What Becomes of Schools That Fail Their High Attainers?*

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This post reviews the performance and subsequent history of schools with particularly poor results for high attainers in the Secondary School Performance Tables over the last three years.

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Seahorse in Perth Aquarium by Gifted Phoenix

It establishes a high attainer ‘floor target’ so as to draw a manageable sample of poor performers and, having done so:

  • Analyses the characteristics of this sample;
  • Explores whether these schools typically record poor performance in subsequent years or manage to rectify matters;
  • Examines the impact of various interventions, including falling below the official floor targets, being placed in special measures or deemed to have serious weaknesses following inspection, becoming an academy and receiving a pre-warning and/or warning notice;
  • Considers whether the most recent Ofsted reports on these schools do full justice to this issue, including those undertaken after September 2013 when new emphasis was placed on the performance of the ‘most able’.

The post builds on my previous analysis of high attainment in the 2013 School Performance Tables (January 2014). It applies the broad definition of high attainers used in the Tables, which I discussed in that post and have not repeated here.

I must emphasise at the outset that factors other than poor performance may partially explain particularly low scores in the Tables.

There may be several extenuating circumstances that are not reflected in the results. Sometimes these may surface in Ofsted inspection reports, but the accountability and school improvement regime typically imposes a degree of rough justice, and I have followed its lead.

It is also worth noting that the Performance Tables do not provide data for schools where the number of high attainers is five or fewer, because of the risk that individuals may be identifiable even though the data is anonymised.

This is unfortunate since the chances are that schools with very few high attainers will find it more difficult than others to address their needs. We may never know, but there is more on the impact of cohort size below.

Finally please accept my customary apology for any transcription errors. Do let me know if you notice any and I will correct them.

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Drawing the Sample

The obvious solution would be to apply the existing floor targets to high attainers.

So it would include all schools recording:

  • Fewer than 35% (2011) or 40% (2012 and 2013) of high attainers achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent including GCSEs in English and mathematics and
  • Below median scores for the percentage of high attainers making at least the expected three levels of progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 in English and maths respectively.

But the first element is far too undemanding a threshold to apply for high attaining learners and the overall target generates a tiny sample.

The only school failing to achieve it in 2013 was Ark Kings Academy in Birmingham, which recorded just six high attainers, forming 9% of the cohort (so only just above the level at which results would have been suppressed).

In 2012 two schools were in the same boat:

  • The Rushden Community College in Northamptonshire, with 35 high attainers (26% of the cohort), which became a sponsored academy with the same name on 1 December 2012; and
  • Culverhay School in Bath and North East Somerset, with 10 high attainers (19% of the cohort), which became Bath Community Academy on 1 September 2012.

No schools at all performed at this level in 2011.

A sample of just three schools is rather too unrepresentative, so it is necessary to set a more demanding benchmark which combines the same threshold and progress elements.

The problem is not with the progress measure. Far too many schools fail to meet the median level of performance – around 70% each year in both English and maths – even with their cadres of high attainers. Hence I need to lower the pitch of this element to create a manageable sample.

I plumped for 60% or fewer high attainers making at least the expected progress between KS2 and KS4 in both English and maths. This captured 22 state-funded schools in 2013, 31 in 2012 and 38 in 2011. (It also enabled Ark King’s Academy to escape, by virtue of the fact that 67% of its high attainers learners achieved the requisite progress in English.)

For the threshold element I opted for 70% or fewer high attainers achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent including GCSEs in English and maths. This captured 19 state-funded schools in 2013, 29 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

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Venn 2.

The numbers of state-funded schools that met both criteria were seven in 2013, eight  in 2012 and five in 2011, so 20 in all.

I decided to feature this small group of schools in the present post while also keeping in mind the schools occupying each side of the Venn Diagram. I particularly wanted to see whether schools which emerged from the central sample in subsequent years continued to fall short on one or other of the constituent elements.

The 20 schools in the main sample are:

Table 1 below provides more detail about these 20 schools.

