This is my annual breakdown of what the Transition Matrices tell us about the national performance of high attainers.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
2014 Primary Transition Matrices
- 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.
Chart 1: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 reading making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014
- 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.
- 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.
Chart 2: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 writing making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014
- 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.
- 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.
Chart 3: Percentage of learners with KS1 L3 maths making 1, 2 and 3 Levels of progress, 2012 to 2014
- 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.
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.
Secondary Transition Matrices
- 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.
Chart 4: Percentage of learners with KS2 L5A, L5B and L5C in English achieving 3, 4 and 5 levels of progress, 2012-2014
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.