High Attaining Pupils in the 2012 Primary School Performance Tables


This short post examines data about the performance of high-attaining pupils at Key Stage 2 in the 2012 Primary School Performance Tables.

It compares this year’s outcomes with those for 2011 when the high-attaining pupil measure was first introduced.



The 2011 Tables included performance measures for low, medium and high attainers, to encourage schools to improve the performance of all their pupils, rather than concentrating disproportionately on those at risk of not achieving the threshold measures.

The Key Stage 2 threshold measure is achievement of Level 4 in English and maths. Level 4 achievement has always received most attention in the public interpretation of school performance.

More recently, measures of progress have been added alongside those relating to achievement. All pupils are expected to demonstrate at least two levels of progress during Key Stage 2.

These two measures of achievement and progress are enshrined in the Government’s primary school ‘floor targets’, which determine whether school improvement intervention is required.

Comparison between the 2012 and 2011 Performance Tables provides the first opportunity to assess whether the introduction of these three categories of prior attainment have encouraged schools to adjust their behaviour – and whether this is to the relative advantage of higher attaining learners.



The definition of a high-attaining pupil in the 2012 Primary Performance Tables is based on the average points scores they achieved in Key Stage 1 teacher assessment four years earlier.

High-attaining pupils are deemed to be all those achieving above Level 2 at Key Stage 1, with the precise borderline marked by the achievement of an average points score of 18 or higher. The definition is unchanged since 2011.

It is not clear from the Performance Tables User Guide whether this average points score is based on achievement across reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths and science (the full spectrum of KS1 assessment) or a subset of these (to ensure agreement with the KS2 measure which is confined to English and maths only).

Regardless of which methodology is selected, this measure will not include learners who are particularly strong in one area while particularly weak in another, unless their performance in one field (or more) is high enough to compensate for underperformance in another. The scope for compensation is clearly higher if science is included in the calculation.

That said, the measure is more likely to be criticised on grounds of over-inclusiveness rather than the reverse. But it is hard to source concrete figures.

National data about the percentage of pupils achieving Level 3 at KS1 across reading, writing, maths (and science) is not included in the official KS1 assessment statistical tables, nor are KS1 average points scores across these subjects. This seems something of an oversight given their significance for the Key Stage 2 Performance Tables.

We do know that, in 2011, the average points score across all pupils was 15.5, just 2.5 points short of the high attainer borderline. We also know that the average points score measure will include some pupils who achieve the average score while not achieving Level 3 in at least one area, making it relatively more generous than a requirement for Level 3s across the board.

In 2012, the proportions of learners achieving Level 3 in individual assessments across all schools were: 27% (maths); 14% (writing); 22% (speaking and listening); 22% (maths); 21% (science). The overall percentage of pupils within the high attainer category will obviously depend on the subjects used to derive the calculation but will almost certainly lie somewhere above 20%.

It is also important to note that, since this is an attainment measure, not an ability measure, it will disproportionately include pupils from relatively advantaged backgrounds. In 2011, the average points score across all FSM pupils was 13.5, compared with an average non-FSM figure of 15.7.

It follows that schools with a relatively advantaged intake will tend to perform better on this measure than schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged learners, though there will be some that ‘buck the trend’.


2012 results

The 2012 Primary School Performance Tables show that:

  • 27% of pupils nationally achieved Level 5 or above in KS2 English and maths tests. (The corresponding figure for reading and maths tests and teacher assessment in writing combined is 20% – a writing test was not administered in 2012, so creating comparability issues between results in 2011 and 2012.)
  • In individual subject areas, the percentage of learners achieving Level 5 or above in English overall is 38%, in reading only it is 48% and in maths it is 39%;
  • The proportion of pupils achieving Level 6 through the new KS2 level 6 tests is not given in the Performance Tables but we know from other published data that 900 pupils achieved Level 6 in the KS2 reading test and 19,000 did so in the maths test. While the former is significantly lower than 1% of total entries, the latter is equivalent to 3%, so roughly one pupil per class is now achieving Level 6 in maths. (About 700 pupils also achieved Level 6 in science teacher assessment). Almost all learners achieving a Level 6 will have demonstrated three levels of progress. We know from other provisional data that some 2,500 of those securing Level 6 in maths achieved either Level 2A or even Level 2B in maths alone at KS1, so managing four levels of progress in crude whole-level terms;
  • But, reverting to the average point score methodology deployed in the Primary Tables, no high attaining pupils achieved Level 3 or below in English and maths at KS2, hence 100% of high attainers achieved Level 4 or above on that measure;
  • Only 72% achieved the expected two or more levels of progress between the end of KS1 and the end of KS2, by achieving Level 5 or above in both English and maths. This means that over a quarter of high attaining pupils are underachieving on this measure;
  • The separate figures for English and maths look better. Some 87% of high attainers made the expected progress in English, while 92% did so in maths. This may suggest that the degree of overlap between high attaining pupils in English and maths respectively may be relatively low;
  • In maths, the percentage of high attainers making expected progress is slightly above the percentage of middle attainers making expected progress (90%) and significantly higher than the corresponding percentage for low attainers (71%);
  • But in English there is a more worrying situation. Some 93% of middle attainers make expected progress and 83% of low attainers do so. High attainers surpass the latter, with 87% making the expected level of progress, but that is markedly short of the middle attainers, suggesting that – in English at least – there is still a bias towards the middle of the achievement spectrum, at the expense of outliers at both ends. Why that should be is largely unexplained.


