Compulsory EBacc: A policy conundrum? (Updated) (Again)

.

face-358186_640The Conservative Manifesto contained an apparent commitment to a compulsory EBacc:

‘We will require secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography, with Ofsted unable to award its highest ratings to schools that refuse to teach these core subjects.’

We know the commitment will be honoured since, immediately after the election, Prime Minister Cameron confirmed to his Cabinet that he would be implementing the Manifesto in full.

But, while we await clarification in an impending schools white paper, we are somewhat less sure how to interpret the commitment.

.

Origins

The policy first emerged in a newspaper interview with Secretary of State Morgan published at the end of August 2014, some six weeks after her appointment.

This said that:

  • State schools would be ‘urged to enrol all pupils for GCSEs in English, maths, science, a language and history or geography…which together form the new “English Baccalaureate”’ and
  • Ofsted inspectors would be unable to award a ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rating unless a secondary school enrolled all its pupils in the EBacc.

The rationale is to counter educational inequality:

‘“We want students to be able to keep their options open for as long as possible in terms of what they are going to do after school or college,” Mrs Morgan said.

“In selective schools or schools with a low proportion of free school meals, that is what they are already doing. But that is not always happening in less advantaged areas.”’

It may also be seen as reasserting the status of the EBacc as an accountability measure following the introduction of Attainment/Progress 8.

Former Secretary of State Gove initially claimed:

‘That measure will incentivise schools to offer a broad, balanced curriculum, with high-quality teaching and high achievement across the board. It will also affirm the importance of every child enjoying the opportunity to pursue English baccalaureate subjects.’

But the second sentence applies only up to a point – it should properly be qualified by the insertion of ‘some’ before the last three words.

Despite the unequivocal use of the phrase ‘all pupils’, there was already discussion last summer whether this was the Conservatives’ true intention.

Manifesto

The wording of the manifesto commitment is slightly different and somewhat vaguer than the original version. It suggests:

  • A requirement placed on pupils rather than on schools.
  • This requirement now relates to ‘pupils’ rather than ‘all pupils’.
  • It also relates to the subjects that constitute the EBacc, but not explicitly to the EBacc itself.
  • The restriction on the award of the highest inspection ratings is not tied explicitly to both ‘outstanding’ and ‘good’ (through the phrasing continues to imply this).
  • The restriction is confined to schools that ‘refuse to teach’ the EBacc subjects, rather than those that refuse to enter (all) pupils

Data

The 2014 Secondary Performance Tables show that only five state-funded secondary schools – all of them selective – entered 100% of their KS4 examination cohort for all EBacc subjects last year (though plenty more selective schools were not far behind them).

The average entry rate across all state-funded schools was 38.7%, but this masks significant variation according to prior attainment.

While some 68.8% of high attainers entered all EBacc subjects, only 31.5% of middle attainers and just 4.0% of low attainers did so.

In 2014, 22.9% of disadvantaged pupils entered all EBacc subjects, compared with 44.5% of others, giving a gap of 21.6 percentage points. In 2013 the corresponding gap was 21.5 percentage points and in 2012 17.5 percentage points.

In 2014 only 26 state-funded secondary schools entered no pupils at all for all EBacc subjects, ironically several of them also selective schools, presumably because they use at least one IGCSE examination that is ineligible for inclusion.

Entry rates for different subjects varied considerably. Unsurprisingly maths (97.7%) and English (96.1%) were almost universal, but the languages entry rate stood at 68.9%, just ahead of science at 68.7% with humanities bringing up the rear at 66.5%.

 .

Interpretation

Given that the policy is now several months old one would expect much of the detail to have been worked through by Tory policy staff pre-election. DfE officials will also have undertaken some preparatory analysis during purdah.  Those two perspectives will now need stitching together.

The obvious point to draw from the data is that, whereas a requirement on schools to enter some pupils for all EBacc subjects would have almost zero impact, insistence that all schools entered all of their pupils would demand huge change.

It would be particularly challenging for schools to apply such a stricture to their low attainers and this would stand in the way of establishing a level playing field between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

Common sense dictates that the policy should be applied in such a way that it falls between these two extremes.

Since the EBacc is currently pegged at GCSE grade C or above, it seems unnecessary and unwise to apply the rule to students who are certain not to achieve this, including many with special needs. Such a requirement would otherwise reinforce failure and damage self-esteem.

The most likely solution would be to introduce a default presumption that all schools should enter all their pupils for all EBacc subjects, with opt-outs acceptable in a limited range of circumstances, or possibly left to the discretion of the headteacher.

An alternative approach might be to remove the C grade hurdle, especially in the case of science, humanities and languages.

Other issues

It is hard to see how a requirement could be placed on pupils, unless it is to be applied to their parents, but that seems unnecessarily convoluted and potentially controversial.

One would expect any requirement to be placed on schools, if indeed a requirement is necessary, over and above the disincentive of a restricted inspection outcome.

If that lever is applied to both ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ judgements it will have a significantly wider reach than if it relates solely to ‘outstanding’ judgements.

Schools might live with a restriction on ‘outstanding’, but if ‘good’ is also restricted that creates a much lower ceiling for some schools and means others have much further to fall.

Given the relatively greater scrutiny afforded to schools requiring improvement it seems likely that few would be prepared to pay such a price.

Faced with such a choice, how many grammar schools would continue to select IGCSE qualifications that do not qualify for the EBacc? (Or would the Government be prepared to relax those rules, which are seen as unduly inflexible?)

Ultimately though, it is not clear whether choosing an ineligible IGCSE would qualify as refusing to teach the EBacc subjects.

It may be that a limiting judgement on Ofsted inspection outcomes would be reserved for the unlikely scenario where schools fail to include these subjects in their KS4 curriculum, or where they wilfully disregard a qualified presumption of EBacc entry.

Some of the difficulties disappear if the presumption is applied only to the subjects that constitute the EBacc and not to the EBacc itself.

This would also remove the C grade hurdle and other complexities could be avoided, including those that extend the EBacc’s reach beyond five subject slots:

  • To secure the English element of EBacc requires either an A*-C pass in English or an A*-C pass in English Language and any grade in English Literature.
  • To secure the science element of EBacc requires an A*-C pass in core and additional science, or in the science double award, or entry to three separate sciences (choosing from physics, chemistry, biology and computer science) achieving A*-C passes in two of them.

 .

Accountability

A further difficulty is presented by the problematic relationship with the Attainment/Progress 8 accountability measures. These are scheduled for introduction in 2016, though schools can opt in this year.

The latest guidelines define the components as:

  • A double weighted maths element based on the student’s EBacc maths qualification.
  • An English element based on the student’s EBacc English Language or English Literature qualification. This will be double weighted if they have taken both and from 2016 an English (combined) qualification will count and be double weighted.
  • Any three further EBacc qualifications. These can be in any combination – all in sciences for example – since there is no requirement to include qualifications in each ‘pillar’ of the EBacc.
  • Any further three subjects, including any not counted in any of the sections above. These may be EBacc qualifications, other GCSEs or other approved non-GCSE qualifications.

Compared with this, an EBacc requirement is narrower and more prescriptive since it demands universal study of specific subject combinations beyond the core of English and maths, potentially involving as many as eight qualifications.

There will be five headline performance measures for secondary schools, including Attainment 8, Progress 8 and the percentage of pupils achieving the EBacc. It had become understood that Attainment/Progress 8 were the most significant of these.

The Floor Standard will be tied to Progress 8 giving it higher status than the EBacc for school improvement purposes.

Moreover:

‘Schools in which pupils make one grade more progress than the national average will be exempt from routine inspections by Ofsted in the next academic year.’

If a ‘compulsory’ EBacc and the existing Attainment/Progress 8 are to co-exist, schools will face difficult decisions when students choose their options towards the end of Year 9.

Is it in the best interests of students to enter them for all the EBacc elements, confining curriculum flexibility to the margins, or to exploit to the full the increased flexibility permitted by Attainment/Progress 8?

Assuming that the limiting judgements on Ofsted inspection apply in their strictest sense, should schools prioritise their Ofsted rating or the floor target?

Above all, should the needs of the school – in the shape of its institutional reputation – inevitably trump those of the students, or vice versa?

The Government will need to unravel some of these difficulties.

.

Pressures

The Government will face determined pressure to retain the additional flexibilities guaranteed by Attainment/Progress 8.

Any attempt to restore the EBacc’s supremacy will be regarded as increasing prescription and limiting schools’ autonomy to respond to the different needs of their learners.

It will impose a de facto national curriculum on schools that are not obliged to follow one.

NAHT has signalled already some of the negative reaction that the Government can expect.

Questions have also been raised about the potential teacher recruitment and supply issues associated with reintroducing a compulsory language at KS4 and the limited availability of alternatives for students who would struggle with GCSE.

Another blogger has calculated that 100% take-up of geography, history and languages would require some 7,000 additional teachers, further compounding an already-significant teacher supply problem.

[Postscript: A report in Schools Week on 19 June said that extending MFL to all learners in KS4 had been estimated by education datalab to require ‘well over 2,000’ additional teachers.

Education datalab director Rebecca Allen is quoted:

‘With 30,000 people graduating each year with a degree in languages this isn’t an impossible ask, but is pretty close.’]

There is a corresponding downside for subjects outside the EBacc – RE and arts subjects spring to mind – which had seen Attainment/Progress 8 as a potential route back to higher status.

The notion of introducing new ‘limiting judgements’ on Ofsted inspection ratings is much disliked and may not find favour with HMCI, who is about to publish a single inspection framework and revised handbooks for inspection.

It will be difficult and embarrassing to justify a Government U-turn on educational grounds, especially since both Coalition partners signed up to the previous position.

[Postscript: A post published by SSAT on 10 June, three weeks after this one, compares the language of the Progress 8 guidance – which celebrates its capacity to accommodate the very different needs of learners – with the prescription apparently imposed by the statement in the Conservative manifesto.]   

It might just be feasible for a new Government to brazen this out, especially while the Opposition is in disarray, but only at the cost of goodwill amongst the profession and some early reputational damage.

.

Likely outcome?

It seems likely that the Government will conclude that a ‘compulsory’ EBacc and Attainment/Progress 8 in its present form simply cannot co-exist.

If so, the path of least resistance is probably to amend Attainment/Progress 8 so that the EBacc subject combination (if not the EBacc in its entirety) sits neatly within it.

The third component above would need to change to require coverage of science, a language and either history or geography.

The fourth component would need to accommodate any further requirements if the full EBacc is subsumed, rather than simply the subject combination.

The limiting judgements applied to Ofsted inspection outcomes should be reserved for schools that fail to offer these subjects at KS4, or possibly extend to those that choose deliberately to ignore a sensible and qualified EBacc presumption. The IGCSE issue needs to be addressed in parallel.

The Government might portray the present Attainment/Progress 8 formulation as a step too far, imposed on them by their Liberal partners in Coalition. They might continue to argue that it is not in the best interests of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, hindering their efforts to compete on a level playing field for post-16 learning and employment opportunities.

But even such a limited volte-face has presentational downside that will require very careful handling.

One would expect it to trigger the Workload Challenge Protocol on changes to accountability, curriculum and qualifications which stipulates that:

‘There should be a lead in time of at least a year for any accountability, curriculum or qualifications initiative coming from the department which requires schools to make significant changes which will have an impact on staff workload.’

This would necessitate confirmation of new arrangements by the end of Summer Term 2015, otherwise much of the new assessment and accountability package for secondary schools would have to be delayed until 2017.

Schools that have already taken advantage of the early opt in arrangements for Progress 8 would have some cause for complaint.

So if you have alternative solutions – that meet the manifesto commitment but would cause less disruption and difficulty for schools – I’m sure they would be delighted to hear them!

.

[Postscript, 12 June 2015:

On 11 June Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb gave a speech at Policy Exchange entitled ‘Knowledge is power: The social justice case for an academic curriculum’.

The Policy Exchange website said:

The speech will set out the Government’s plans to build on previous reforms in the last Parliament, including the Conservative Manifesto commitment requiring all secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in EBacc subjects.

On the morning of the speech, press officers moved to dampen expectations that it would contain much detail about this commitment.

The TES said:

‘Today the minister will say that details about the policy…are imminent’

While Schools Week preferred:

‘In a speech later today, Mr Gibb is expected to say the government will set out “in due course” further details of its plan…’.

The BBC report told us categorically that the provision ‘would not apply to pupils with special needs’.

All three sources confirmed that there would be consultation on how to implement the policy.

The speech itself offered hardly any new information:

‘In due course, we will also set out details of our expectation that secondary school pupils should take English Baccalaureate subjects at age 16. In doing so, we will listen closely to the views of teachers, headteachers, and parents on how best to implement this commitment. And we will ensure that schools have adequate lead in time to prepare for any major changes.

For some schools already leading the way, such as King Solomon Academy and Rushey Mead School, this change will pass by unnoticed. But for others, where only a small minority currently achieve the EBacc, there is no doubt that this will be a significant challenge. We will support these schools to raise standards, but make no apology for expecting every child to receive a high-quality core academic education.’

Incidentally, King Solomon Academy and Rushey Mead Academy were celebrated earlier in the speech:

‘King Solomon Academy, situated in the heart of a disadvantaged community in Paddington, is one of these schools. 67% of GCSE pupils at King Solomon Academy are eligible for the pupil premium, but despite this, 93% of pupils entered the EBacc, and 76% of pupils achieved it in 2014.

Rushey Mead School in Leicester is yet another example of an ‘outstanding’ school where they have high expectations for all their pupils. 33% of the school’s intake is eligible for the pupil premium, 72% are entered for the EBacc and 42% achieve it, well above the national average.’

.

.

One pointer is that the terminology in the Manifesto – ‘we will require…’ – has now been softened to ‘our expectation’. This suggests that the Government will not resort to compulsion.

The Q and A session following the speech is now available to listen to on Policy Exchange’s website.

When asked about the detailed proposals, Gibb said these would emerge ‘very soon’ from ‘somebody more important than me’.

It is unclear whether this is merely self-deprecation or an indication that they will be communicated by the Prime Minister (since the phrase ‘someone more important’ is often ministerial code for the PM).

.

.

This would help to explain why Gibb was left to give a speech bereft of the details most urgently awaited by his audience.

The Q and A helps to clear up a few issues.

