This is my annual post reviewing data about high attainment and high attainers at the end of Key Stage 2.
It draws on:
- The 2014 Primary School Performance Tables and
- Statistical First Release 50/2014: National curriculum assessments at key stage 2, 2014 (revised)
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 %|
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chart 2: Disadvantaged gaps at L4+ and L5+ for all five measures, 2013 and 2014
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.
Chart 3: FSM gaps at L4+ and L5+ compared, 2013 and 2014
- 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.
- 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.
- 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+.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Chart 4: Comparison of proportion of learners achieving L5+ in reading writing and maths in 2013 and 2014
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.
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.
Table 3: Proportion of disadvantaged learners achieving L5+ in reading, writing and maths, 2012-2014
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.
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.
Three more schools are below 95.0 and some 250 are at 97.5 or lower.
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.
Table 4: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in reading since 2010
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.
Table 5: Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 on the KS2 reading test 2012-2014
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.
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.
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.
|2013 %||2014 %|
Table 6: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in GPS, 2013 and 2014
Table 7: Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 in GPS, 2013 and 2014
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.
Chart 7: FSM and disadvantaged gaps for KS2 GPS test at L5+, 2013 and 2014
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.
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.
Table 8: Percentage of learners achieving L5+ in KS2 maths test, 2010-2014
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.
Table 9 Number and percentage of learners achieving L6 in KS2 maths test 2012-2014
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.
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).
Chart 9: FSM and disadvantaged gaps, KS2 L5+ and L6 maths test, 2012 to 2014
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.
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.
Table 10: Percentage achieving level 5+ in KS2 writing TA 2012-2014
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.
Chart 10: FSM and disadvantaged gaps, L5+ Writing TA, 2012-2014
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.
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.