PISA 2015: England’s results investigated



This post investigates what PISA 2015 results reveal about:

  • Progress towards the government’s 2020 national performance targets; and
  • Trends in the comparative performance of England’s high attainers.

It complements a parallel post about the TIMSS 2015 results – Troubling TIMSS trends (December 2015).


About PISA

The results of the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were published in early December 2016. PISA is a triennial survey of the educational achievement of 15 year-olds overseen by the OECD.

The survey was first undertaken in 2000, so this is the sixth cycle, but there were problems with UK response rates in 2000 and 2003, so this analysis relies on trends over the four cycles between 2006 and 2015.

Seventy-one jurisdictions are listed as participants in the 2015 survey, compared with 65 participants in 2012.

In England the 2015 survey was conducted between November and December 2015 with a sample…

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Troubling TIMSS trends



This post reassesses

  • Progress against the government’s national performance targets and
  • The comparative performance of England’s high attaining pupils

following publication of  the TIMSS 2015 international comparisons study.



The results of the 2015 Trends in Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) were published at the end of November 2016.

TIMSS is a quadrennial exercise, first undertaken in 1995 and most recently in 2011.

Four assessments are conducted: maths and science at age 9/10 (Year 5) and maths and science at age 13/14 (Year 9).

Fifty-seven countries participated in TIMSS 2015, though numbers undertaking each assessment varied (49 in Y5 maths; 47 in Y5 science and 39 in each of the Y9 assessments).

The National Report makes much of the 20-year trend since 1995, but there were no Y5 assessments in 1999 and in 1995 they drew pupils from both Y4 and Y5. There is greater continuity in…

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The perennial problem of primary high attainers



This post features analysis of the 2016 primary transition matrices, but mostly raises awkward questions.



Publication of the 2016 primary performance tables is imminent, together with revised national figures for achievement of the KS2 higher standard and new breakdowns by pupil characteristics, including receipt of pupil premium.

We also await the results of the TIMSS 2015 international comparisons study, which will show whether the proportion of pupils achieving the advanced benchmark in maths and science at age 9/10 has improved since 2011.

But the evidence already released paints a worrying picture of primary high attainment in 2016.

This includes:

  • The provisional data on high scaled scores in SFR39/2016 and

This short post synthesises that evidence, providing a staging post from which to launch analysis of the…

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Making sense of centres of excellence



This post probes the ‘centres of excellence’ proposal in the selection green paper.

Schools that work for everyone’ (September 2016) includes within its chapter on selection three proposals for ‘existing selective schools to do more to support children at non-selective schools’

This context is critical for understanding much of the confusion over centres of excellence. They are ostensibly a means by which existing (and potentially new) selective schools can extend their provision to learners attending other institutions.

Some wrongly believe they create additional de facto selective schools. I do not qualify with ‘ostensibly’ because I accept that argument, but because:

  • It is not strictly necessary for a selective school to be involved and
  • It seems doubtful whether selective school pupils could participate in such a centre alongside their non-selective peers.

The proposal in question is designed to ‘encourage multi-academy trusts to select within their trust’. But this…

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Advancing by slow degrees



This post reports five-year trends in the admission of disadvantaged students to selective universities, as revealed by the government’s key stage 5 destinations data.

This half decade coincided almost exactly with the lifetime of a government that was strongly committed to social mobility through higher education. What does the destinations data reveal about the progress it made – and what lessons might be drawn by those of us still striving to make a difference?



In October 2016 DfE published a statistical first release containing provisional key stage 5 destinations data for academic year 2014/15, so creating a five-year sequence of data stretching back to 2010/11.

The release – Destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils: 2015 (provisional) – received scant attention from the education commentariat, coinciding as it did with the publication of two other bulletins containing provisional 2016 GCSE and A level results.

But this dataset is…

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Do grammar schools close attainment gaps?


This experimental post revisits the question whether all grammar schools are effective in closing attainment gaps between disadvantaged students and their peers.

Ministers have asserted as much in recent speeches, but they are relying on a single piece of research, now more than a decade old. The Education Policy Institute has countered with qualified statistical comparisons between selective and comprehensive schools

This post explores what can be deduced about the effectiveness of individual grammar schools from published School Performance Tables data. It is divided into three sections:

  • Commentary on the evidence behind the Government’s statement and on the Education Policy Institute’s counter-analysis.
  • Experimental analysis of 2015 Performance Tables data relating to several different headline measures.
  • Comparison between these new findings and my previous Performance Tables analysis covering the period from 2011 to 2013.

The middle section is is very much a work in progress and I welcome your constructive…

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Be careful what you wish for



This extended post is about the selection green paper and the prime ministerial speech preceding it.

I come at this issue from a different position to most.

It is of course essential to ensure that the government’s proposals do not unduly disadvantage the majority of learners.

But it is equally important to consider their impact on the minority that the government expects to benefit directly from increased selection.

For the sake of convenience – and sidestepping the definitional and terminological issues – let us call them ‘disadvantaged high attainers’ or the ‘disadvantaged most able’.

The first section below sets the issue in context and explains my title. I have proposed seven core principles which I invite you to debate and dispute. Consensus would be great but, failing that, discussion helps to expose the ideological fault lines that bedevil any rational discussion of selection, or wider support for the most…

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Rescue Plan (or how to get from where we are to where we ought to be)



This post:

  • Reviews progress to date on white paper policies to improve the education of higher attaining learners
  • Considers some wider implications of the white paper’s commitment to equality of educational opportunity, regardless of background and prior attainment, and
  • Proposes a dedicated national centre, based in a leading university, to specialise in the education and progression of higher attaining learners, from reception to graduation.

There is also a leitmotif: that arguments for and against more grammar schools must always be set in the wider context of how best to educate high attainers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds


Initial reflections – a summary of sorts

Rarely have I been less confident of the prospects for securing a coherent policy response to the needs of high attaining learners, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Expectations were raised by the recognition of past ‘neglect’, the new equal opportunities vision and three…

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What’s amiss with the ITT core content framework?



This post discusses the gap between what the schools white paper said would be in the ITT core content framework and what was actually published.



In a previous post – Differentiation in the ITT core content framework (March 2016) – I described the origins of the framework and its intended focus on differentiation, including for the most able.

‘DfE should commission a sector body…to develop a framework of core content for ITT. We feel it is critical that a framework is developed by the sector, rather than by central government.’

An annex outlining starting points for a core framework includes:

Differentiation – ITT should equip teachers so they can ensure that all pupils in the class, including lower and higher achievers, should make progress and keep pace with the curriculum.’

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Sir Michael on the most able


HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw devoted his monthly commentary for June 2016 to the education of our most able learners.

He has consistently championed the education of the most able in non-selective secondary schools, having instigated two Ofsted survey reports on this topic, published in June 2013 and March 2015 respectively.

This new commentary is a reaction to the negligible progress achieved since the 2015 report. That contained similar statements about the very limited headway made since 2013.

This post examines the new commentary, setting it in the context of the two previous surveys, the 2016 schools white paper and wider education policy. It:

  • Asks why it is proving so hard for Ofsted to secure system-wide effective practice, despite new emphasis in the common inspection framework and inspection handbooks.
  • Poses some fundamental questions about definitions, terminology and our expectations of the most able learners in both primary and secondary schools…

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