  • It appears that there will be a formal consultation process which, if launched before the end of term, would delay decisions until the autumn.
  • The consultation will invite comments on the application of the policy to special schools (as opposed to special needs pupils), to UTCs and studio schools.
  • The reference to an ‘adequate lead in time’ appears to be acknowledgment that the Workload Challenge agreement – requiring a year’s notice of significant changes – bites in this case.

The combined effect of the consultation period and the Workload Challenge provision may postpone implementation beyond September 2016. This could have implications for the introduction of Attainment/Progress 8.

No information was forthcoming about the Ofsted ‘limiting judgement’ or the nature and source of the support that would be provided to schools for which the policy is a ‘significant challenge’.

During the Q and A, Gibb made the point that it should apply equally to low attainers, citing some further data from his supporting brief about outcomes at King Solomon Academy.

I thought it would be wise to check the records of both named schools more closely in the 2014 Secondary Performance Tables.

  • King Solomon Academy entered 89% of disadvantaged pupils for the EBacc compared with 100% of other pupils, a gap of 11 percentage points. Although 71% of low attainers were entered, only 43% were successful. Only 71% of middle attainers were successful.
  • Rushey Mead School entered 63% of disadvantaged pupils for the EBacc compared with 76% of other pupils, a gap of 13 percentage points. Just 27% of low attainers were entered and only 4% were successful. Only 33% of middle attainers were successful.

Even though King Solomon leads the field in terms of EBacc entry and achievement by low attainers, it still has considerable scope for improvement. Rushey Mead has a mountain to climb. There are significant socio-economic gaps in the entry policy at both schools.

A strict interpretation of the manifesto commitment would by no means pass unnoticed in either of them.]

.

[Holding postscript  14 June Press reports indicate that Secretary of State Morgan will announce details of the compulsory EBacc policy in a speech on 16 June to take place at King Solomon Academy.

The reports suggest that the policy will be introduced for all pupils starting their GCSEs in 2018.

Quite why Morgan wouldn’t allow Gibb to make this public on Thursday remains a mystery.

I will update this post to reflect what Morgan announces.]

.

[Postscript 16 JuneA press release was issued in the morning and the text of a speech in the afternoon. The latter told us nothing new.

The press release provides a few further snippets of information:

  • It says that:

‘Pupils starting secondary school this September must study the key English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects of English, maths, science, history or geography, and a language at GCSE.’

This is potentially ambiguous, but is clarified by a subsequent sentence:

‘The government’s intention is that pupils starting secondary school this September (year 7) will study the EBacc when they reach their GCSEs, with pupils taking exams in these subjects in 2020.’

It is not clear whether pupils will need to achieve a new-style level 5 in the specified subjects in order to achieve the EBacc.

  • Despite this, Progress 8 will remain ‘the new headline performance measure’, confirming that Attainment/Progress 8 and the new EBacc requirement must necessarily co-exist.
  • The footnotes add that

‘The government recognises the EBacc will not be appropriate for a small minority of pupils and so we will work to understand this and be clear with schools what we expect for this minority of pupils. The detail will be set out in the autumn and there will be a full public consultation on these proposals.’

It does not specify whether or not this small minority are the special needs pupils that the BBC reported would be exempt. There is an implication that there may be an alternative expectation in respect of them.

Further detail will not be available before next academic year.

I had assumed that the consultation might be launched immediately, running across the summer and into the first part of the autumn term. However, a Tweet from DfE during the afternoon made it clear that the consultation itself will also be delayed until next year.

.

Twitter ebacc Capture

This leaves most of the unanswered questions above still unanswered, for at least another three months.  One imagines that a great deal of preparatory work will be necessary before a viable consultation document can be produced.

In the meantime, there are signs that professional opposition to the plan is gathering momentum.

On 17 June, SSAT reported the outcomes of a survey it had conducted amongst school leaders. The findings included:

‘Only 16% of respondents said that they would make the EBacc compulsory if that was a requirement for an Outstanding judgement from Ofsted.

70% of respondents would refuse to teach the EBacc for all, even if that meant a ceiling of Ofsted Good for their schools.

Over 44% of Outstanding schools would refuse to teach the EBacc for all, even if it meant losing their Outstanding status. A further 34% of Outstanding schools remain undecided. Only 1 in 5 Outstanding schools said that they would make the Ebacc compulsory for all.’

The consultation process is certain to be a difficult one, even though the press notice indicates the Government’s intention to ‘work with school leaders’ to ‘ensure all [sic] pupils get the chance to study these crucial subjects’.]

.

GP

May 2015

Advertisements

The problem of reverse excellence gaps

This post compares the performance of primary schools that record significant proportions of disadvantaged high attainers.

spiral-77493_1280It explores the nature of excellence gaps, which I have previously 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.’

It draws particular attention to the incidence at school level of sizeable reverse excellence gaps where disadvantaged learners out-perform their more advantaged peers.

According to my theoretical model reverse gaps threaten equilibrium and should be corrected without depressing the achievement of disadvantaged high attainers.

In this post:

  • The measure of disadvantage is eligibility for the pupil premium – those eligible for free school meals at any time in the last six years (‘ever 6 FSM’) and children in care.
  • The measure of high attainment is Level 5 or above in KS2 reading, writing and maths combined.

.

National figures

The 2014 Primary School Performance Tables show that 24% of the cohort attending state-funded primary schools achieved KS2 Level 5 or above in reading, writing and maths combined. In 2013, the comparable figure was 21% and in 2012 it was 20%.

In 2014 some 650 primary schools managed a success rate of 50% or higher for the entire cohort, up from 425 in 2013 and 380 in 2012

The comparable national percentages for disadvantaged learners are 12% in 2014, 10% in 2013 and 9% in 2012. For all other learners (ie non-disadvantaged) they are 24% in 2012, 26% in 2013 and 29% in 2014.

In 2014, there were 97 state-funded schools where 50% or more of disadvantaged learners achieved this benchmark, compared with only 38 in 2013 and 42 in 2012. This group of schools provides the sample for this analysis.

Chart 1 below illustrates the national excellence gaps over time while Chart 2 compares the proportion of schools achieving 50% or higher on this measure with all learners and disadvantaged learners respectively.

.

REG graph 1

Chart 1: Percentage of disadvantaged and other learners achieving L5+ in KS2 reading, writing and maths, 2012-14

Chart 1 shows that all rates are improving, but the rate of improvement is slower for disadvantaged learners. So the socio-economic achievement gap at L5+ in reading, writing and maths combined has grown from 15% in 2012, to 16% in 2013 and then to 17% in 2014.

REG graph 2 

Chart 2: Number of schools where 50% of all/disadvantaged learners achieved L5+ in KS2 reading, writing and maths, 2012-14

Chart 2 shows steady improvement in the number of schools achieving outstandingly on this measure for all learners and disadvantaged learners alike (though there was a slight blip in 2013 in respect of the latter).

Since 2012, the proportion of schools achieving this benchmark with disadvantaged learners has increased more substantially than the proportion doing so with all learners. At first sight this is a positive trend.

However Chart 1 suggests that, even with the pupil premium, the national excellence gap between higher-attaining advantaged and disadvantaged learners is increasing steadily. This is a negative trend.

It might suggest either that high-attaining disadvantaged learners are not benefiting sufficiently from the premium, or that interventions targeted towards them are ineffective in closing gaps. Or perhaps both of these factors are in play.

 

Schools achieving high success rates with disadvantaged learners

The 97 schools achieving a success rate of 50% or more with their disadvantaged high attainers are geographically dispersed across all regions, although a very high proportion (40%) is located in London and over half are in London and the South-East.

.

Reg graph 3

Chart 3: Distribution of schools in sample by region

 .

Nineteen London boroughs are represented but eight of the 97 schools are located in a single borough – Greenwich – with a further five in Kensington and Chelsea. The reasons for this clustering are unclear, though it would suggest a degree of common practice.

Almost half of the sample consists of church schools, fairly equally divided between Church of England and Roman Catholic institutions. Seven of the 97 are academy converters, six are controlled, 42 are aided and the remainder are community schools.

Other variables include:

  • The average size of the KS2 cohort eligible for assessment is about 40 learners, with a range from 14 to 134.
  • The percentage of high attainers varies from 7% to 64%, compared with an average of 25% for all state-funded schools. More than one quarter of these schools record 40% or more high attainers.
  • The percentage of middle attainers ranges between 38% and 78%, compared with an average of 58% for state funded schools.
  • The percentage of low attainers lies between 0% and 38%, compared with the national average for state-funded schools of 18%. Only 15 of the sample record a percentage higher than this national average.
  • The percentage of disadvantaged learners ranges from 4% to 77%, compared with the national average for state-funded schools of 31%. Roughly one in five of the sample has 50% or more, while almost two in five have 20% or less.
  • The number of disadvantaged pupils in the cohort is between 6 and 48. (Schools with fewer than 5 in the cohort have their results suppressed). In only 22 of the sample is the number of disadvantaged pupils higher than 10.
  • In 12 of the schools there are no EAL pupils in the cohort but a further 11 are at 60% or higher, compared with an average for state-funded schools of 18%.

Overall there is significant variation between these schools.

.

School-level performance

The vast majority of the schools in the sample are strong performers overall on the L5 reading, writing and maths measure. All but five lie above the 2014 national average of 24% for state-funded schools and almost half are at 50% or higher.

The average point score ranges from 34.7 to 27.9, compared with the state-funded average of 28.7. All but 15 of the sample record an APS of 30 or higher. The average grade per pupil is 4B in one case only and 4A in fourteen more. Otherwise it is 5C or higher.

Many of these schools are also strong performers in KS2 L6 tests, though these results are not disaggregated for advantaged and disadvantaged learners.

More than four out of five are above the average 9% success rate for L6 maths in state-funded primary schools and almost two out of five are at 20% or higher.

As for L6 grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS), some two-thirds are above the success rate of 4% for all state-funded primary schools and almost two out of five are at 10% or higher.

When it comes to the core measure used in this analysis, those at the top of the range appear at first sight to have performed outstandingly in 2014.

Four schools come in at over 80%, though none has a disadvantaged cohort larger than eight pupils. These are:

Not far behind them is Tollgate Primary School, Newham (71%) but Tollgate also has a cohort of 34 disadvantaged learners, almost three times the size of any of its nearest rivals.

What stands out from the data above all else is the fact that very few schools show any capacity to replicate this level of performance over two or three years in succession.

In some cases results for earlier years are suppressed because five or fewer disadvantaged pupils constituted the cohort. Leaving those aside, just 6 schools in the sample managed a success rate of 50% or higher in 2013 as well (so for two successive years) and no school managed it for three years in a row.

The schools closest to achieving this are:

  • Tollgate Primary School, Newham (71% in 2014, 50% in 2013 and 40% in 2013)

Only 9 of the sample achieved a success rate of 30% or higher for three years in a row.

The size and direction of excellence gaps

Another conspicuous finding is that several of these schools display sizeable reverse excellence gaps, where the performance of disadvantaged learners far exceeds that of their more advantaged peers.

Their success rates for all other pupils at L5 in reading, writing and maths combined vary enormously, ranging between 91% and 10%. Nineteen of the sample (20%) is at or below the national average rate for state-funded schools.

But in a clear majority of the sample the success rate for all other pupils is lower than it is for disadvantaged pupils.

The biggest reverse excellence gap is recorded by St John’s Church of England Primary School in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, where the success rate for disadvantaged learners is 67%, compared with 19% for other learners, giving a huge disparity of 48 percentage points!

Several other schools record reverse gaps of 30 points or more, many of them church schools. This raises the intriguing possibility that the ethos and approach in such schools may be relatively more conducive to disadvantaged high attainers, although small numbers are undoubtedly a factor in some schools.

The ‘cliff-edge’ nature of the distinction between disadvantaged and other learners may also be a factor.

If schools have a relatively high proportion of comparatively disadvantaged learners ineligible for the pupil premium they may depress the results for the majority, especially if their particular needs are not being addressed.

At the other extreme, several schools perform creditably with their disadvantaged learners while also demonstrating large standard excellence gaps.

Some of the worst offenders are the schools celebrated above for achieving consistency over a three year period:

  • Fox Primary School has a 2014 excellence gap of 34 points (57% disadvantaged versus 91% advantaged)
  • Nelson Mandela School a similar gap of 28 points (54% disadvantaged versus 82% advantaged).

Only Tollgate School bucks this trend with a standard excellence gap of just two percentage points.

The chart below illustrates the variance in excellence gaps across the sample. Sizeable reverse gaps clearly predominate.

 .

REG graph 4

Chart 4: Incidence of reverse and normal excellence gaps in the sample

Out of the entire sample, only 17 schools returned success rates for advantaged and other learners that were within five percentage points of each other. Less than one-third of the sample falls within a variance of plus or minus 10%.

These extreme variations may in some cases be associated with big disparities in the sizes of the two groups: if disadvantaged high attainers are in single figures, differences can hinge on the performance of just one or two learners. But this does not apply in all cases. As noted above, the underperformance of relatively disadvantaged learners may also be a factor in the reverse gaps scenario.

Ofsted inspection reports

I was curious to see whether schools with sizeable excellence gaps – whether normal or reverse – had received comment on this point from Ofsted.

Of the schools within the sample, just one – Shrewsbury Cathedral Catholic Primary School – has been rated inadequate in its last inspection report. The inspection was undertaken in July 2014, so will not have reflected a huge reverse excellence gap of 38 percentage points in the 2014 KS2 assessments.

The underachievement of the most able is identified as a contributory factor in the special measures judgement but the report comments thus on the achievement of disadvantaged learners:

‘Although in Year 6, pupils eligible for additional government funding (the pupil premium) reach similar levels to their classmates in reading, writing and mathematics, eligible pupils attain lower standards than those reached by their classmates, in Years 2, 3 and 4. The gap between the attainment of eligible and non-eligible pupils in these year groups is widening in reading, writing and mathematics. In mathematics, in Year 3, eligible pupils are over a year behind their classmates.’

Two further schools in the sample were judged by Ofsted to require improvement, both in 2013 – St Matthew’s in Surbiton and St Stephen’s in Godstone, Surrey. All others that have been inspected were deemed outstanding or good.

At St Matthew’s inspectors commented on the achievement of disadvantaged learners:

‘Weaknesses in the attainment of Year 6 pupils supported by pupil premium funding were identified in 2012 and the school took action to reduce the gap in attainment between this group of pupils and their peers. This gap reduced in 2013 so that they were just over one term behind the others in English and mathematics, but there is still a substantial gap for similar pupils in Year 2, with almost a year’s gap evident in 2013. Support is now in place to tackle this.’