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Table 1: Schools Falling Below Illustrative High Attainer Floor Targets 2011-2013

Name Type LA Status/Sponsor Subsequent History
2011
Carter Community School 12-16 mixed modern Poole Community Sponsored academy (ULT) 1/4/13
Hadden Park High School 11-16 mixed comp Nottingham Foundation Sponsored Academy (Bluecoat School) 1/1/14
Merchants Academy 11-18 mixed comp Bristol Sponsored Academy (Merchant Venturers/ University of Bristol
The Robert Napier School 11-18 mixed modern Medway Foundation Sponsored Academy (Fort Pitt Grammar School)  1/9/12
Bishop of Rochester Academy 11-18 mixed comp Kent Sponsored Academy (Medway Council/ Canterbury Christ Church University/ Diocese of Rochester)
2012
The Rushden Community College 11-18 mixed comp Northants Community Sponsored Academy (The Education Fellowship) 12/12
Culverhay School 11-18 boys comp Bath and NE Somerset Community Bath Community Academy – mixed (Cabot Learning) 1/9/12
Raincliffe School 11-16 mixed comp N Yorks Community Closed 8/12 (merged with Graham School)
The Coseley School 11-16 mixed comp Dudley Foundation
Fleetwood High School 11-18 mixed comp Lancs Foundation
John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College 11-16 mixed modern Lincs Academy converter
Parklands High School 11-18 mixed Liverpool Foundation Discussing academy sponsorship (Bright Tribe)
Frank F Harrison Engineering College 11-18 mixed comp Walsall Foundation Mirus Academy (sponsored by Walsall College) 1/1/12
2013
Gloucester Academy 11-19 mixed comp Glos Sponsored Academy (Prospect Education/ Gloucestershire College)
Christ the King Catholic and Church of England VA School 11-16 mixed comp Knowsley VA Closed 31/8/13
Aireville School 11-16 mixed modern N Yorks Community
Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Boys 11-19 boys comp Manchester Sponsored Academy (Manchester College/ Manchester Council/ Microsoft)
Fearns Community Sports College 11-16 mixed comp Lancs Community
Unity College Blackpool 5-16 mixed comp Blackpool Community Unity Academy Blackpool (sponsored by Fylde Coast Academies)
The Mirus Academy 3-19 mixed comp Walsall Sponsored Academy (Walsall College)

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Only one school appears twice over the three-year period albeit in two separate guises – Frank F Harrison/Mirus.

Of the 20 in the sample, seven were recorded in the relevant year’s Performance Tables as community schools, six as foundation schools, one was VA, one was an academy converter and the five remaining were sponsored academies.

Of the 14 that were not originally academies, seven have since become sponsored academies and one is discussing the prospect. Two more have closed, so just five – 25% of the sample – remain outside the academies sector.

All but two of the schools are mixed (the other two are boys’ schools). Four are modern schools and the remainder comprehensive.

Geographically they are concentrated in the Midlands and the North, with a few in the South-West and the extreme South-East. There are no representatives from London, the East or the North-East.

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Performance of the Core Sample

Table 2 below looks at key Performance Table results for these schools. I have retained the separation by year and the order in which the schools appear, which reflects their performance on the GCSE threshold measure, with the poorest performing at the top of each section.

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Table 2: Performance of schools falling below proposed high attainer floor targets 2011-2013

Name No of HA % HA 5+ A*-C incl E+M 3+ LoP En 3+ LoP Ma APS (GCSE)
2011
Carter Community School 9 13 56 56 44 304.9
Hadden Park High School 15 13 60 40 20 144.3
Merchants Academy 19 19 68 58 42 251.6
The Robert Napier School 28 12 68 39 46 292.8
Bishop of Rochester Academy 10 5 70 50 60 298.8
2012
The Rushden Community College 35 26 3 0 54 326.5
Culverhay School 10 19 30 40 20 199.3
Raincliffe School 6 11 50 50 33 211.5
The Coseley School 35 20 60 51 60 262.7
Fleetwood High School 34 22 62 38 24 272.9
John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College 14 12 64 50 43 283.6
Parklands High School 13 18 69 23 8 143.7
Frank F Harrison Engineering College 20 12 70 35 60 188.3
2013
Gloucester Academy 18 13 44 28 50 226.8
Christ the King Catholic and Church of England VA School 22 22 55 32 41 256.5
Aireville School 23 23 61 35 57 267.9
Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Boys 16 19 63 50 50 244.9
Fearns Community Sports College 22 13 64 36 59 306.0
Unity College Blackpool 21 18 67 57 52 277.1
The Mirus Academy 23 13 70 57 52 201.4

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The size of the high attainer population in these schools varies between 6 (the minimum for which statistics are published) and 35, with an average of just under 20.