Change Since 2011

Compared with 2011:

  • The percentage of pupils achieving Level 5 or above in KS2 English and maths tests has increased by 6% from 21% to 27%, but the removal of the writing test has had a significant impact here. There is some evidence from teacher assessment results that there has been an improvement, but this cannot be reliably confirmed;
  • The removal of the writing test also impacts on the percentage achieving Level 5 or above in English which has improved from 29% to 38%. In reading and maths, where there are no such comparability problems, the percentage achieving Level 5 or above has also increased significantly, by 5% and 4% respectively. Achievement at Level 6 cannot be compared with 2011 when tests were not available;
  • In 2011, 1% of high attainers failed to achieve Level 4 in KS2 English and maths and only 61% achieved Level 5 in both subjects, so there has been significant improvement in that the proportion not achieving this key benchmark has fallen from about four in ten to less than three in ten. This proportion remains unacceptably high and the impact of the removal of the writing test can only be guessed at, but the headline figure suggests that the introduction of the high attainer measure in the Tables may be having a positive impact;
  • Turning to the individual subjects, the percentage of high attainers making the expected progress in maths has increased from 89% to 92% and the comparable figure in English has increased substantially from 77% to 87%. Interestingly, in English the high attainers have overtaken the low attainers, though they continue to trail the middle attainers (see table below).


                  Maths                   English
High Middle Low High Middle Low
2011 89 85 65 77 89 80
2012 92 90 71 87 93 83
Change +3 +5 +6 +10 +4 +3

Percentage of high, middle and low attainers achieving 2+ Levels of progress from KS1 to KS2


One can see that the rate of improvement is slowest for high attainers in maths and fastest in English, though this may imply that the removal of the writing test has enabled many more high attainers than low attainers to make the expected progress. The fact that one in seven high attaining pupils are still not making the expected progress in English is, however, a cause for concern.


Additional analysis

Back in 2011, the Daily Mail published some further detail. It put the number of high attaining pupils not making the expected progress in English and maths at ‘up to 51,000’.


  • 2,160 primary schools returned a gap of 20% or more between the proportion of middle and high attainers making the expected 2+ levels of progress in English (presumably in favour of the former);
  • About half of all primary schools had some high attainers who failed to make  2+ levels of progress in both English and maths (so they did not have a 100% record on this measure);
  • Incredibly, about 800 schools had high attainers who failed even to achieve Level 4 at KS2, meaning they remained stuck at Level 3 after four years of KS2 education.
  • 15 schools had over 20% of their pupils in this position – some 1,300 pupils in all.

The 2012 Tables suggest that just 11 schools had high attaining pupils who were stuck at Level 3 in English and maths combined, with the highest recorded percentage for an individual school reaching 9%. It seems that only a few tens of pupils were in this invidious position.

But, more worryingly, in about 125 schools, 25% or fewer high attaining pupils failed to achieve Level 5 in both English and maths. Some 1,130 schools had 50% or fewer high attaining pupils achieving the expected progress.

Fewer than 870 schools had a perfect record in this respect, a significant improvement on 2011 but still not good enough.



Overall there is some positive evidence that underachievement by high attainers is being significantly reduced – although the extent of the improvement is confused by the incomparability of 2011 and 2012 results as a consequence of the removal of the writing test.

Nevertheless, the extent of this underachievement remains unacceptably high, with well over a quarter still not securing Level 5 in English and maths combined.

The 2+ levels of progress required under existing arrangements is arguably insufficiently challenging for the majority of high attainers anyway – as evidenced by the increasing numbers achieving Level 6 – so there is a hidden underachievement factor to superimpose on top of the published figures.

There are improvements in progression in English and maths when considered separately. Although the improvement in progression is about three times as fast in English as in maths, the percentage failing to secure Level 5 in English remains higher.

Moreover, the progression rate for high attainers continues to lag behind middle achievers in English, which would suggest that many are continuing to receive inadequately differentiated challenge and support.

Issues with the structure of the Performance Tables remain. The high attainers measure is insufficiently differentiated, especially since Level 6 test results do not feature as a separate measure in the Performance Tables.

And, since the existing measure is not applied to the Narrowing the Gap indicators, we have no way of knowing whether schools are neglecting high attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds relatively more or less than their more advantaged peers.

Finally, it has been confirmed that National Curriculum levels are shortly to disappear, but no information has yet been published about the means of recording achievement and progression in future – and how that will be reflected in Performance Tables, assuming they continue to exist.

So, although there is scope for some optimism in the short term, the medium term prospect remains decidedly uncertain.



December 2012

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