In 2014, the KS2 cohort at St Matthew’s achieved a 53% success rate on L5 reading, writing and maths, with disadvantaged learners at 50%, not too far behind.

At St Stephen’s inspectors said of disadvantaged learners:

‘The school successfully closes the gap between the attainment of pupils who benefit from the pupil premium and others. Indeed, in national tests at the end of Year 6 in 2012, the very small number of eligible pupils was attaining about a term ahead of their classmates in English and mathematics. Focused support is being given to eligible pupils in the current year to help all fulfil their potential.’

A more recent report in 2015 notes:

‘The school is successfully closing the gaps between disadvantaged pupils and others. In 2014, at the end of Key Stage 2, disadvantaged pupils outperformed other pupils nationally and in the school by about three terms in mathematics. They also outperformed other pupils nationally by about two terms nationally and in the school in reading and writing. Disadvantaged pupils across the school typically make faster progress than other pupils in reading, writing and mathematics.’

It is not clear whether inspectors regard this as a positive outcome.

Unfortunately, Tollgate, Nelson Mandela and Fox – all three outstanding – have not been inspected since 2008/2009. One wonders whether the significant excellence gaps at the latter might impact on their overall inspection grade.

.

Pupil Premium allocations 

I was equally curious to see what the websites for these three schools recorded about their use of the pupil premium.

Schools are required to publish details of how they spend the pupil premium and the effect this has on the attainment of the learners who attract it.

Ofsted has recently reported that only about one-third of non-selective secondary schools make appropriate use of the pupil premium to support their disadvantaged most able learners – and there is little reason to suppose that most primary schools are any more successful in this respect.

But are these three schools any different?

  • Fox Primary School has pupil premium income of £54.7K in 2014-15. It explains in its statement:

‘Beyond all of this, Fox directs a comparatively large proportion of budget to staffing to ensure small group teaching can target pupils of all attainment to attain and achieve higher than national expectations. Disadvantaged pupils who are attaining above the expected level are also benefitting from small group learning, including core subject lessons with class sizes up to 20. The impact of this approach can be seen in the APS and value added scores of disadvantaged pupils for the last 2 years at both KS1 and KS2. The improved staffing ratios are not included in pupil premium spend.’

  • Nelson Mandela School has so far not uploaded details for 2014-15. In 2013-14 it received pupil premium of £205.2K. The statement contains no explicit reference to high-attaining disadvantaged learners.
  • Tollgate Primary School received pupil premium of £302.2K in 2014-15. Its report covers this and the previous year. In 2013-14 there are entries for:

‘Aim Higher, challenging more able FSM pupils’ (Y6)

In 2014-15 funding is allocated to pay for five intervention teachers, whose role is described as:

‘Small group teaching for higher ability. Intervention programmes for FSM’.

.

Conclusion

The national excellence gap between disadvantaged and other learners achieving KS2 L5 in all of reading, writing and maths is growing, despite the pupil premium. The reasons for this require investigation and resolution.

Ofsted’s commitment to give the issue additional scrutiny will be helpful but may not be sufficient to turn this situation around. Other options should be considered.

The evidence suggests that schools’ capacity to sustain Level 5+ performance across reading, writing and maths for relatively large proportions of their disadvantaged learners is limited. High levels of performance are rarely maintained for two or three years in succession.

Where high success rates are achieved, more often than not this results in a significant reverse excellence gap.

Such reverse gaps may be affected by the small number of disadvantaged learners within some schools’ cohorts but there may also be evidence to suggest that several schools are succeeding with their disadvantaged high achievers at the expense of those from relatively more advantaged backgrounds.

Further investigation is necessary to establish the association between this trend and a ‘cliff-edge’ definition of disadvantage.

Such an outcome is not optimal or desirable and should be addressed quickly, though without depressing the performance of disadvantaged high achievers.

A handful of strong performers, including the majority of those that are relatively more consistent year-on-year, do well despite continuing to demonstrate sizeable standard excellence gaps.

Here the advantaged do outstandingly well and the disadvantaged do significantly worse, but still significantly better than in many other schools.

This outcome is not optimal either.

There are very few schools that perform consistently highly on this measure, for advantaged and disadvantaged high attainers alike.

Newham’s Tollgate Primary School is perhaps the nearest to exemplary practice. It receives significant pupil premium income and, in 2014-15, has invested in five intervention staff whose role is partially to provide small group teaching that benefits high attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Fox Primary School has also acted to reduce group sizes, but it remains to be seen whether this will help to eliminate the large positive excellence gap apparent in 2014.

This is a model that others might replicate, provided their pupil premium income is substantial enough to underwrite the cost, but the necessary conditions for success are not yet clear and further research is necessary to establish and disseminate them.

Alternative approaches will be necessary for schools with small numbers of disadvantaged learners and a correspondingly small pupil premium budget.

The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) is the obvious source of funding. It should be much more explicitly focused on excellence gaps than it has been to date.

GP

May 2015

Has Ofsted improved inspection of the most able?

.

This post examines the quality of Ofsted reporting on how well secondary schools educate their most able learners.

keep-calm-and-prepare-for-ofsted-6The analysis is based on a sample of 87 Section 5 inspection reports published during March 2015.

I have compared the results with those obtained from a parallel exercise undertaken a year ago and published in How well is Ofsted reporting on the most able? (May 2014).

This new post considers how inspectors’ assessments have changed in the light of their increased experience, additional guidance and – most recently – the publication of Ofsted’s survey report: The most able students: An update on progress since June 2013.

This appeared on 4 March 2015, at the beginning of my survey period, although it was heralded in HMCI’s Annual Report and the various supporting materials published alongside it in December 2014. One might therefore expect it to have had an immediate effect on inspection practice.

Those seeking further details of either of these publications are cordially invited to consult the earlier posts I dedicated to them:

The organisation of this post is straightforward.

The first section considers how Ofsted expects its inspectors to report on provision for the most able, as required by the current Inspection Handbook and associated guidance. It also explores how those expectations were intended to change in the light of the Update on Progress.

Subsequent sections set out the findings from my own survey:

  • The nature of the 2015 sample – and how this differs from the 2014 sample
  • Coverage in Key Findings and Areas for Improvement
  • Coverage in the main body of reports, especially under Quality of Teaching and Achievement of Pupils, the sections that most commonly feature material about the most able

The final section follows last year’s practice in offering a set of key findings and areas for improvement for consideration by Ofsted.

I have supplied page jumps to each section from the descriptions above.

How inspectors should address the most able

.

Definition and distribution

Ofsted nowhere explains how inspectors are to define the most able. It is not clear whether they permit schools to supply their own definitions, or else apply the distinctions adopted in their survey reports. This is not entirely helpful to schools.

In the original survey – The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools? (June 2013) – Ofsted described the most able as:

‘…the brightest students starting secondary school in Year 7 attaining Level 5 or above, or having the potential to attain Level 5 and above, in English (reading and writing) and/or mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.’

The measure of potential is not defined, but an example is given, of EAL students who are new to the country and so might not (yet) have achieved Level 5.

In the new survey prior attainment at KS2 remains the indicator, but the reference to potential is dropped:

‘…students starting secondary school in Year 7 having attained Level 5 or above in English (reading and writing) and/or mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2’

The size of this group varies at national level according to the year group.

If we take learners in Year 7 who completed KS2 in 2014, the data shows that 24% achieved KS2 Level 5 in both English (reading and writing) and maths. A further 5% secured L5 in English (reading and writing only) while another 20% reached L5 in maths only.

So 49% of the present Year 7 are deemed high attainers.

.

Ofsted venn Capture

But this proportion falls to about 40% amongst those who completed KS4 in 2014 and so typically undertook KS2 assessment five years earlier in 2009.

Ofsted’s measure is different to the definition adopted in the Secondary Performance Tables which, although also based on prior attainment at KS2, depends on an APS of 30 or higher in KS2 tests in the core subjects.

Only ‘all-rounders’ count according to this definition, while Ofsted includes those who are relatively strong in either maths or English but who might be weak in the other subject. Neither approach considers achievement beyond the core subjects.

According to the Performance Tables definition, amongst the cohort completing KS4 in 2014, only 32.3% of those in state-funded schools were deemed high attainers, some eight percentage points lower than Ofsted’s figure.

The sheer size of Ofsted’s most able cohort will be surprising to some, who might naturally assume a higher hurdle and a correspondingly smaller group. The span of attainment it covers is huge, from one L5C (possibly paired with a L3) to three L6s.

But the generosity of Ofsted’s assumptions does mean that every year group in every school should contain at least a handful of high attainers, regardless of the characteristics of its intake.

Unfortunately, Ofsted’s survey report does not say exactly how many schools have negligible numbers of high attainers, telling us only how many non-selective schools had at least one pupil in their 2014 GCSE cohort with the requisite prior attainment in English, in maths and in both English and maths.

In each case some 2,850 secondary schools had at least one student within scope. This means that some 9% of schools had no students in each category, but we have no way of establishing how many had no students in all three categories.

Using the rival Performance Table definition, only some 92 state-funded non-selective secondary schools reported a 2014 GCSE cohort with 10% or fewer high attainers. The lowest recorded percentage is 3% and, of those with 5% or fewer, the number of high attaining students ranges from 1 to 9.

Because Ofsted’s definition is more liberal, one might reasonably assume that every secondary school has at least one high-attaining student per year group, though there will be a handful of schools with very few indeed.

At the other extreme, according to the Performance Tables definition, over 100 state-funded non-selective schools can boast a 2014 GCSE population where high attainers are in the majority – and the highest recorded percentage for a state-funded comprehensive is 86%. Using Ofsted’s measure, the number of schools in this position will be substantively higher.

For the analysis below, I have linked the number of high attainers (according to the Performance Tables) in a school’s 2014 GCSE cohort with the outcomes of inspection, so as to explore whether there is a relationship between these two variables.

Framework and Handbook

The current Framework for School Inspection (December 2014) makes no reference to the most able.

Inspectors must consider:

‘…the extent to which the education provided by the school meets the needs of the range of pupils at the school, and in particular the needs of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs.’

One of the principles of school inspection is that it will:

‘focus on pupils’ and parents’ needs by…evaluating the extent to which schools provide an inclusive environment that meets the needs of all pupils, irrespective of age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation’.

Neither ability nor attainment is mentioned. This may or may not change when the Common Inspection Framework is published.

The most recent version of the School Inspection Handbook (December 2014) has much more to say on the issue. All relevant references in the main text and in the grade descriptors are set out in the Annex at the end of this post.

Key points include:

  • Ofsted uses inconsistent terminology (‘most able’, ‘more able’, ‘highest attainers’) without distinguishing between these terms.
  • Most of the references to the most able occur in lists of different groups of learners, another of which is typically ‘disadvantaged pupils’. This gives the mistaken impression that the two groups are distinct – that there is no such thing as a most able disadvantaged learner.
  • The Common Inspection Framework will be supported by separate inspection handbooks for each sector. The consultation response does not mention any revisions relating to the most able; neither does the March 2015 survey report say that revisions will be introduced in these handbooks to reflect its findings and recommendations (but see below). 

.

Guidance

Since the first survey report was published in 2013, several pieces of guidance have issued to inspectors.

  • In Schools and Inspection (October 2013), inspectors’ attention is drawn to key revisions to the section 5 inspection framework:

‘In judging the quality of teaching…Inspectors will evaluate how teaching meets the needs of, and provides appropriate challenge to, the most able pupils. Underachievement of the most able pupils can trigger the judgements of inadequate achievement and inadequate teaching.’

In relation to report writing:

‘Inspectors are also reminded that they should include a short statement in the report on how well the most able pupils are learning and making progress and the outcomes for these pupils.’

  • In Schools and Inspection (March 2014) several amendments are noted to Section 5 inspection and report writing guidance from January of that year, including:

‘Most Able – Inspectors must always report in detail on the progress of the most able pupils and how effectively teaching engages them with work that is challenging enough.’

‘…must always report in detail on the progress of the most able pupils and how effectively teaching engages them with work that is challenging enough.’

Moreover, for secondary schools:

‘There must be a comment on early entry for GCSE examinations. Where the school has an early entry policy, inspectors must be clear on whether early entry is limiting the potential of the most able pupils. Where early entry is not used, inspectors must comment briefly to that effect.’

  • In School Inspection Update (December 2014) Ofsted’s National Director, Schools reminds inspectors, following the first of a series of half-termly reviews of ‘the impact of policy on school inspection practice’, to:

‘…place greater emphasis, in line with the handbook changes from September, on the following areas in section 5 inspection reports…The provision and outcomes for different groups of children, notably the most-able pupils and the disadvantaged (as referred to in the handbook in paragraphs 40, 129, 137, 147, 155, 180, 186, 194, 195, 196, 207, 208, 210 and 212).’

HMCI’s Annual Report

The 2014 Annual Report said (my emphasis):

‘Ofsted will continue to press schools to stretch their most able pupils. Over the coming year, inspectors will be looking at this more broadly, taking into account the leadership shown in this area by schools. We will also further sharpen our recommendations so that schools have a better understanding of how they can help their most able pupils to reach their potential.’

HMCI’s Commentary on the Report  added for good measure:

‘In the year ahead, Ofsted will look even more closely at the performance of the brightest pupils in routine school inspections.’

So we are to expect a combination of broader focus, closer scrutiny and sharper recommendations.

The Annual Report relates to AY2013/14 and was published at the end of the first term of AY2014/15 and the end of calendar year 2014, so one assumes that references to the ‘coming year’ and ‘the year ahead’ are to calendar year 2015.

We should be able to see the impact of this ramping up in the sample I have selected, but some further change is also likely.

March 2015 survey report

One of the key findings from the March 2015 survey was (my emphasis):

Ofsted has sharpened its focus on the progress and quality of teaching of the most able students. We routinely comment on the achievement of the most able students in our inspection reports. However, more needs to be done to develop a clearer picture of how well schools use pupil premium funding for their most able students who are disadvantaged and the quality of information, advice and guidance provided for them. Ofsted needs to sharpen its practice in this area.’

Ofsted directed three recommendations at itself which do not altogether reflect this (my emboldening):

‘Ofsted should:

  • Make sure that inspections continue to focus sharply on the progress made by students who are able and disadvantaged.
  • Report more robustly about how well schools promote the needs of the most able through the quality of their curriculum and the information, advice and guidance they offer to the most able students.
  • Ensure thematic surveys investigate, where appropriate, how well the most able are supported through, for example, schools’ use of the pupil premium and the curriculum provided.’