The percentage of high attainers within each school’s cohort ranges from 5% to 26% with an average of slightly over 16%.

This compares with a national average in 2013 for all state-funded schools of 32.4%, almost twice the size of the average cohort in this sample. All 20 schools here record a high attainer population significantly below this national average.

This correlation may be significant – tending to support the case that high attainers are more likely to struggle in schools where they are less strongly concentrated – but it does not prove the relationship.

Achievement against the GCSE threshold measure falls as low as 3% (Rushden in 2012) but this was reportedly attributable to the school selecting ineligible English specifications.

Otherwise the poorest result is 30% at Culverhay, also in 2012, followed by Gloucester Academy (44% in 2013) and Raincliffe (50% in 2012). Only these four schools have recorded performance at or below 50%.

Indeed there is a very wide span of performance even amongst these small samples, especially in 2012 when it reaches an amazing 67 percentage points (40 percentage points excluding Rushden). In 2013 there was a span of 26 percentage points and in 2011 a span of 14 percentage points.

The overall average amongst the 20 schools is almost 58%. This varies by year. In 2011 it was 64%, in 2012 it was significantly lower at 51% (but rose to 58% if Rushden is excluded) and in 2013 it was 61%.

This compares with a national average for high attainers in state-funded schools of 94.7% in 2013. The extent to which some of these outlier schools are undershooting the national average is truly eye-watering.

Turning to the progress measures, one might expect even greater variance, given that so many more schools fail to clear this element of the official floor targets with their high attainers.

The overall average across these 20 schools is 41% in English and 44% in maths, suggesting that performance is slightly stronger in maths than English.

But in 2011 the averages were 49% in English and 42% in maths, reversing this general pattern and producing a much wider gap in favour of English.

In 2012 they were 36% in English and 38% in maths, but the English average improves to 41% if Rushden’s result is excluded. This again bucks the overall trend.

The overall average is cemented by the 2013 figures when the average for maths stood at 53% compared with 42% for English.

Hence, over the three years, we can see that the sharp drop in English in 2012 – most probably attributable to the notorious marking issue – was barely recovered in 2013. Conversely, a drop in maths in 2012 was followed by a sharp recovery in 2013.

The small sample size calls into question the significance of these patterns, but they are interesting nevertheless.

The comparable national averages among all state-funded schools in 2013 were 86.2% in English and 87.8% in maths. So the schools in this sample are typically operating at around half the national average levels. This is indeed worse than the comparable record on the threshold measure.

That said, the variation in these results is again huge – 35 percentage points in English (excluding Rushden) and as much as 52 percentage points in maths.

There is no obvious pattern in these schools’ comparative performance in English and maths. Ten schools scored more highly in English and nine in maths, with one school recording equally in both. English was in the ascendancy in 2011 and 2012, but maths supplanted it in 2013.

The final column in Table 2 shows the average point score (APS) for high attainers’ best eight GCSE results. There is once more a very big range, from 144.3 to 326.5 – over 180 points – compared with a 2013 national average for high attainers in state-funded schools of 377.6.

The schools at the bottom of the distribution are almost certainly relying heavily on GCSE-equivalent qualifications, rather than pushing their high attainers towards GCSEs.

Those schools that record relatively high APS alongside relatively low progress scores are most probably taking their high attaining learners with L5 at KS2 to GCSE grade C, but no further.

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Changes in Performance from 2011 to 2013

Table 3, below, shows how the performance of the 2011 sample changed in 2012 and 2013, while Table 4 shows how the 2012 sample performed in 2013.

The numbers in green show improvements compared with the schools’ 2011 baselines and those in bold are above my illustrative high attainer floor target. The numbers in red are those which are lower than the schools’ 2011 baselines.

