer is ‘some are; some aren’t’. This argues for intervention in inverse proportion to success.

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GP

December 2014