The first of these recommendations implies that inspections already focus sufficiently on the progress of able and disadvantaged learners – an assumption that we shall test in the analysis below. It therefore implies that no further change is necessary.

The third alludes to the most able disadvantaged but relates solely to thematic surveys, not to Section 5 inspection reports.

The second may imply that further emphasis will be placed on inspecting the appropriateness of the curriculum and IAG. Both of these topics seem likely to feature more strongly in a generic sense in the new Framework and Handbooks. One assumes that this will be extended to the most able, amongst other groups.

Though not mentioned in the survey report, we do know that Ofsted is preparing an evaluation toolkit. This was mentioned in a speech given by its Schools Director almost immediately after publication:

‘In this region specifically, inspectors have met with headteachers to address the poor achievement of the brightest disadvantaged children.

And inspectors are developing a most able evaluation toolkit for schools, aligned to that which is in place for free school meals.’

It is not clear from this whether the toolkit will be confined only to the most able disadvantaged or will have wider coverage.

Moreover, this statement raises the prospect that the toolkit might be similar in style to The Pupil Premium: Analysis and challenge tools for schools (January 2013). This is more akin to an old spanner than a Swiss army penknife. Anything of this nature would be rather less helpful than the term ‘toolkit’ implies.

At his request, I emailed Ofsted’s Director, Schools with questions on 21 March 2015. I requested further details of the toolkit. At the time of writing I have still to receive a reply.

.

The sample

I have selected an almost identical sample to that used in my 2014 analysis, one year on. It includes the 87 Section 5 inspection reports on secondary schools (excluding middle schools deemed secondary) that were published by Ofsted in the month of March 2015.

The bulk of the inspections were undertaken in February 2015, though a few took place in late January or early March.

Chart 1 gives the regional breakdown of the schools in the sample. All nine regions are represented, though there are only five schools from the North East, while Yorkshire and Humberside boasts 15. There are between seven and 11 schools in each of the other regions. In total 59 local authorities are represented.

In regional terms, this sample is more evenly balanced than the 2014 equivalent and the total number of authorities is two higher.

 .

Ofanal 1

Chart 1: Schools within the sample by region

Chart 2 shows how different statuses of school are represented within the sample.

All are non-selective. Fifty-three schools (61%) are academies, divided almost equally between the sponsored and converter varieties.

Community and foundation schools together form a third group of equivalent size, while the seven remaining schools have voluntary status, just one of them voluntary controlled. There are no free schools.

.

Ofanal 2

Chart 2: Schools within the sample by status

.

All but three of the schools are mixed – and those three are boys’ schools.

As for age range, there is one 13-18 and one 14-18 school. Otherwise there are 32 11-16 institutions (37% of the sample) while the remaining 53 (61%) are 11-18 or 11-19 institutions.

Chart 3 shows the variation in numbers on roll. The smallest school – a new 11-18 secondary school – has just 125 pupils; the largest 2083. The average is 912.

Fifty-two schools (60%) are between 600 and 1,200 and twenty-three (26%) between 800 and 1,000 pupils.

.

Ofanal 3

Chart 3: Schools within the sample by NOR

. 

Chart 4 shows the overall inspection grade of schools within the sample. A total of 19 schools (22%) are rated inadequate, seven of them attracting special measures. Only nine (10%) are outstanding, while 27 (31%) are good and 32 (37%) require improvement.

This is very similar to the distribution in the 2014 sample, except that there are slightly more inadequate schools and slightly fewer requiring improvement.

.

Ofanal 4

Chart 4: Schools within the sample by overall inspection grade

Unlike the 2104 analysis, I have also explored the distribution of all grades within reports. The results are set out in Chart 5.

Schools in the sample are relatively more secure on Leadership and management (55% outstanding or good) and Behaviour and safety of pupils (60% outstanding or good) than they are on Quality of teaching (43% outstanding or good) and Achievement of pupils (41% outstanding or good).

.

Ofanal 5

Chart 5: Schools within the sample by inspection sub-grades

Another new addition this year is comparison with the number and percentage of high attainers.

Amongst the sample, the number of high attainers in the 2014 GCSE cohort varied from three to 196 and the percentage from 3% to 52%. (Two schools did not have a GCSE cohort in 2014.)

These distributions are shown on the scatter charts 6 and 7, below.

Chart 6 (number) shows one major outlier at the top of the distribution. The vast majority – 64% of the sample – record numbers between 20 and 60. The average number is 41.

.

Ofanal 6

Chart 6: Schools within the sample by number of high attainers (Secondary Performance Tables measure)

. 

Chart 7 again has a single outlier, this time at the bottom of the distribution. The average is 32%, slightly less than the 32.3% reported for all state-funded schools in the Performance Tables.

Two in five of the sample register a high attainer percentage of between 20% and 30%, while three in five register between 20% and 40%.

But almost a third have a high attainer population of 20% or lower.

.

Ofanal 7 

Chart 7: Schools within the sample by percentage of high attainers (Secondary Performance Tables measure)

Out of curiosity, I compared the overall inspection grade with the percentage of high attainers.

  • Amongst the nine outstanding schools, the percentage of high attainers ranged from 22% to 47%, averaging 33% (there was also one without a high attainer percentage).
  • Amongst the 27 good schools, the percentage of high attainers was between 13% and 52% (plus one without a high attainer percentage) and averaged 32%.
  • Amongst the 32 schools requiring improvement, the percentage of high attainers varied between 3% and 40% and averaged 23%.
  • Amongst the 19 inadequate schools, the percentage of high attainers lay between 10% and 38% and also averaged 23%.

This may suggest a tendency for outstanding/good schools to have a somewhat larger proportion of high attainers than schools judged to be requiring improvement or inadequate.

Key findings and areas for improvement

.

Distribution of comments

Thirty-nine of the reports in the sample (45%) address the most able in the Summary of key findings, while 33 (38%) do so in the section about what the school needs to do to improve further.

In 24 cases (28%) there were entries in both these sections, but in 39 of the reports (45%) there was no reference to the most able in either section.

In 2014, 34% of reports in the sample addressed the issue in both the main findings and recommendations and 52% mentioned it in neither of these sections.

These percentage point changes are not strongly indicative of an extended commitment to this issue.

In the 2015 sample it was rather more likely for a reference to appear in the key findings for community schools (53%) and foundation schools (50%) than it was for converter academies (44%), sponsored academies (42%) or voluntary schools (29%).

Chart 8 shows the distribution of comments in these sections according to the overall inspection grade. In numerical terms, schools rated as requiring improvement overall are most likely to attract comments in both Key findings and Areas for improvement related to the most able.

.

Ofanal 8

Chart 8: Most able mentioned in key findings and areas for improvement by overall inspection grade (percentages)

.

But, when expressed as percentages of the total number of schools in the sample attracting these grades, it becomes apparent that the lower the grade, the more likely such a comment will be received.

Of the 39 reports making reference in the key findings, 10 comments were positive, 28 were negative and one managed to be both positive and negative simultaneously:

‘While the most-able students achieve well, they are capable of even greater success, notably in mathematics.’ (Harewood College, Bournemouth)

.

Positive key findings

Five of the ten exclusively positive comments were directed at community schools.

The percentage of high attainers in the 2014 GCSE cohorts at the schools attracting positive comments varied from 13% to 52% and included three of the five schools with the highest percentages in the sample.

Interestingly, only two of the schools with positive comments received an overall outstanding grade, while three required improvement.

Examples of positive comments, which were often generic, include:

  • ‘The most able students achieve very well, and the proportion of GCSE A* and A grades is significantly above average across the curriculum.’ (Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, Durham)
  • ‘The most able students do well because they are given work that challenges them to achieve their potential’. (The Elton High School Specialist Arts College, Bury)
  • ‘Most able students make good progress in most lessons because of well-planned activities to extend their learning’. (Endon High School, Staffordshire)
  • ‘Teachers encourage the most able students to explore work in depth and to master skills at a high level’. (St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School, Richmond-upon-Thames).

Negative key findings

The distribution of the 28 negative comments in Key findings according to overall inspection grade was:  Outstanding (nil); Good five (19%); Requires improvement twelve (38%); Inadequate eleven (58%).

This suggests a relatively strong correlation between the quality of provision for the most able and the overall quality of the school.

The proportion of high attainers in the 2014 GCSE cohorts of the schools attracting negative comments varied between 3% and 42%. All but three are below the national average for state-funded schools on this measure and half reported 20% or fewer high attainers.

This broadly supports the hypothesis that quality is less strong in schools where the proportion of high attainers is comparatively low.

Examples of typical negative comments:

  • ‘The most able students are not given work that is hard enough’ (Dyson Perrins C of E Sports College, Worcestershire)
  • ‘Too many students, particularly the most able, do not make the progress of which they are capable’ (New Line Learning Academy, Kent)
  • ‘Students, particularly the more able, make slower progress in some lessons where they are not sufficiently challenged. This can lead to some off task behaviour which is not always dealt with by staff’ (The Ferrers School, Northamptonshire)
  • ‘Teachers do not always make sufficient use of assessment information to plan work that fully stretches or challenges all groups of students, particularly the most able’ (Noel-Baker School, Derby).

The menu of shortcomings identified is limited, consisting of seven items: underachievement (especially too few high GCSE grades), insufficient progress, low expectations, insufficiently challenging work, poor teaching quality, poor planning and poor use of assessment information.

Of these, the most common comprise a familiar litany. They are (in descending order): 

  • Insufficiently challenging work 
  • Insufficient progress 
  • Underachievement and 
  • Low expectations.

Inspectors often point out inconsistent practice, though in the worst instances these shortcomings are dominant or even school-wide.

.

No key findings

Chart 9 shows the distribution of reports with no comments about the most able in Key findings and Areas for improvement according to overall inspection grade. When expressed as percentages, these again show that schools rated as outstanding are most likely to escape such comments, while inadequate schools are most likely to be in the firing line.

.

Ofanal 9

Chart 9: Most able not mentioned in key findings and areas for improvement by inspection grade (percentages)

This pattern replicates the findings from 2014. Orders of magnitude are also broadly comparable.  There is no substantive evidence of a major increase in emphasis from inspectors.

It seems particularly surprising that, in over half of schools requiring improvement and a third or more of inadequate schools, issues with educating the most able are still not significant enough to feature in these sections of inspection reports.

.

Areas for improvement

By definition, recommendations for improvement are always associated with identified shortcomings.

The correlation between key findings and areas for improvement is inconsistent. In six cases there were Key findings relating to the most able, but no area for improvement specifically associated with those. Conversely, nine reports had identified areas for improvement that were not picked up in the key findings.

Areas for improvement are almost always formulaic and expressed as lists: the school should improve x through y and z.

When it comes to the most able, the area for improvement is almost invariably teaching quality, though sometimes this is indicated as the route to higher achievement while on other occasions teaching quality and raising achievement are perceived as parallel priorities.

Just one report in the sample mentioned the quality of leadership and management:

‘Ensure that leadership and management take the necessary steps to secure a significant rise in students’ achievement at the end of Year 11 through…ensuring that work set for the most able is always sufficiently challenging’ (New Line Learning Academy, Kent).

This is despite the fact that leadership was specifically mentioned as a focus in HMCI’s Annual Report.

The actions needed to bring about improvement reflect the issues mentioned in the analysis of key findings above. The most common involve applying assessment information to planning and teaching:

  • ‘Raise students’ achievement and the quality of teaching further by ensuring that:…all staff develop their use of class data to plan learning so that students, including the most able, meet their challenging targets’ (Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey, Kent)
  • ‘Ensure the quality of teaching is always good or better, in order to raise attainment and increase rates of progress, especially in English and mathematics, by:…ensuring teachers use all the information available to them to plan lessons that challenge students, including the most able’ (Oasis Academy Lister Park, Bradford)
  • ‘Embed and sustain improvements in achievement overall and in English in particular so that teaching is consistently good and outstanding by: making best use of assessment information to set work that is appropriately challenging, including for the least and most able students’ (Pleckgate High School Mathematics and Computing College, Blackburn with Darwen)

Other typical actions involve setting more challenging tasks, raising the level of questioning, providing accurate feedback, improving lesson planning and maintaining consistently high expectations.

.

Coverage in the main body of reports

.

Leadership and management

Given the reference to this in HMCI’s Annual Report, one might have expected a new and significant emphasis within this section of the reports in the sample.

In fact, the most able were only mentioned in this section in 13 reports (15% of the total). Hardly any of these comments identified shortcomings. The only examples I could find were:

  • ‘The most-able students are not challenged sufficiently in all subjects to
    achieve the higher standards of which they are capable’ (Birkbeck School and Community Arts College, Lincolnshire)
  • ‘Action to improve the quality of teaching is not focused closely enough on the strengths and weaknesses of the school and, as a result, leaders have not done enough to secure good teaching of students and groups of students, including…the most able (Ashington High School Sports College, Northumberland)

Inspectors are much more likely to accentuate the positive:

  • ‘The school has been awarded the Challenge Award more than once. This is given for excellent education for a school’s most-able, gifted and talented students and for challenge across all abilities. Representatives from all departments attend meetings and come up with imaginative ways to deepen these students’ understanding.’ (Cheam High School, Sutton)
  • ‘Leaders and governors are committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all students and are making effective use of student achievement data to target students who may need additional support or intervention. Leaders have identified the need to improve the achievement of…the most-able in some subjects and have put in place strategies to do so’ (Castle Hall academy Trust, Kirklees)
  • ‘Measures being taken to improve the achievement of the most able are effective. Tracking of progress is robust and two coordinators have been appointed to help raise achievement and aspirations. Students say improvements in teaching have been made, and the work of current students shows that their attainment and progress is on track to reach higher standards.’ (The Byrchall High School, Wigan).

Not one report mentioned the role of governors in securing effective provision for the most able. 

Given how often school leadership escapes censure for issues identified elsewhere in reports, this outcome could be interpreted as somewhat complacent. 

HMCI is quite correct to insist that provision for the most able is a whole school issue and, as such, a school’s senior leadership team should be held to account for such shortcomings.

Behaviour and safety

The impact of under-challenging work on pupils’ behaviour is hardly ever identified as a problem.