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Table 3: Performance of the 2011 Sample in 2012 and 2013

Name             % HA  5+ A*-C incl E+M      3+ LOP E    3+ LOP M
11 12 13 11 12 13 11 12 13 11 12 13
Carter Community School 13 14 13 56 100 92 56 80 75 44 80 33
Hadden Park High School 13 15 8 60 87 75 40 80 75 20 53 50
Merchants Academy 19 16 20 68 79 96 58 79 88 42 47 71
The Robert Napier School 12 12 11 68 83 96 39 59 92 46 62 80
Bishop of Rochester Academy 5 7 8 70 83 73 50 67 47 60 75 53

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All but one of the five schools showed little variation in the relative size of their high attainer populations over the three years in question.

More importantly, all five schools made radical improvements in 2012.

Indeed, all five exceeded the 5+ GCSE threshold element of my illustrative floor target in both 2012 and 2013 though, more worryingly, three of the five fell back somewhat in 2013 compared with 2012, which might suggest that short term improvement is not being fully sustained.

Four of the five exceeded the English progress element of the illustrative floor target in 2012 while the fifth – Robert Napier – missed by only 1%.

Four of the five also exceeded the floor in 2013, including Robert Napier which made a 43 percentage point improvement compared with 2012. On this occasion, Bishop of Rochester was the exception, having fallen back even below its 2011 level.

In the maths progress element, all five schools made an improvement in 2012, three of the five exceeding the floor target, the exceptions being Hadden Park and Merchants Academy

But by 2013, only three schools remained above their 2011 baseline and only two – Merchants and Robert Napier – remained above the floor target.

None of the five schools would have remained below my floor target in either 2012 or 2013, by virtue of their improved performance on the 5+ GCSE threshold element, but there was significantly greater insecurity in the progress elements, especially in maths.

There is also evidence of huge swings in performance on the progress measures. Hadden Park improved progression in English by 40 percentage points between 2011 and 2012. Carter Community School almost matched this in maths, improving by 36 percentage points, only to fall back by a huge 47 percentage points in the following year.

Overall this would appear to suggest that this small sample of schools made every effort to improve against the threshold and progress measures in 2012 but, while most were able to sustain improvement – or at least control their decline – on the threshold measure into 2013, this was not always possible with the progress elements.

There is more than a hint of two markedly different trajectories, with one group of schools managing to sustain initial improvements from a very low base and the other group falling back after an initial drive.

Is the same pattern emerging amongst the group of schools that fell below my high attainer floor target in 2012?

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Table 4: Performance of the 2012 Sample in 2013

Name   % HA  5+ A*-C incl E+M 3+ LOP E 3+ LOP M
12 13  12 13 12 13 12 13
The Rushden Community College 26 23 3 90 0 74 54 87
Culverhay School 19 12 30 67 40 67 20 67
Raincliffe School 11 50 50 33
The Coseley School 20 26 60 88 51 82 60 78
Fleetwood High School 22 24 62 84 38 36 24 67
John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College 12 15 64 100 50 61 43 83
Parklands High School 18 11 69 78 23 56 8 56
Frank F Harrison Engineering College 12 13 70 70 35 57 60 52

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We must rule out Raincliffe, which closed, leaving seven schools under consideration.

Some of these schools experienced slightly more fluctuation in the size of their high attainer populations – and over the shorter period of two years rather than three.

Six of the seven managed significant improvements in the 5+ GCSE threshold with the remaining school – Frank F Harrison – maintaining its 2012 performance.

Two schools – Frank F Harrison and Culverhay did not exceed the illustrative floor on this element.  Meanwhile John Spendluffe achieved a highly creditable perfect score, comfortably exceeding the national average for state-funded schools. Rushden was not too far behind.

There was greater variability with the progress measures. In English, three schools remained below the illustrative floor in 2013 with one – Fleetwood High – falling back compared with its 2012 performance.

Conversely, Coseley improved by 31 percentage points to not far below the national average for state-funded schools.

In maths two schools failed to make it over the floor. Parklands made a 48 percentage point improvement but still fell short, while Frank F Harrison fell back eight percentage points compared with its 2012 performance.

On the other hand, Rushden and John Spendluffe are closing in on national average performance for state-funded schools. Both have made improvements of over 30 percentage points.

Of the seven, only Frank F Harrison would remain below my overall illustrative floor target on the basis of its 2013 performance.

Taking the two samples together, the good news is that many struggling schools are capable of making radical improvements in their performance with high attainers.

But question marks remain over the capacity of some schools to sustain initial  improvements over subsequent years.

