The ‘Missing 520’



This post assesses the progress of English Russell Group universities in admitting students from areas with low levels of higher education participation.

It reapplies a methodology used previously by the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) to measure the success of these 20 universities in recruiting young, full-time first degree entrants from low participation neighbourhoods (LPNs).

It uses data on recruitment from POLAR3 Quintile 1 (background below) as reported in the UK Performance Indicators for Higher Education (UKPIs). The analysis compares outcomes for 2010/11 with those for 2014/15 to assess progress over the last five years for which data is available.



Back in 2004 the Sutton Trust published ‘The Missing 3,000 – State Schools Under-Represented at Leading Universities’. From time to time reference to ‘the missing 3,000’ still reappears in the fair access literature.

This calculation was based the performance…

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Why isn’t pupil premium closing excellence gaps?



This post:


  • Reviews the most recent statistical evidence of attainment gaps between disadvantaged high attainers and their peers.
  • Questions why pupil premium is having no impact on these excellence gaps and
  • Proposes action to close the gaps by raising attainment, so improving the life chances of these learners.



I have written extensively about the phenomenon of excellence gaps, which I have defined as:

‘The difference between the percentage of disadvantaged learners who reach a specified age- or stage-related threshold of high achievement – or who secure the requisite progress between two such thresholds – and the percentage of all other eligible learners that do so.’

The first part of this post reviews what the most recent DfE statistical publications reveal about the size of these gaps and the trend over the last few years.

It draws on:

  • SFR 47/2015: National curriculum assessments at key stage 2:…

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Policy Exchange to the Rescue?



This post is mainly about Policy Exchange’s plans for ‘super-selective schools’, as proposed on Total Politics and reprised in Schools Week



Blue_cut-coneIt’s been a strange six months.

Last July I officially retired the Gifted Phoenix Blog and the @GiftedPhoenix Twitter feed, leaving the former open access and converting the latter into a private archive.

I had embarked on both with the notion that consumers of these free services would reciprocate with a steady stream of paid consultancy. But I found myself devoting all my time to producing freebies while the trickle of consultancy work dried up entirely. So after a five-year stint it was time to pull the plug.

In late August I launched my new Eponymous Blog and opened a parallel @TimDracup Twitter feed. I still cover education issues, alongside other interests, but I will only blog or tweet when I have something I particularly want…

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Access and participation in the HE Green Paper



This post casts a critical eye over the proposals for widening participation and fair access in the Higher Education Green Paper.

It succeeds an earlier post – ‘Can we expect a rocket boost for fair access?’ (October 2015) – that discussed what was known of the Government’s intentions prior to publication.



BIS published the Green Paper: ‘Fulfilling our potential: teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ on Friday 6 November.

Fridays are not normally selected for high profile Government announcements.

There were reports that a launch originally scheduled for Thursday 15 October was delayed to coincide with a Prime Ministerial speech:

‘There are suggestions that one factor behind Mr Cameron’s growing focus on widening participation is that, in the wake of the government’s decision to abolish child poverty targets which were being missed, universities are one of the key fields where the Conservatives…

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Closing the curtains on key stage 2 level 6 assessment



This post provides updated information about trends in Key Stage 2 Level 6 performance.



Two further datasets have been released since I published a summary of Provisional KS2 Level 6 results for 2015 (August 2015):

  • 2015 static national transition matrices for KS1-2 reading, writing and maths were added to RAISEonline on 29 October.
  • L6 test entries for 2015 and preceding years were included in SFR42/2015, published on 5 November.

This permits further analysis of KS2 L6 attainment and progress.


L6 test entries

Chart 1 shows annual L6 test entries since 2012.

I had expected that confirmation of the abolition of L6 tests would depress 2015 entries severely across the board. But only in the reading test did entries fall below their 2014 level – and then only slightly.

This dip may have been more attributable to problems with the 2014 test: the drastically lower success…

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Which grammar schools want more pupil premium students?



I wanted to find out how many of our 163 grammar schools give priority to disadvantaged pupils in their admissions arrangements for academic year 2016/17, and by what means.

This analysis was prompted by a comment made by Secretary of State Nicky Morgan during the Commons debate on her statement of 19 October 2015. The statement explained her decision to approve the expansion of the Weald of Kent Grammar School to a new site in Sevenoaks.

She said:

‘The admissions code, which was changed by this Government, specifically allows grammar schools to give priority to children who are eligible for the pupil premium in their admission arrangements. Half of the grammar school sector has introduced, or intends to consult on adopting, that admissions priority, and I would like more of them to go further.’ (Hansard 19 October 2015, Column 683)

How many schools have actually included such a…

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Measuring primary attainment and progress



This is an exploratory discussion document. I wrote it to try to understand more clearly the current situation. I am open to persuasion and will take on board evidence-based amendments.


The transition from old to new

The original policy design for levels-based assessment was simple and elegant. This helped ensure its longevity throughout a period of constant policy churn. (I was present when it was first described at a meeting of TGAT over 28 years ago)

But it was eventually overloaded by a bolt-on superstructure of short-term progress targets. These, combined with the pressures of high-stakes accountability, brought about the problems delineated by the Commission on assessment without levels.

But the downside to the removal of levels, entirely ignored by the Commission, is too readily swept aside.

There were substantial advantages, not least for parents, in having a single national system applied consistently throughout their children’s education…

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New Transition Matrices Reveal Worrying Excellence Gaps



Having spent several years bewailing the limited availability of national data on excellence gaps, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that RAISEOnline has just published transition matrices showing the progress made by disadvantaged learners from KS2 to KS4.

It is regrettable that this data has been released only at the point when an entirely new assessment regime is about to be introduced, but better late than never.

It might provide a baseline of sorts against which to judge the future size of excellence gaps – and how effectively they are identified and reported – once the new assessment measures are in place.

You probably need reminding of my working definition of excellence gaps in an English context:

‘The difference between the percentage of disadvantaged learners who reach a specified age- or stage-related threshold of high achievement – or who secure the requisite progress between two such thresholds – and…

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FSM admissions to Oxbridge STILL showing no improvement



Today (20 October 2015) saw the publication of the latest DfE destinations data.

It was contained in SFR40/2015: Provisional destinations of key stage 4 and key stage 5 students in state-funded institutions, 2013/14.

I will not repeat again the detailed description of this data or the provisos attached. The essential information is set out at the beginning of this earlier post. A more exhaustive treatment is provided in the Technical Note published alongside today’s SFR.

Unusually, the main text of the SFR draws attention to some bad news about the proportion of FSM-eligible students progressing to selective higher education:

‘The gap between the percentage of free school meals eligible students going to the top third higher education institutions and all other students has widened from 7 to 9 percentage points between 2010/11 and 2013/14.

For Russell Group institutions the gap has widened from 6 to 7 percentage…

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If not grammar schools, what?



This week’s media debate about the value of grammar schools as instruments of social mobility has been profoundly depressing.

For the record, all the research evidence shows that the historical impact of selective education on social mobility has been negligible.

The proportion of disadvantaged learners currently admitted to grammar schools remains desperately low.

As of January 2013:

  • 41% of grammar schools had FSM admission rates of 2% or lower; only three had rates above 10%.
  • 20% of grammar schools had 10 or fewer FSM-eligible students in their GCSE cohorts from 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined; only 10% had 40 or more FSM students taking GCSEs in these three years.

Recent efforts to improve the ratio of disadvantaged to advantaged admissions have been confined to a minority of grammar schools.

Admissions reform is strictly limited, for fear of upsetting the sharp-elbowed middle classes. Surreptitious support offered by the Coalition…

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