One example has been identified in the analysis of Key findings above. Only one other report mentions the most able in this section, and the comment is about the role of the school council rather than behaviour per se:

‘The academy council is a vibrant organisation and is one of many examples where students are encouraged to take an active role in the life of the academy. Sixth form students are trained to act as mentors to younger students. This was seen being effectively employed to…challenge the most able students in Year 9’ (St Thomas More High School, Southend)

A handful of reports make some reference under ‘Quality of teaching’ but one might reasonably conclude that neither  bullying of the most able nor disruptive behaviour from bored high attainers is particularly widespread.

Quality of teaching

Statements about the most able are much more likely to appear in this section of reports. Altogether 59 of the sample (68%) made some reference.

Chart 10 shows the correlation between the incidence of comments and the sub-grade awarded by inspectors to this aspect of provision. It demonstrates that, while differences are relatively small, schools deemed outstanding are rather more likely to attract such comment.

But only one of the comments on outstanding provision is negative and that did not mention the most able specifically:

‘Also, in a small minority of lessons, activities do not always deepen
students’ knowledge and understanding to achieve the very highest grades at GCSE and A level.’ (Central Foundation Boys’ School, Islington)

.

Ofanal 10

Chart 10: Incidence of comments under quality of teaching by grade awarded for quality of teaching

.

Comments are much more likely to be negative in schools where the quality of teaching is judged to be good (41%), requiring improvement (59%) and inadequate (58%).

Even so, a few schools in the lower two categories receive surprisingly positive endorsements:

  • ‘On the other hand, the most able students and the younger students in school consistently make good use of the feedback. They say they greatly value teachers’ advice….The teaching of the most able students is strong and often very strong. As a result, these students make good progress and, at times, achieve very well.’ (RI – The Elton High School Specialist Arts College, Bury)
  • ‘Teaching in mathematics is more variable, but in some classes, good and outstanding teaching is resulting in students’ rapid progress. This is most marked in the higher sets where the most able students are being stretched and challenged and are on track to reach the highest grades at GCSE…. In general, the teaching of the most able students….is good.’ (RI- New Charter Academy, Tameside)
  • ‘At its most effective, teaching is well organised to support the achievement of the most able, whose progress is better than other students. This is seen in some of the current English and science work.’ (I – Ely College, Cambridgeshire).

Negative comments on the quality of teaching supply a familiar list of shortcomings.

Some of the most perceptive are rather more specific. Examples include:

  • ‘While the best teaching allows all students to make progress, sometimes discussions that arise naturally in learning, particularly with more able students, are cut short. As a result, students do not have the best opportunity to explore ideas fully and guide their own progress.’ (Dyson Perrins C of E Sports College, Worcestershire)
  • ‘Teachers’ planning increasingly takes account of current information about students’ progress. However, some teachers assume that because the students are organised into ability sets, they do not need to match their teaching to individual and groups of students’ current progress. This has an inhibiting effect on the progress of the more able students in some groups.’ (Chulmleigh Community College, Devon)
  • ‘In too many lessons, particularly boys’ classes, teachers do not use questioning effectively to check students’ learning or promote their thinking. Teachers accept responses that are too short for them to assess students’ understanding. Neither do they adjust their teaching to revisit aspects not fully grasped or move swiftly to provide greater stretch and new learning for all, including the most able.’ (The Crest Academies, Brent)
  • ‘In some lessons, students, including the most able, are happy to sit and wait for the teacher to help them, rather than work things out for themselves’ (Willenhall E-ACT Academy, Walsall).

Were one compiling a list of what to do to impress inspectors, it would include the following items:

  • Plans lessons meticulously with the needs of the most able in mind 
  • Use assessment information to inform planning of work for the most able 
  • Differentiate work (and homework) to match most able learners’ needs and starting points 
  • Deploy targeted questioning, as well as opportunities to develop deeper thinking and produce more detailed pieces of work 
  • Give the most able the flexibility to pursue complex tasks and do not force them to participate in unnecessary revision and reinforcement 
  • Do not use setting as an excuse for neglecting differentiation 
  • Ensure that work for the most able is suitably challenging 
  • Ensure that subject knowledge is sufficiently secure for this purpose 
  • Maintain the highest expectations of what the most able students can achieve 
  • Support the most able to achieve more highly but do not allow them to become over-reliant on support 
  • Deploy teaching assistants to support the most able 
  • Respond to restlessness and low level disruption from the most able when insufficiently challenged.

While many of the reports implicitly acknowledge that the most able learners will have different subject-specific strengths and weaknesses, the implications of this are barely discussed.

Moreover, while a few reports attempt a terminological distinction between ‘more able’ and ‘most able’, the vast majority seem to assume that, in terms of prior attainment, the most able are a homogenous group, whereas – given Ofsted’s preferred approach – there is enormous variation.

Achievement of pupils 

This is the one area of reports where reference to the most able is now apparently compulsory – or almost compulsory.

Just one report in the sample has nothing to say about the achievement of the most able in this section: that on Ashby School in Leicestershire.

Some of the comments are relatively long and detailed, but others are far more cursory and the coverage varies considerably.

Using as an example the subset of schools awarded a sub-grade of outstanding for the achievement of pupils, we can exemplify different types of response:

  • Generic: ‘The school’s most able students make rapid progress and attain excellent results. This provides them with an excellent foundation to continue to achieve well in their future studies.’ (Kelvin Hall School, Hull)
  • Generic, progress-focused: ‘The most-able students make rapid progress and the way they are taught helps them to probe topics in greater depth or to master skills at a high level.’ (St Richard Reynolds Catholic High School, Richmond-upon-Thames)
  • Achievement-focused, core subjects: ‘Higher attaining students achieve exceptionally well as a result of the support and challenge which they receive in class. The proportion of students achieving the higher A* to A grade was similar to national averages in English but significantly above in mathematics.
  • Specific, achievement- and progress-focused: ‘Although the most able students make exceptional progress in the large majority of subjects, a few do not reach the very highest GCSE grades of which they are capable. In 2014, in English language, mathematics and science, a third of all students gained A and A* GCSE grades. Performance in the arts is a real strength. For example, almost two thirds of students in drama and almost half of all music students achieved A and A* grades. However, the proportions of A and A* grades were slightly below the national figures in English literature, geography and some of the subjects with smaller numbers of students (Central Foundation Boys’ School, Islington)

If we look instead at the schools with a sub-grade of inadequate, the comments are typically more focused on progress, but limited progress is invariably described as ‘inadequate’, ‘requiring improvement’, ‘weak’, ‘not good’, ‘not fast enough’. It is never quantified.

On the relatively few occasions when achievement is discussed, the measure is typically GCSE A*/A grades, most often in the core subjects.

It is evident from cross-referencing the Achievement of pupils sub-grade against the percentage of high attainers in the 2014 GCSE cohort that there is a similar correlation to that with the overall inspection grade:

  • In schools judge outstanding on this measure, the high attainer population ranges from 22% to 47% (average 33%)
  • In schools judged good, the range is from 13% to 52% (average 32%)
  • In schools requiring improvement it is between 3% and 40% (average 23%)
  • In schools rated inadequate it varies from 10% to 32% (average 22%)

.

Sixth Form Provision 

Coverage of the most able in sections dedicated to the sixth form is also extremely variable. Relatively few reports deploy the term itself when referring to 16-19 year-old students.

Sometimes there is discussion of progression to higher education and sometimes not. Where this does exist there is little agreement on the appropriate measure of selectivity in higher education:

  • ‘Students are aspiring to study at the top universities in Britain. This is a realistic prospect and illustrates the work the school has done in raising their aspirations.’ (Welling School, Bexley)
  • ‘The academy carefully tracks the destination of leavers with most students proceeding to university and one third of students gaining entry to a Russell Group university’ (Ashcroft Technology Academy, Wandsworth)
  • ‘Provision for the most able students is good, and an increasing proportion of students are moving on to the highly regarded ‘Russell group’ or Oxbridge universities. A high proportion of last year’s students have taken up a place at university and almost all gained a place at their first choice’ (Ashby School, Leicestershire)
  • ‘Large numbers of sixth form students progress to well-regarded universities’ (St Bartholomew’s School, West Berkshire)
  • ‘Students receive good support in crafting applications to universities which most likely match their attainment; this includes students who aspire to Oxford or Cambridge’ (Anthony Gell School, Derbyshire).

Most able and disadvantaged

Given the commitment in the 2015 survey report to ‘continue to focus sharply on the progress made by students who are able and disadvantaged’, I made a point of reviewing the coverage of this issue across all sections of the sample reports.

Suffice to say that only one report discussed provision for the most able disadvantaged students, in these terms:

‘Pupil premium funding is being used successfully to close the wide achievement gaps apparent at the previous inspection….This funding is also being effectively used to extend the range of experiences for those disadvantaged students who are most able. An example of this is their participation in a residential writing weekend.’ (St Hild’s C of E VA School, Hartlepool)

Take a bow Lead Inspector Petts!

A handful of other reports made more general statements to the effect that disadvantaged students perform equivalently to their non-disadvantaged peers, most often with reference to the sixth form:

  • ‘The few disadvantaged students in the sixth form make the same progress as other students, although overall, they attain less well than others due to their lower starting points’ (Sir Thomas Wharton Community College, Doncaster)
  • ‘There is no difference between the rates of progress made by disadvantaged students and their peers’ (Sarum Academy, Wiltshire)
  • ‘In many cases the progress of disadvantaged students is outstripping that of others. Disadvantaged students in the current Year 11 are on course to do
    every bit as well as other students.’ (East Point Academy, Suffolk).

On two occasions, the point was missed entirely:

  • ‘The attainment of disadvantaged students in 2014 was lower than that of other students because of their lower starting points. In English, they were half a grade behind other students in the school and nationally. In mathematics, they were a grade behind other students in the school and almost a grade behind students nationally. The wider gap in mathematics is due to the high attainment of those students in the academy who are not from disadvantaged backgrounds.’ (Chulmleigh Community College, Devon)
  • ‘Disadvantaged students make good progress from their starting points in relation to other students nationally. These students attained approximately two-thirds of a GCSE grade less than non-disadvantaged students nationally in English and in mathematics. This gap is larger in school because of the exceptionally high standards attained by a large proportion of the most able students…’ (Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, Durham)

If Ofsted believes that inspectors are already focusing sharply on this issue then, on this evidence, they are sadly misinformed.

Key Findings and areas for improvement

.

Key findings: Guidance

  • Ofsted inspectors have no reliable definition of ‘most able’ and no guidance on the appropriateness of definitions adopted by the schools they visit. The approach taken in the 2015 survey report is different to that adopted in the initial 2013 survey and is now exclusively focused on prior attainment. It is also significantly different to the high attainer measure in the Secondary Performance Tables.
  • Using Ofsted’s approach, the national population of most able in Year 7 approaches 50% of all learners; in Year 11 it is some 40% of all learners. The latter is some eight percentage points lower than the cohort derived from the Performance Tables measure.
  • The downside of such a large cohort is that it masks the huge attainment differences within the cohort, from a single L5C (and possibly a L3 in either maths or English) to a clutch of L6s. Inspectors might be encouraged to regard this as a homogenous group.
  • The upside is that there should be a most able presence in every year group of every school. In some comprehensive schools, high attainers will be a substantial majority in every year group; in others there will be no more than a handful.
  • Ofsted has not released data showing the incidence of high attainers in each school according to its measure (or the Performance Tables measure for that matter). This does not features in Ofsted’s Data Dashboard.
  • Guidance in the current School Inspection Handbook is not entirely helpful. There is not space in a Section 5 inspection report to respond to all the separate references (see Appendix for the full list). The terminology is confused (‘most able’, ‘more able’, ‘high attainers’).Too often the Handbook mentions several different groups alongside the most able, one of which is disadvantaged pupils. This perpetuates the false assumption that there are no most able disadvantaged learners. We do not yet know whether there will be wholesale revision when new Handbooks are introduced to reflect the Common Inspection Framework.
  • At least four pieces of subsidiary guidance have issued to inspectors since October 2013. But there has been nothing to reflect the commitments in HMCI’s Annual Report (including a stronger focus on school leadership of this issue) or the March 2015 Survey report. This material requires enhancement and consolidation.
  • The March 2015 Report apparently commits to more intensive scrutiny of curricular and IAG provision in Section 5 inspections, as well as ‘continued focus’ on able and disadvantaged students (see below). A subsequent commitment to an evaluation toolkit would be helpful to inspectors as well as schools, but its structure and content has not yet been revealed.

Key findings: Survey

  • The sample for my survey is broadly representative of regions, school status and variations in NOR. In terms of overall inspection grades, 10% are outstanding, 31% good, 37% require improvement and 22% are inadequate. In terms of sub-grades, they are notably weaker on Quality of teaching and Achievement of pupils, the two sections that most typically feature material about the most able.
  • There is huge variation within the sample by percentage of high attainers (2014 GCSE population according to the Secondary Performance Tables measure). The range is from 3% to 52%. The average is 32%, very slightly under the 32.3% average for all state-funded schools. Comparing overall inspection grade with percentage of high attainers suggests a marked difference between those rated outstanding/good (average 32/33%) and those rated as requiring improvement/inadequate (average 23%).
  • 45% of the reports in the sample addressed the most able under Key findings; 38% did so under Areas for improvement and 28% made reference in both sections. However, 45% made no reference in either of these sections. In 2014, 34% mentioned the most able in both main findings and recommendations, while 52% mentioned it in neither. On this measure, inspectors’ focus on the most able has not increased substantively since last year.
  • Community and foundation schools were rather more likely to attract such comments than either converter or sponsored academies. Voluntary schools were least likely to attract them. The lower the overall inspection grade, the more likely a school is to receive such comments.
  • In Key findings, negative comments outnumbered positive comments by a ratio of 3:1. Schools with high percentages of high attainers were well represented amongst those receiving positive comments.
  • Unsurprisingly, schools rated inadequate overall were much more likely to attract negative comments. A correlation between overall quality and quality of provision for the most able was somewhat more apparent than in 2014. There was also some evidence to suggest a correlation between negative comments and a low proportion of high attainers.
  • On the other hand, over half of schools with an overall requiring improvement grade and a third with an overall inspection grade of inadequate did not attract comments about the most able under Key findings. This is not indicative of greater emphasis.
  • The menu of shortcomings is confined to seven principal faults: underachievement (especially too few high GCSE grades), insufficient progress, low expectations, insufficiently challenging work, poor teaching quality, poor planning and poor use of assessment information. In most cases practice is inconsistent but occasionally problems are school-wide.
  • Areas for improvement are almost always expressed in formulaic fashion. Those relating to the most able focus almost invariably on the Quality of teaching. The improvement most commonly urged is more thorough application of assessment information to planning and teaching.
  • Only 15% of reports mention the most able under Leadership and management and, of those, only two are negative comments. The role of governors was not raised once. Too often the school leadership escapes censure for shortcomings identified elsewhere in the report. This is not consistent with indications of new-found emphasis in this territory.
  • The most able are hardly ever mentioned in the Behaviour and safety section of reports. It would seem that bullying is invisible and low level disruption by bored high attainers rare.
  • Conversely, 68% of reports referenced the most able under Quality of teaching. Although negative comments are much more likely in schools judged as inadequate or requiring improvement in this area, a few appear to be succeeding with their most able against the odds. The main text identifies a list of twelve good practice points gleaned from the sample.
  • Only one report fails to mention the most able under Achievement of pupils, but the quality and coverage varies enormously. Some comments are entirely generic; some focus on achievement, others on progress and some on both. Few venture beyond the core subjects. There is very little quantification, especially of insufficient progress (and especially compared with equivalent discussion of progress by disadvantaged learners).
  • Relatively few reports deploy the term ‘most able’ when discussing sixth form provision. Progression to higher education is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not. There is no consensus on how to refer to selective higher education.
  • Only one report in this sample mentions disadvantaged most able students. Two reports betray the tendency of assuming these two groups to be mutually exclusive but, worse still, the sin of omission is almost universal. This provides no support whatsoever for Ofsted’s claim that inspectors already address the issue.