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What Interventions Have Impacted on these Schools?

Table 5 below reveals how different accountability and school improvement interventions have been brought to bear on this sample of 20 schools since 2011.

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Table 5: Interventions Impacting on Sample Schools 2011-2014

Name Floor Targets Most recent Inspection Ofsted Rating (Pre-) warning notice Academised
2011
Carter Community School  .FT 2011. FT 2013  .29/11/12. NYI as academy 2 Sponsored
Hadden Park High School  .FT 2011.FT 2012

.FT 2013

 .13/11/13 .NYI as academy SM Sponsored
Merchants Academy  .FT 2011 .FT 2012  .9/6/11 2
The Robert Napier School  .FT 2011.FT 2012  .17/09/09.NYI as academy 3 Sponsored
Bishop of Rochester Academy  .FT 2011.FT 2013  .28/6/13 3 PWN 3/1/12
2012
The Rushden Community College FT 2012  .10/11/10.NYI as academy 3 Sponsored
Culverhay School  .FT 2011 .FT 2012

.(FT 2013)

 .11/1/12 .NYI as academy SM Sponsored
Raincliffe School  .FT 2012  .19/10/10 3 Closed
The Coseley School  .FT 2012  .13/9/12 SM
Fleetwood High School  .FT 2012 .FT 2013  .20/3/13 SWK
John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College  .FT 2012  .3/3/10 .As academy    18/9/13 .1.2 Academy converter 9/11
Parklands High School  .FT 2011.FT 2012

.FT 2013

 .5/12/13 SM Discussing sponsorship
Frank F Harrison Engineering College  .FT 2011.FT 2012

.(FT 2013)

 .5/7/11.See Mirus Academy below 3 Now Mirus Academy (see below)
2013
Gloucester Academy  .FT 2011.FT 2012

 .FT 2013

 .4/10/12 SWK  .PWN 16/9/13.WN 16/12/13
Christ the King RC and CofE VA School  .FT 2011.FT 2012

.FT 2013

 .18/9/12 SM Closed
Aireville School  .FT 2012.FT 2013  .15/5/13 SM
Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Boys  .FT 2011.FT 2012

.FT 2013

 .13/6/13 SWK PWN 3/1/12
Fearns Community Sports College  .FT 2011.FT 2013  .28/6/12 3
Unity College Blackpool .  .FT 2011 .FT 2012

.FT 2013

 .9/11/11.NYI as academy 3 Sponsored
The Mirus Academy  .FT 2013  .7/11/13 SM

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Floor Targets

The first and obvious point to note is that every single school in this list fell below the official floor targets in the year in which they also undershot my illustrative high attainers’ targets.

It is extremely reassuring that none of the schools returning particularly poor outcomes with high attainers are deemed acceptable performers in generic terms. I had feared that a few schools at least would achieve this feat.

In fact, three-quarters of these schools have fallen below the floor targets in at least two of the three years in question, while eight have done so in all three years, two having changed their status by becoming academies in the final year (which, strictly speaking, prevents them from scoring the hat-trick). One has since closed.

Some schools appear to have been spared intervention by receiving a relatively positive Ofsted inspection grade despite their floor target records. For example, Carter Community School had a ‘good’ rating sandwiched between two floor target appearances, while Merchants Academy presumably received its good rating before subsequently dropping below the floor.

John Spendluffe managed an outstanding rating two years before it dropped below the floor target and was rated good – in its new guise as an academy – a year afterwards.

The consequences of falling below the floor targets are surprisingly unclear, as indeed are the complex rules governing the wider business of intervention in underperforming schools.

DfE press notices typically say something like:

Schools below the floor and with a history of underperformance face being taken over by a sponsor with a track record of improving weak schools.’

But of course that can only apply to schools that are not already academies.

Moreover, LA-maintained schools may appeal to Ofsted against standards and performance warning notices issued by their local authorities; and schools and LAs may also challenge forced academisation in the courts, arguing that they have sufficient capacity to drive improvement.

As far as I can establish, it is nowhere clearly explained what exactly constitutes a ‘history of underperformance’, so there is inevitably a degree of subjectivity in the application of this criterion.

Advice elsewhere suggests that a school’s inspection outcomes and ‘the local authority’s position in terms of securing improvement as a maintained school’ should also be taken into account alongside achievement against the floor targets.