Areas for improvement

Ofsted has made only limited improvements since the previous inspection in May 2014 and its more recent commitments are not yet reflected in Section 5 inspection practice.

In order to pass muster it should:

  • Appoint a lead inspector for the most able who will assume responsibility across Ofsted, including communication and consultation with third parties.
  • Consolidate and clarify material about the most able in the new Inspection Handbooks and supporting guidance for inspectors.
  • Prepare and publish a high quality evaluation toolkit, to support schools and inspectors alike. This should address definitional and terminological issues as well as supplying benchmarking data for achievement and progress. It might also set out the core principles underpinning effective practice.
  • Include within the toolkit a self-assessment and evaluation framework based on the quality standards. This should model Ofsted’s understanding of whole school provision for the most able that aligns with outstanding, good and requiring improvement grades, so that schools can understand the progression between these points.
  • Incorporate data about the incidence of the most able and their performance in the Data Dashboard.
  • Extend all elements of this work programme to the primary and post-16 sectors.
  • Undertake this work programme in consultation with external practitioners and experts in the field, completing it as soon as possible and by December 2015 at the latest.

 .

Verdict: (Still) Requires Improvement.

GP

April 2015

.. 

.

Annex: Coverage in the School Inspection Handbook (December 2014)

Main Text

Inspectors should:

  • Gather evidence about how well they are ‘learning, gaining knowledge and understanding, and making progress’ (para 40)
  • Take account of them when considering performance data (para 59)
  • Take advantage of opportunities to gather evidence from them (para 68)
  • Consider the effectiveness of pupil grouping, for example ‘where pupils are taught in mixed ability groups/classes, inspectors will consider whether the most able are stretched…’ (para 153)
  • Explore ‘how well the school works with families to support them in overcoming the cultural obstacles that often stand in the way of the most able pupils from deprived backgrounds attending university’ (para 154)
  • Consider whether ‘teachers set homework in line with the school’s policy and that challenges all pupils, especially the most able’ (para 180)
  • Consider ‘whether work in Key Stage 3 is demanding enough, especially for the most able when too often undemanding work is repeated unnecessarily’ (para 180)
  • Consider whether ‘teaching helps to develop a culture and ethos of scholastic excellence, where the highest achievement in academic work is recognised, especially in supporting the achievement of the most able’ (para 180)
  • When judging achievement, have regard for ‘the progress that the most able are making towards attaining the highest grades’ and ‘pay particular attention to whether more able pupils in general and the most able pupils in particular are achieving as well as they should’. They must ‘summarise the achievements of the most able pupils in a separate paragraph of the inspection report’ (paras 185-7)
  • Consider ‘how the school uses assessment information to identify pupils who…need additional support to reach their full potential, including the most able.’ (para 193)
  • Consider how well ‘assessment, including test results, targets, performance descriptors or expected standards are used to ensure that…more able pupils do work that deepens their knowledge and understanding’ and ‘pupils’ strengths and misconceptions are identified and acted on by teachers during lessons and more widely to… deepen the knowledge and understanding of the most able’ (para 194)
  • Take account of ‘the learning and progress across year groups of different groups of pupils currently on the roll of the school, including…the most able’. Evidence gathered should include ‘the school’s own records of pupils’ progress, including… the most able pupils such as those who joined secondary schools having attained highly in Key Stage 2’ (para 195)
  • Take account of ‘pupils’ progress in the last three years, where such data exist and are applicable, including that of…the most able’ (para 195)
  • ‘When inspecting and reporting on students’ achievement in the sixth form, inspectors must take into account all other guidance on judging the achievement, behaviour and development of students, including specific groups such as…the most able ‘ (para 210)
  • Talk to sixth form students to discover ‘how well individual study programmes meet their expectations, needs and future plans, including for…the most able’ (para 212)

However, the terminology is not always consistent. in assessing the overall effectiveness of a school, inspectors must judge its response to ‘the achievement of…the highest and lowest attainers’ (para 129)

Grade descriptors

Outstanding

  • Overall effectiveness:

‘The school’s practice consistently reflects the highest expectations of staff and the highest aspirations for pupils, including the most able…’

  • Quality of teaching:

‘Much teaching over time in all key stages and most subjects is outstanding and never less than consistently good. As a result, almost all pupils currently on roll in the school, including…the most able, are making sustained progress that leads to outstanding achievement.’

  • Achievement of pupils:

‘The learning of groups of pupils, particularly… the most able, is consistently good or better.’

  • Effectiveness of sixth form provision:

‘All groups of pupils make outstanding progress, including…the most able’

Good

  • Overall effectiveness:

‘The school takes effective action to enable most pupils, including the most able…’

  • Quality of teaching:

‘Teaching over time in most subjects, including English and mathematics, is consistently good. As a result, most pupils and groups of pupils on roll in the school, including…the most able, make good progress and achieve well over time.’

‘Effective teaching strategies, including setting appropriate homework and well-targeted support and intervention, are matched closely to most pupils’ needs, including those most and least able, so that pupils learn well in lessons’

  • Achievement of pupils:

‘The learning of groups of pupils, particularly… the most able, is generally good.’

  • Effectiveness of sixth form provision:

‘As a result of teaching that is consistently good over time, students make good progress, including…the most able’

Inadequate

  • Quality of teaching:

‘As a result of weak teaching over time, pupils or particular groups of pupils, including…the most able, are making inadequate progress.’

  • Achievement of pupils:

‘Groups of pupils, particularly disabled pupils and/or those who have special educational needs and/or disadvantaged pupils and/or the most able, are underachieving’

  • Effectiveness of sixth form provision:

‘Students or specific groups such as… the most able do not achieve as well as they can. Low attainment of any group shows little sign of rising.’

A Primary Assessment Progress Report

.

This post tracks progress towards the introduction of the primary assessment and accountability reforms introduced by England’s Coalition Government.

pencil-145970_640It reviews developments since the Government’s consultation response was published, as well as the further action required to ensure full and timely implementation.

It considers the possibility of delay as a consequence of the May 2015 General Election and the potential impact of a new government with a different political complexion.

An introductory section outlines the timeline for reform. This is followed by seven thematic sections dealing with:

There are page jumps from each of the bullets above, should readers wish to refer to these specific sections.

Each section summarises briefly the changes and commitments set out in the consultation response (and in the original consultation document where these appear not to have been superseded).

Each then reviews in more detail the progress made to date, itemising the tasks that remain outstanding.

I have included deadlines for all outstanding tasks. Where these are unknown I have made a ‘best guess’ (indicated by a question mark after the date).

I have done my best to steer a consistent path through the variety of material associated with these reforms, pointing out apparent conflicts between sources wherever these exist.

A final section considers progress across the reform programme as a whole – and how much remains to be done.

It discusses the likely impact of Election Purdah and the prospects for changes in direction consequent upon the outcome of the Election.

I have devoted previous posts to ‘Analysis of the Primary Assessment and Accountability Consultation Document’ (July 2013) and to the response in ‘Unpacking the Primary Assessment and Accountability Reforms’ (April 2014) so there is inevitably some repetition here, for which I apologise.

This is a long and complex post, even by my standards. I have tried to construct the big picture from a variety of different sources, to itemise all the jigsaw pieces already in place and all those that are still missing.

If you spot any errors or omissions, do let me know and I will do my best to correct them.

.

[Postscript: Please note that I have added several further postscripts to this document since the original date of publication. If you are revisiting, do pause at the new emboldened paragraphs below.]

Timeline for Reform

The consultation document ‘Primary assessment and accountability under the new national curriculum’ was published on 7 July 2013.

It contained a commitment to publish a response in ‘autumn 2013’, but ‘Reforming assessment and accountability for primary schools’ did not appear until March 2014.

The implementation timetable has to be inferred from a variety of sources but seems to be as shown in the table below. (I have set aside interim milestones until the thematic sections below.)

Month/year Action
Sept 2014 Schools no longer expected to use levels for non-statutory assessment
May 2015 End of KS1 and KS2 national curriculum tests and statutory teacher assessment reported through levels for the final time. .
Summer term 2015 Final 2016 KS1 and KS2 test frameworks, sample materials and mark schemes published.
Guidance published on reporting of test results.
Sept 2015 Schools can use approved reception baseline assessments (or a KS1 baseline).
Sept/Autumn term 2015 New performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment published.
Dec 2015 Primary Performance Tables use levels for the final time.
May 2016 New KS1 and KS tests introduced, reported through new attainment and progress measures.
June 2016 Statutory teacher assessment reported through new performance descriptors.
Sept 2016 Reception baseline assessment the only baseline option for all-through primaries
Schools must publish new headline measures on their websites.
New floor standards come into effect (with progress element still derived from KS1 baseline).
Dec 2016 New attainment and performance measures published in Primary Performance Tables.

The General Election takes place on 7 May 2015, but pre-Election Purdah will commence on 30 March, almost exactly a year on from publication of the consultation response.

At the time of writing, some 40 weeks have elapsed since the response was published – and there are some 10 weeks before Purdah descends.

Assuming that the next Government is formed within a week of the Election (which might be optimistic), there is a second working period of roughly 10 weeks between that and the end of the AY 2014/15 summer term.

The convention is that all significant assessment and accountability reforms are notified to schools a full academic year before implementation, so allowing them sufficient time to plan for implementation.

A full year’s lead time is no longer sacrosanct (and has already been set aside in some instances below) but any shorter notification period may have significant implications for teacher workload – something that the Government is committed to tackling.

.

[Postscript: On 6 February the Government published its response to the Workload Challenge, which contained a commitment to introduce, from ‘Spring 2015’, a:

‘DfE Protocol setting out minimum lead-in times for significant curriculum, qualifications and accountability changes…’

Elsewhere the text says that the minimum lead time will be a year, thus reinforcing the convention described above.

The term ‘significant’ allows some wriggle room, but one might reasonably expect it to be applied to some of the outstanding actions below.

The Protocol was published on 23 March. The first numbered paragraph implicitly defines a significant change as one having ‘a significant workload impact on schools’, though what constitutes significance (and who determines it) is left unanswered.

There is provision for override ‘in cases where change is urgently required’ but criteria for introducing an override are not supplied.]

.

.

We now know that a minimum lead time will not be applied to the introduction of new performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment (see below). The original timescale did not fit this description and it has not been adjusted in the light of consultation.]

.

Announcements made during the long summer holiday are much disliked by schools, so the end of summer term 2015 becomes the de facto target for any reforms requiring implementation from September 2016.

One might therefore conclude that:

  • We are about two-thirds of the way through the main implementation period.
  • There is a period of some 100 working days in which to complete the reforms expected to be notified to schools before the end of the AY2014/15 summer term. This is divided into two windows of some 50 working days on either side of Purdah.
  • There is some scope to extend more deadlines into the summer break and autumn 2015, but the costs of doing so – including loss of professional goodwill – might outweigh the benefits.

Purdah will act as a brake on progress across the piece. It will delay announcements that might otherwise have been made in April and early May, such as those related to new tests scheduled for May 2016.

The implications of Purdah are discussed further in the final section of this post.

.

Reception Baseline Assessment

Consultation response

A new Reception Baseline will be introduced from September 2015. This will be undertaken by children within their first few weeks of school (so not necessarily during the first half of the autumn term).

Teachers will be able to select from a range of assessments ‘but most are likely to be administered by the reception teaching staff’.  Assessments will be ‘short’ and ‘sit within teachers’ broader assessments of children’s development’.

They will be:

‘…strong predictors of key stage 1 and key stage 2 attainment whilst reflecting the age and abilities of children in reception’

Schools that use an approved baseline assessment ‘in September 2015’ (and presumably later during the 2015/16 academic year) will have their progress measured in 2022 against that or a KS1 baseline, whichever gives the best result.

However, only the reception baseline will be available from September 2016 and, from this point, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) profile will no longer be compulsory.

The reception baseline will not be compulsory either, since:

‘Schools that choose not to use an approved baseline assessment from 2016 will be judged on an attainment floor standard alone.’

But, since the attainment floor standard is so demanding (see below), this apparent choice may prove illusory for most schools.

Further work includes:

  • Engaging experts to develop criteria for the baselines.
  • A study in autumn 2014 of schools that already use such assessments, to inform decisions on moderation and the reporting of results to parents.
  • Communicating those decisions about moderation and reporting results – to Ofsted as well as to parents – ensuring they are ‘contextualised by teachers’ broader assessments’.
  • Publishing a list of assessments that meet the prescribed criteria.

.

Developments to date

Baseline criteria were published by the STA in May 2014.

The purpose of the assessments is described thus:

‘…to support the accountability framework and help assess school effectiveness by providing a score for each child at the start of reception which reflects their attainment against a pre-determined content domain and which will be used as the basis for an accountability measure of the relative progress of a cohort of children through primary school.’

This emphasis on the relevance of the baseline to floor targets is in marked contrast with the emphasis on reporting progress to parents in the original consultation document.

Towards the end of the document here is a request for ‘supporting information in addition to the criteria’:

‘What guidance will suppliers provide to schools in order to enable them to interpret the results and report them to parents in a contextualised way, for example alongside teacher observation?’

This seems to refer to the immediate reporting of baseline outcomes rather than of subsequent progress measures. Suitability for this purpose does not appear within the criteria themselves.

Interestingly, the criteria specify that the content domain:

‘…must demonstrate a clear progression towards the key stage 1 national curriculum in English and mathematics’,

but there is no reference to progression to KS2, and nothing about assessments being ‘strong predictors’ of future attainment, whether at KS1 or KS2.

Have expectations been lowered, perhaps because of concerns about the predictive validity of the assessments currently available?

A research study was commissioned in June 2014 (so earlier than anticipated) with broader parameters than originally envisaged.

The Government awarded a 9-month contract to NFER worth £49.7K, to undertake surveys of teachers’, school leaders’ and parents’ views on baseline assessment.

The documentation reveals that CEM is also involved in a parallel quantitative study which will ‘simulate an accountability environment’ for a group of schools, to judge changes in their behaviour.

Both of these organisations are also in the running for concession contracts to deliver the assessments from September 2015 (see below).

The aims of the project are to identify:

  • The impact of the introduction of baseline assessments in an accountability context.
  • Challenges to the smooth introduction of baseline assessments as a means to constructing an accountability measure.
  • Potential needs for monitoring and moderation approaches.
  • What reporting mechanisms and formats stakeholders find most useful.

Objectives are set out for an accountability strand and a reporting strand respectively. The former refer explicitly to identification of ‘gaming’ and the exploration of ‘perverse incentives’.

It is not entirely clear from the latter whether researchers are focused solely on initial contexualised reporting of reception baseline outcomes, or are also exploring the subsequent reporting of progress.

The full objectives are reproduced below

.

Reception baseline capture

.

The final ‘publishable’ report is to be delivered by March 2015. It will be touch and go whether this can be released before Purdah descends. Confirmation of policy decisions based on the research will likely be delayed until after the Election.

.

The process has begun to identify and publish a list of assessments that meet the criteria.

A tender appeared on Contracts Finder in September 2014 and has been updated several times subsequently, the most recent version appearing in early December.

The purpose is to award several concession contracts, giving holders the right to compete with each other to deliver baseline assessments.

Contracts were scheduled to be awarded on 26 January 2015, but there was no announcement. Each will last 19 months (to August 2016), with an option to extend for a further year. The total value of the contracts, including extensions, is calculated at £4.2m.

There is no limit to the number of concessions to be awarded, but providers must meet specified (and complex) school recruitment and delivery targets which essentially translate into a 10% sample of all eligible schools.

Under-recruiting providers can be included if fewer than four meet the 10% target, as long as they have recruited at least 1,000 eligible schools.

Moreover:

‘The minimum volume requirement may be waived if the number of schools choosing to administer the reception baseline is fewer than 8,887 [50% of the total number of schools with a reception class].’

Hence the number of suppliers in the market is likely to be limited to 10 or so: there will be some choice, but not too much.

My online researches unearthed four obvious candidates:

And suggestions that this might constitute the entire field

.

.

The initial deadline for recruiting the target number of schools is 30 April 2015, slap-bang in the middle of Purdah. This may prove problematic.

.

[Postscript: The award of six concession contracts was quietly confirmed on Wednesday 4 February, via new guidance on DfE’s website. The two contractors missing from the list above are Early Excellence and Hodder Education.

The guidance confirms that schools must sign up with their preferred supplier. They can do so after the initial deadline of 30 April but, on 3 June, schools will be told if they have chosen a provider that has been suspended for failing to recruit sufficient schools.  They will then need to choose an alternative provider.

It adds that, in AY2015/16, LA-maintained schools, academies and free schools will be reimbursed for the ‘basic cost’ of approved reception baselines. Thereafter, school budgets will include the necessary funding.

In the event, the Government has barely contributed to publicity for the assessment, leaving it to suppliers to make the running. The initial low-key approach (including links to the contractors’ home pages rather than to details of their baseline offers) has been maintained.

The only addition to the guidance has been the inclusion, from 20 March, of the criteria used to evaluate the original bids. This seems unlikely to help schools select their preferred solution since, by definition, all the successful bids must have satisifed these criteria!

Purdah will now prevent any further Government publicity.]

.

It seems likely that the decision to allow a range of baseline assessments – as opposed to a single national measure – will create significant comparability issues.

One of the ‘clarification questions’ posed by potential suppliers is:

‘We can find no reference to providing a comparability score between provider assessments. Therefore, can we assume that each battery of assessments will be independent, stand-alone and with no need to cross reference to other suppliers?’

The answer given is:

‘The assumption is correct at this stage. However, STA will be conducting a comparability study with successful suppliers in September 2015 to determine whether concordance tables can be constructed between assessments.’

This implies that progress measures will need to be calculated separately for users of each baseline assessment – and that these will be comparable only through additional ‘concordance tables’, should these prove feasible.

There are associated administrative and workload issues for schools, particularly those with high mobility rates, which may find themselves needing to engage with several different baseline assessment products.

One answer to a supplier’s question reveals that:

‘As currently, children will be included in performance measures for the school in which they take their final assessment (i.e. key stage 2 tests) regardless of which school they were at for the input measure (i.e. reception baseline on key stage 1). We are currently reviewing how long a child needs to have attended a school in order for their progress outcome to be included in the measure.’

The issue of comparability also raises questions about their aggregation for floor target purposes. Will targets based on several different baseline assessments be comparable with those based on only one? Will schools with high mobility rates be disadvantaged?

Schools will pay for the assessments. The supporting documentation says that:

‘The amount of funding that schools will be provided with is still to be determined. This will not be determined until after bids have been submitted to avoid accusations of price fixing.’

One of the answers to a clarification question says:

‘The funding will be available to schools from October 2015 to cover the reception baseline for the academic year 2015/16.’

Another says this funding is unlikely to be ringfenced.

There is some confusion over the payment mechanism. One answer says:

‘…the mechanism for this is still to be determined. In the longer term, money will be provided to schools through the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) to purchase the reception baseline. However, the Department is still considering options for the first year and may pay suppliers directly depending on the amount of data provided.’

But yet another is confident that:

‘Suppliers will be paid directly by schools. The Department will reimburse schools separately.’

The documentation also reveals that there has as yet been no decision on how to measure progress between the baseline and the end of KS2:

‘The Department is still considering how to measure this and is keen for suppliers to provide their thoughts.’

The ‘Statement of requirements’ once again foregrounds the use of the baseline for floor targets rather than reporting individual learners’ progress.

‘On 27 March 2014, the Department for Education (DfE) announced plans to introduce a new floor standard from September 2016. This will be based on the progress made by pupils from reception to the end of primary school.  The DfE will use a new Reception Baseline Assessment to capture the starting point from which the progress that schools make with their pupils will be measured.  The content of the Reception Baseline will reflect the knowledge and understanding of children at the start of reception, and will be clearly linked to the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage and key stage 1 national curriculum in English and mathematics.  The Reception Baseline will be administered within the first half term of a pupil’s entry to a reception class.’

In relation to reporting to parents, one of the answers to suppliers’ questions states:

‘Some parents will be aware of the reception baseline from the national media coverage of the policy announcement. We anticipate that awareness of the reception baseline will develop over time. As with other assessments carried out by a school, we would expect schools to share information with parents if asked, though there will be no requirement to report the outcome of the reception baseline to parents.’

So it appears that, regardless of the outcomes of the research above, initial short term reporting of reception baseline outcomes will be optional.

.

[Postscript: This position is still more vigorously stated in a letter dated November 2014 from Ministers to a primary group formed by two maths associations. It says (my emphasis):

‘Let me be clear that we do not intend the baseline assessment to be used to monitor the progress of individual children. You rightly point out that any assessment that was designed to be reliable at individual child level would need to take into account the different ages at which children start reception and be sufficiently detailed to account for the variation in performance one expects from young children day-to-day. Rather, the baseline assessment is about capturing the starting point for the cohort which can then be used to assess the progress of that cohort at the end of primary school,’

This distinction has not been made sufficiently explicit in material published elsewhere.]

.

The overall picture is of a process in which procurement is running in parallel with research and development work intended to help resolve several significant and outstanding issues. This is a consequence of the September 2015 deadline for introduction, which seems increasingly problematic.

Particularly so given that many professionals are yet to be convinced of the case for reception baseline assessment, expressing reservations on several fundamental grounds, extending well beyond the issues highlighted above.

A January 2015 Report from the Centre Forum – Progress matters in Primary too – defends the plan against its detractors, citing six key points of concern. Some of the counter-arguments summarised below are rather more convincing than others:

  • Validity: The contention that reception level assessments are accurate predictors of attainment at the end of KS2 is justified by reference to CEM’s PIPS assessment, which was judged in 2001 to give a correlation of 0.7. But of course KS2 tests were very different in those days.
  • Reliability: The notion that attainment can be reliably determined in reception is again justified with reference to PIPS data from 2001 (showing a 0.98 correlation on retesting). The authors argue that the potentially negative effects of test conditions on young children and the risks of bias should be ‘mitigated’ (but not eliminated) through the development and selection process.
  • Contextualisation: The risk of over-simplification through reporting a single numerical score, independent of factors such as age, needs to be set against the arguments in favour of a relatively simple and transparent methodology. Schools are free to add such context when communicating with parents.
  • Labelling: The argument that baseline outcomes will tend to undermine universally high expectations is countered by the view that assessment may actually challenge labelling attributable to other causes, and can in any case be managed in reporting to parents by providing additional contextual information.
  • Pupil mobility: Concern that the assessment will be unfair on schools with high levels of mobility is met by reference to planned guidance on ‘how long a pupil needs to have attended a school in order to be included in the progress measure’. However, the broader problems associated with a choice of assessments are acknowledged.
  • Gaming: The risk that schools will artificially depress baseline outcomes will be managed through effective moderation and monitoring.

The overall conclusion is that:

‘…the legitimate concerns raised by stakeholders around the reliability and fairness of a baseline assessment do not present fundamental impediments to implementing the progress measure. Overall, a well-designed assessment and appropriate moderation could address these concerns to the extent that a baseline assessment could provide a reasonable basis for constructing a progress measure.

That said, the Department for Education and baseline assessment providers need to address, and, where indicated, mitigate the concerns. However, in principle, there is nothing to prevent a well-designed baseline test being used to create a progress-based accountability measure.’

The report adds:

‘However, this argument still needs to be won and teachers’ concerns assuaged….

.. Since the majority of schools will be reliant on the progress measure under the new system, they need to be better informed about the validity, reliability and purpose of the baseline assessment. To win the support of school leaders and teachers, the Department for Education must release clear, defensible evidence that the baseline assessment is indeed valid, fair and reliable.’

.

[Postscript: On 25 March the STA tendered for a supplier to ‘determine appropriate models for assuring the national data from the reception baseline’. The notice continues:

‘Once models have been determined, STA will agree up to three approaches to be implemented by the supplier in small scale pilots during September/October 2015. The supplier will also be responsible for evaluating the approaches using evidence from the pilots with the aim of recommending an approach to be implemented from September 2016.’

The need for quality assurance is compounded by the fact that there are six different assessment models. The documentation makes clear that monitoring, moderation and other quality assurance methods will be considered.

The contract runs from 1 July 2015 to 31 January 2016 with the possibility of extension for a further 12 months. It will be let by 19 June.]

 .

Outstanding tasks

  • Publish list of contracts for approved baseline assessments (26 January 2015) COMPLETED
  • Explain funding arrangements for baseline assessments and how FY2015-16 funding will be distributed (January 2015?) COMPLETED
  • Publish research on baseline assessment (March/April 2015) 
  • Confirm monitoring and moderation arrangements (March/April 2015?) 
  • Deadline for contractors recruiting schools for initial baseline assessments (30 April 2015) 
  • Publish guidance on the reporting of baseline assessment results (May 2015?) 
  • Award quality assurance tender (June 2016)
  • Undertake comparability study with successful suppliers to determine whether concordance tables can be constructed (Autumn 2015) 
  • Determine funding required for AY2015/16 assessment and distribute to schools (or suppliers?) (October 2015?)
  • Pilot quality assurance models (October 2015)

KS1 and KS2 tests

.

Consultation response

The new tests will comprise:

  • At KS1 – externally set and internally marked tests of maths and reading and an externally set test of grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS). It is unclear from the text whether the GPS test will be externally marked.
  • At KS2 – externally set and externally marked tests of maths, reading and science, plus a sampling test in science.

Outcomes of both KS1 and KS2 tests (other than the science sampling test) will be expressed as scaled scores. A footnote makes it clear that, in both cases, a score of ‘100 will represent the new expected standard for that stage’

The consultation document says of the scaled scores:

‘Because it is not possible to create tests of precisely the same difficulty every year, the number of marks needed to meet the secondary readiness standard will fluctuate slightly from one year to another. To ensure that results are comparable over time, we propose to convert raw test marks into a scaled score, where the secondary readiness standard will remain the same from year to year. Scaled scores are used in all international surveys and ensure that test outcomes are comparable over time.’

It adds that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) will develop the scale.

Otherwise very little detail is provided about next steps. The consultation response is silent on the issue. The original consultation document says only that:

‘The Standards and Testing Agency will develop new national curriculum tests, to reflect the new national curriculum programmes of study.’

Adding, in relation to the science sampling test:

‘We will continue with national sample tests in science, designed to monitor national standards over time. A nationally-representative sample of pupils will sit a range of tests, designed to produce detailed information on the cohort’s performance across the whole science curriculum. The design of the tests will mean that results cannot be used to hold individual schools or pupils accountable.’

.

Developments to date

On March 31 2014, the STA published  draft test frameworks for the seven KS1 and KS2 tests to be introduced from 2016:

  • KS1 GPS: a short written task (20 mins); short answer questions (20 mins) and a spelling task (15 mins)
  • KS1 reading: two reading tests, one with texts and questions together, the other with a separate answer booklet (2 x 20 mins)
  • KS1 maths: an arithmetic test (15 mins) and a test of fluency, problem-solving and reasoning (35 mins)
  • KS2 GPS: a grammar and punctuation test (45 mins) and a spelling task (15 mins)
  • KS2 reading: a single test (60 mins)
  • KS2 maths: an arithmetic test (30 mins) and two tests of fluency, problem-solving and reasoning (2 x 40 mins)
  • KS2 science (sampling): tests in physics, chemistry and biology contexts (3 x 25 mins).