We do not know what weighting is given to these different sources of evidence, nor can we rule out the possibility that other factors – tangible or intangible – are also weighed in the balance.

Some might argue that this gives politicians the necessary flexibility to decide each case on its merits, taking careful account of the unique circumstances that apply rather than imposing a standard set of cookie-cutter judgements.

Others might counter that the absence of standard criteria, imposed rigorously but with flexibility to take additional special circumstances in to account, lays such decisions unnecessarily open to dispute and is likely to generate costly and time-consuming legal challenge

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Academy Warning Notices

When it comes to academies:

‘In cases of sustained poor academic performance at an academy, ministers may issue a pre-warning notice to the relevant trust, demanding urgent action to bring about substantial improvements, or they will receive a warning notice. If improvement does not follow after that, further action – which could ultimately lead to a change of sponsor – can be taken. In cases where there are concerns about the performance of a number of a trust’s schools, the trust has been stopped from taking on new projects.’

‘Sustained poor academic performance’ may or may not be different from a ‘history of underperformance’ and it too escapes definition.

One cannot but conclude that it would be very helpful indeed to have some authoritative guidance, so that there is much greater transparency in the processes through which these various provisions are being applied, to academies and LA-maintained schools alike.

In the absence of such guidance, it seems rather surprising that only three of the academies in this sample – Bishop of Rochester, Gloucester and Manchester Creative and Media – have received pre-warning letters to date, while only Gloucester’s has been superseded by a full-blown warning notice. None of these mention specifically the underperformance of high attainers.

  • Bishop of Rochester received its notice in January 2012, but subsequently fell below the floor targets in both 2012 and 2013 and – betweentimes – received an Ofsted inspection rating of 3 (‘requires improvement’).
  • Manchester Creative and Media also received its pre-warning notice in January 2012. It too has been below the floor targets in both 2012 and 2013 and was deemed to have serious weaknesses in a June 2013 inspection.
  • Gloucester received its pre-warning notice much more recently, in September 2013, followed by a full warning notice just three months later.

These pre-warning letters invite the relevant Trusts to set out within 15 days what action they will take to improve matters, whereas the warning notices demand a series of specific improvements with a tight deadline. (In the case of Gloucester Academy the notice issued on 16 December 2013 imposing a deadline of 15 January 2014. We do not yet know the outcome.)

Other schools in my sample have presumably been spared a pre-warning letter because of their relatively recent acquisition of academy status, although several other 2012 openers have already received them. One anticipates that more will attract such attention in due course.

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Ofsted Inspection

The relevant columns of Table 5 reveal that, of the 12 schools that are now academies (taking care to count Harrison/Mirus as one rather than two), half have not yet been inspected in their new guise.

As noted above, it is strictly the case that, when schools become academies – whether sponsored or via conversion – they are formally closed and replaced by successor schools, so the old inspection reports no longer apply to the new school.

However, this does not prevent many academies from referring to such reports on their websites – and they do have a certain currency when one wishes to see whether or not a recently converted academy has been making progress.

But, if we accept the orthodox position, there are only six academies with bona fide inspection reports: Merchants, Bishop of Rochester, John Spendluffe, Gloucester, Manchester Creative and Media and Mirus.

All five of the LA-maintained schools still open have been inspected fairly recently: Coseley, Fleetwood, Parklands, Aireville and Fearns.

This gives us a sample of 11 schools with valid inspection reports:

  • Two academies are rated ‘good’ (2)  – Merchants and John Spendluffe;
  • One academy – Bishop of Rochester – and one LA-maintained school –  Fearns – ‘require improvement’ (3);
  • Two academies – Gloucester and Manchester – and one LA-maintained school – Fleetwood – are inadequate (4) having serious weaknesses and
  • One academy – Mirus – and three LA-maintained schools – Parklands, Coseley and Aireville – are inadequate (4) and in Special Measures.

The School Inspection Handbook explains the distinction between these two  variants of ‘inadequate’:

‘A school is judged to require significant improvement where it has serious weaknesses because one or more of the key areas is ‘inadequate’ (grade 4) and/or there are important weaknesses in the provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. However, leaders, managers and governors have been assessed as having the capacity to secure improvement

…A school requires special measures if:

  • it is failing to give its pupils an acceptable standard of education and
  • the persons responsible for leading, managing or governing are not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement in the school.’

Schools in each of these categories are subject to more frequent monitoring reports. Those with serious weaknesses are typically re-inspected within 18 months, while, for those in special measures, the timing of re-inspection depends on the school’s rate of improvement.

It may be a surprise to some that only seven of the 11 are currently deemed inadequate given the weight of evidence stacked against them.

There is some support for the contention that Ofsted inspection ratings, floor target assessments and pre-warning notices do not always link together as seamlessly as one might imagine, although apparent inconsistencies may sometimes arise from the chronological sequence of these different judgements.

But what do these 11 reports say, if anything, about the performance of high attainers? Is there substantive evidence of a stronger focus on ‘the most able’ in those reports that have issued since September 2013?

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The Content of Ofsted Inspection Reports

Table 6, below, sets out what each report contains on this topic, presenting the schools in the order of their most recent inspection.

One might therefore expect the judgements to be more specific and explicit in the three reports at the foot of the table, which should reflect the new guidance introduced last September. I discussed that guidance at length in this October 2013 post.

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Table 6: Specific references to high attainers/more able/most able in inspection reports

Name Date Outcome Comments
Merchants Academy 29/6/11 Good (2) In Year 9… an impressive proportion of higher-attaining students…have been entered early for the GCSE examinations in mathematics and science. Given their exceptionally low starting points on entry into the academy, this indicates that these students are making outstanding progress in their learning and their achievement is exceptional.More-able students are fast-tracked to early GCSE entry and prepared well to follow the InternationalBaccalaureate route.
Fearns Community Sports College 28/6/12 Requires improvement (3) Setting has been introduced across all year groups to ensure that students are appropriately challenged and supported, especially more-able students. This is now beginning to increase the number of students achieving higher levels earlier in Key Stage 3.
The Coseley School 13/9/12 Special Measures (4) Teaching is inadequate because it does not always extend students, particularly the more able.What does the school need to do to improve further?Raise achievement, particularly for the most able, by ensuring that:

  • work consistently challenges and engages all students so that they make good progress in lessons
  • challenging targets are set as a minimum expectation
  • students do not end studies in English language and mathematics early without having the chance to achieve the best possible grade
  • GCSE results in all subjects are at least in line with national expectations.

Target setting is not challenging enough for all ability groups, particularly for the more-able students who do not make sufficient progress by the end of Key Stage 4.

Gloucester Academy 4/10/12 Serious Weaknesses (4) No specific reference
Fleetwood High School 20/3/13 Serious Weaknesses(4) No specific reference
Aireville School 15/5/13 Special Measures(4) Teachers tend to give the same task to all students despite a wide range of ability within the class. Consequently, many students will complete their work and wait politely until the teacher has ensured the weaker students complete at least part of the task. This limits the achievement of the more-able students and undermines the confidence of the least-able.There is now a good range of subjects and qualifications that meet the diverse needs and aspirations of the students, particularly the more-able students.
Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Boys 13/6/13 Serious Weaknesses(4) The most-able boys are not consistently challenged to attain at the highest levels. In some lessons they work independently and make rapid progress, whereas on other occasions their work is undemanding.What does the academy need to do to improve further?Improve the quality of teaching in Key Stages 3 and 4 so that it is at least good leading to rapid progress and raised attainment for all groups of boys, especially in English, mathematics and science by…  ensuring that tasks are engaging and challenge all students, including the most-able.The most-able boys receive insufficient challenge to enable them to excel. Too many lessons donot require them to solve problems or link their learning to real-life contexts.In some lessons teachers’ planning indicates that they intend different students to achieve different outcomes, but they provide them all with the same tasks and do not adjust the pace or nature of work for higher- or lower-attaining students. This results in a slow pace of learning and some boys becoming frustrated.
Bishop of Rochester Academy 28/6/13 Requires improvement (3) No specific reference
John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College 18/9/13 Good (2) Not enough lessons are outstanding in providing a strong pace, challenge and opportunities for independent learning, particularly for the most able.The 2013 results show a leap forward in attainment and progress, although the most able could still make better progress.Leadership and management are not outstanding because the achievement of pupils, though improving quickly, has not been maintained at a high level over a period of time, and a small number of more-able students are still not achieving their full potential.
The Mirus Academy 7/11/13 Special Measures (4) The academy’s early entry policy for GCSE has made no discernible difference to pupils’ achievement, including that of more able pupils.
Parklands High School 5/12/13 Special Measures (4) The achievement of students supported by the pupil premium generally lags behind that of their classmates. All groups, including themost able students and those who have special educational needs, achieve poorly.Students who join the school having achieved Level 5 in national Key Stage 2 tests in primary school fare less well than middle attainers, in part due to early GCSE entry. They did a little better in 2013 than in 2012.

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There is inconsistency within both parts of the sample – the first eight reports that pre-date the new guidance and the three produced subsequently.

Three of the eleven reports make no specific reference to high attainers/most able learners, all of them undertaken before the new guidance came into effect.

In three more cases the references are confined to early entry or setting, one of those published since September 2013.

Only four of the eleven make what I judge to be substantive comments:

  • The Coseley School (special measures) – where the needs of the most able are explicitly marked out as an area requiring improvement;
  • The Manchester Creative and Media Academy for Boys (serious weaknesses) – where attention is paid to the most able throughout the report;
  • John Spendluffe Foundation Technology College (good) – which includes some commentary on the performance of the most able; and
  • Parklands High School (special measures) – which also provides little more than the essential minimum coverage.

The first two predate the new emphasis on the most able, but they are comfortably the most thorough. It is worrying that not all reports published since September are taking the needs of the most able as seriously as they might.

One might expect that, unconsciously or otherwise, inspectors are less ready to single out the performance of the most able when a school is inadequate across the board, but the small sample above does not support this hypothesis. Some of the most substantive comments relate to inadequate schools.

It therefore seems more likely that the variance is attributable to the differing capacity of inspection teams to respond to the new emphases in their inspection guidance. This would support the case made in my previous post for inspectors to receive additional guidance on how they should interpret the new requirement.

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Conclusion

This post established an illustrative floor target to identify a small sample of 20 schools that have demonstrated particularly poor performance with high attainers in the Performance Tables for 2011, 2012 or 2013.

It:

  • Compared the performance of these schools in the year in which they fell below the floor, noting significant variance by year and between institutions, but also highlighting the fact that the proportion of high attainers attending these schools is significantly lower than the national average for state-funded schools.
  • Examined the subsequent performance of schools below the illustrative floor in 2011 and 2012, finding that almost all made significant improvements in the year immediately following, but that some of the 2011 cohort experienced difficulty in sustaining this improvement across all elements into a second year. It seems that progress in English, maths or both are more vulnerable to slippage than the 5+ A*-C GCSE threshold measure.
  • Confirmed – most reassuringly – that every school in the sample fell below the official, generic floor targets in the year in which they also undershot my illustrative high attainer floor targets.
  • Reviewed the combination of assessments and interventions applied to the sample of schools since 2011, specifically the interaction between academisation, floor targets, Ofsted inspection and (pre)warning notices for academies. These do not always point in the same direction, although chronology can be an extenuating factor. New guidance about how these and other provisions apply and interact would radically improve transparency in a complex and politically charged field.
  • Analysed the coverage of high attainers/most able students in recent inspection reports on 11 schools from amongst the sample of 20, including three published after September 2013 when new emphasis on the most able came into effect. This exposed grave inconsistency in the scope and quality of the coverage, both before and after September 2013, which did not correlate with the grade of the inspection. Inspectors would benefit from succinct additional guidance.

In the process of determining which schools fell below my high attainers floor target, I also identified the schools that undershot one or other of the elements but not both. This wider group included 46 schools in 2011, 52 schools in 2012 and 34 schools in 2013.

Several of these schools reappear in two or more of the three years, either in their existing form or following conversion to academy status.

Together they constitute a ‘watch list’ of more than 100 institutions, the substantial majority of which remain vulnerable to continued underperformance with their high attainers for the duration of the current accountability regime.

The chances are that many will also continue to struggle following the introduction of the new ‘progress 8’ floor measure from 2015.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the significant majority are now sponsored academies.

I plan to monitor their progress.

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*Apologies for this rather tabloid title!

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GP

February 2014

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