Each test will be designed for the full range of prior attainment and questions will typically be posed in order of difficulty.

Each framework explains that all eligible children at state-funded schools will be required to take the tests, but some learners will be exempt.

For further details of which learners will be exempted, readers are referred to the current Assessment and Reporting Arrangements (ARA) booklets.

According to these, the KS1 tests should be taken by all learners working at level 1 or above and the KS2 tests by all learners working at level 3 and above. Teacher assessment data must be submitted for pupils working below the level of the tests.

But of course levels will no longer exist – and we have no equivalent in the form of scaled scores – so the draft frameworks do not define clearly the lower parameter of the range of prior attainment the tests are intended to accommodate.

It will not be straightforward to design workable tests for such broad spans of prior attainment.

Each framework has a common section on the derivation of scaled scores:

‘The raw score on the test…will be converted into a scaled score. Translating raw scores into scaled scores ensures performance can be reported on a consistent scale for all children. Scaled scores retain the same meaning from one year to the next. Therefore, a particular scaled score reflects the same level of attainment in one year as in the previous year, having been adjusted for any differences in difficulty of the test.

Additionally, each child will receive an overall result indicating whether or not he or she has achieved the required standard on the test. A standard-setting exercise will be conducted on the first live test in 2016 in order to determine the scaled score needed for a child to be considered to have met the standard. This process will be facilitated by the performance descriptor… which defines the performance level required to meet the standard. In subsequent years, the standard will be maintained using appropriate statistical methods to translate raw scores on a new test into scaled scores with an additional judgemental exercise at the expected standard. The scaled score required to achieve the expected level on the test will always remain the same.

The exact scale for the scaled scores will be determined following further analysis of trialling data. This will include a full review of the reporting of confidence intervals for scaled scores.’

In July 2014 STA also published sample questions, mark schemes and associated commentaries for each test.

.

Outstanding tasks

I have been unable to trace any details of the timetable for test development and trialling.

As far as I can establish, STA has not published an equivalent to QCDA’s ‘Test development, level setting and maintaining standards’ (March 2010) which describes in some detail the different stages of the test development process.

This old QCA web-page describes a 22-month cycle, from the initial stages of test development to the administration of the tests.

This aligns reasonably well with the 25-month period between publication of the draft test frameworks on 31 March 2014 and the administration of the tests in early May 2016.

Applying the same timetable to the 2016 tests – using publication of the draft frameworks as the starting point – suggests that:

  • The first pre-test should have been completed by November 2014
  • The second pre-test should take place by February 2015 
  • Mark schemes and tests should be finalised by July 2015

STA commits to publishing, the final test frameworks and a full set of sample tests and mark schemes for each of the national curriculum tests at key stages 1 and 2 ‘during the 2015 summer term’.

Given Purdah, these seem most likely to appear towards the end of the summer term rather than a full year ahead of the tests.

In relation to the test frameworks, STA says:

‘We may make small changes as a result of this work; however, we do not expect the main elements of the frameworks to change.’

They will also produce, to the same deadline, guidance on how the results of national curriculum tests will be reported, including an explanation of scaled scores.

So we have three further outstanding tasks:

  • Publishing the final test frameworks (summer term 2015) 
  • Finalising the scale to be used for the tests (summer term 2015) 
  • Publishing guidance explaining the use and reporting of scaled scores (summer term 2015)

.

[Postscript: Since publishing this post, I have found on Contracts Finder various STA contracts, as follows:

How these square with the timetable above is, as yet, unclear. If there is a possibility that final test frameworks cannot be finalised until Autumn 2015, the Workload Challenge Protocol may well bite here too.]

.

Statutory teacher assessment

.

Consultation response

The response confirms statutory teacher assessment of:

  • KS1 maths, reading, writing, speaking and listening and science
  • KS2 maths, reading, writing and science.

There are to be performance descriptors for each statutory teacher assessment:

  • a single descriptor for KS1 science and KS2 science, reading and maths
  • several descriptors for KS1 maths, reading, writing and speaking and listening, and also for KS2 writing.

There is a commitment to improve KS1 moderation, given concerns expressed by Ofsted and the NAHT Commission.

In respect of low attaining pupils the response says:

‘All pupils who are not able to access the relevant end of key stage test will continue to have their attainment assessed by teachers. We will retain P-scales for reporting teachers’ judgements. The content of the P-scales will remain unchanged. Where pupils are working above the P-scales but below the level of the test, we will provide further information to enable teachers to assess attainment at the end of the relevant key stage in the context of the new national curriculum.’

And there is to be further consideration of whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment.

So, to summarise, the further work involves:

  • Developing new performance descriptors – to be drafted by an expert group. According to the response, the KS1 descriptors would be introduced in ‘autumn 2014’. No date is given for the KS2 descriptors.
  • Improving moderation of KS1 teacher assessment, working closely with schools and Ofsted.
  • Providing guidance to support teacher assessment of those working above the P-scales but below the level of the tests.
  • Deciding whether to move to external moderation of P-scale teacher assessment.

.

Developments to date

Updated statutory guidance on the P-Scale attainment targets for pupils with SEN was released in July 2014, but neither it nor the existing guidance on when to use the P-Scales relates them to the new scaled scores, or discusses the issue of moderation.

.

In September 2014, a guidance noteNational curriculum and assessment from September 2014: Information for schools’ revised the timeline for the development of performance descriptors:

‘New performance descriptors will be published (in draft) in autumn 2014 which will inform statutory teacher assessment at the end of key stage 1 and 2 in summer 2016. Final versions will be published by September 2015.’

.

A consultation document on performance descriptors: ‘Performance descriptors for use in key stage 1 and 2 statutory teacher assessment for 2015 to 2016’ was published on 23 October 2014.

The descriptors were:

‘… drafted with experts, including teachers, representatives from Local Authorities, curriculum and subject experts. Also Ofsted and Ofqual have observed and supported the drafting process’

A November 2014 FoI response revealed the names of the experts involved and brief biographies were provided in the media.

A further FoI has been submitted requesting details of their remit but, at the time of writing, this has not been answered.

.

[Postscript: The FoI response setting out the remit was published on 5 February.]

.

The consultation document revealed for the first time the complex structure of the performance descriptor framework.

It prescribes four descriptors for KS1 reading, writing and maths but five for KS2 writing.

The singleton descriptors reflect ‘working at the national standard’.

Where four descriptors are required these are termed (from the top down): ‘mastery’, ‘national’, ‘working towards national’ and ‘below national’ standard.

In the case of KS2 writing ‘above national standard’ is sandwiched between ‘mastery’ and ‘national’.

.

Performance descriptor Capture 1Perfromance Decriptor Capture 2

The document explains how these different levels cross-reference to the assessment of learners exempted from the tests.

In the case of assessments with only a single descriptor, it becomes clear that a further distinction is needed:

‘In subjects with only one performance descriptor, all pupils not assessed against the P-scales will be marked in the same way – meeting, or not meeting, the ‘national standard’.

So ‘not meeting the national standard’ should also be included in the table above. The relation between ‘not meeting’ and ‘below’ national standard is not explained.

But still further complexity is added since:

‘There will be some pupils who are not assessed against the P-scales (because they are working above P8 or because they do not have special educational needs), but who have not yet achieved the contents of the ‘below national standard’ performance descriptor (in subjects with several descriptors). In such cases, pupils will be given a code (which will be determined) to ensure that their attainment is still captured.’

This produces a hierarchy as follows (from the bottom up):

  • P Scales
  • In cases of assessments with several descriptors, an attainment code yet to be determined
  • In case of assessments with single descriptors, an undeclared ‘not meeting the national standard’ descriptor
  • The single descriptor or four/five descriptors listed above.

However, the document says:

‘The performance descriptors do not include any aspects of performance from the programme of study for the following key stage. Any pupils considered to have attained the ‘Mastery standard’ are expected to explore the curriculum in greater depth and build on the breadth of their knowledge and skills within that key stage.’

This places an inappropriate brake on the progress of the highest attainers because the assessment ceiling is pitched too low to accommodate them.

It is acknowledging that some high attainers will be performing above the level of the highest descriptors but, regardless of whether or not they move into the programme for the next key stage, there is no mechanism to record their performance.

This raises the further question whether the mastery standard is pitched at the equivalent of level 6, or below it. It will be interesting to see whether this is addressed in the consultation response.

The consultation document says that the draft descriptors will be trialled during summer term 2015 in a representative sample of schools.

These trials and the consultation feedback will together inform the development of the final descriptors, but also:

  • ‘statutory arrangements for teacher assessment using the performance descriptors;
  • final guidance for schools (and those responsible for external moderation arrangements) on how the performance descriptors should be used;
  • an updated national model for the external moderation of teacher assessment; and
  • nationally developed exemplification of the work of pupils for each performance descriptor at the end of each key stage.’

Published comments on the draft descriptors have been almost entirely negative, which might suggest that the response could be delayed. The consultation document said it should appear ‘around 26 February 2015’.

According to the document, the final descriptors will be published either ‘in September 2015’ or ‘in the autumn term 2015’, depending whether you rely on the section headed ‘Purpose’ or the one called ‘Next Steps’. The first option would allow them to appear as late as December 2015.

A recent newspaper report suggested that the negative reception had resulted in an ‘amber/red’ assessment of primary assessment reform as a whole. The leaked commentary said that any decision to review the approach would increase the risk that the descriptors could not be finalised ‘by September as planned’.

However, the story concludes:

‘The DfE says: “We do not comment on leaks,” but there are indications from the department that the guidance will be finalised by September. Perhaps ministers chose, in the end, not to “review their approach”, despite the concerns.’

Hence it would appear that delay until after the beginning of AY2015/16 will not be countenanced

Note that the descriptors are for use in academic year 2015/16, so even publication in September is problematic, since teachers will begin the year not knowing which descriptors to apply.

The consultation document refers only to descriptors for AY2015/16, which might imply that they will be further refined for subsequent years. Essentially therefore, the arrangements proposed here would be an imperfect interim solution.

.

[Postscript: On 26 February 2015 the Consultation Response was published – so on the date commited to in the consultation document. 

As expected, it revealed significant opposition to the original proposals:

  • 74% of respondents were concerned about nomenclature
  • 76% considered that the descriptors were not spaced effectively across the range of pupils’ performance
  • 69% of respondents considered them not clear or easy to understand

The response acknowledges that the issues raised:

‘….amount to a request for greater simplicity, clarity and consistency to support teachers in applying performance descriptors and to help parents understand their meaning.’

But goes on to allege that: 

‘…there are some stakeholders who valued the levels system and would like performance descriptors to function in a similar way across the key stages, which is not their intention.’

Even so, although the Descriptors are not intended to inform formative assessment, respondents have raised concerns that they could be applied in this manner.

There is also the issue of comparability between formative and summative assessment measures, but this is not addressed.

The response does not entirely acknowledge that opposition to the original proposals is sending it back to the drawing board but:

‘As a result of some of the conflicting responses to the consultation, we will work with relevant experts to determine the most appropriate course of action to address the concerns raised and will inform schools of the agreed approach according to the timetable set out in the consultation document – i.e. by September 2015.

The new assessment commission (see below) will have an as yet undefined role in this process:

‘In the meantime, and to help with this [ie determining the most appropriate course of action] the Government is establishing a Commission on Assessment Without Levels….’

Unfortunately, this role has not been clarified in the Commission’s Statement of Intended Outputs

There is no reference to the trials in schools, which may or may not continue. A DfE Memorandum to the Education Select Committee on its 2014-15 Supplementary Estimates reveals that £0.3m has been reallocated to pay for them, but this is no guarantee that they will take place.

Implementation will not be delayed by a year, despite the commitment to allow a full year’s notice for significant reforms announced in the response to the Workload Challenge.

This part of the timetable is now seriously concertina’d and there must be serious doubt whether the timescale is feasible, especially if proper trialling is to be accommodated.]

.

Outstanding tasks 

  • Publish response to performance descriptors consultation document (26 February 2015) COMPLETED
  • Trial (revised?) draft performance descriptors (summer term 2015) 
  • Publish adjusted descriptors, revised in the light of consultation with experts and input from the commission (summer term 2015)
  • Experts and commission on assessment produce response to concerns raised and inform schools of outcomes (September 2015)
  • Confirm statutory arrangements for use of the performance descriptors (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish final performance descriptors for AY2015/16 (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish final guidance on the use of performance descriptors (September/autumn term 2015) 
  • Publish exemplification of each performance descriptor at each key stage (September/autumn term 2015)
  • Publish an updated model for the external moderation of teacher assessment (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Confirm plans for the moderation of KS1 teacher assessment and use of the P-scales (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Publish guidance on assessment of those working above the P-scales but below the level of the tests (September/autumn term 2015?) 
  • Decide whether performance descriptors require adjustment for AY2016/17 onwards (summer term 2016)

.

Schools’ internal assessment and tracking systems

.

Consultation response

The consultation document outlined some of the Government’s justification for the removal of national curriculum levels. The statement that:

‘Schools will be able to focus their teaching, assessment and reporting not on a set of opaque level descriptions, but on the essential knowledge that all pupils should learn’

may be somewhat called into question by the preceding discussion of performance descriptors.

The consultation document continues:

‘There will be a clear separation between ongoing, formative assessment (wholly owned by schools) and the statutory summative assessment which the government will prescribe to provide robust external accountability and national benchmarking. Ofsted will expect to see evidence of pupils’ progress, with inspections informed by the school’s chosen pupil tracking data.’

A subsequent section adds:

‘We will not prescribe a national system for schools’ ongoing assessment….

…. We expect schools to have a curriculum and assessment framework that meets a set of core principles…

 … Although schools will be free to devise their own curriculum and assessment system, we will provide examples of good practice which schools may wish to follow. We will work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’

The consultation response does not cover this familiar territory again, saying only:

‘Since we launched the consultation, we have had conversations with our expert group on assessment about how to support schools to make best use of the new assessment freedoms. We have launched an Assessment Innovation Fund to enable assessment methods developed by schools and expert organisations to be scaled up into easy-to-use packages for other schools to use.’

Further work is therefore confined to the promulgation of core principles, the application of the Assessment Innovation Fund and possibly further work to ‘signpost schools to a range of potential approaches’.

.

Developments to date

The Assessment Innovation Fund was originally announced initially in December 2013.

A factsheet released at that time explains that many schools are developing new curriculum and assessment systems and that the Fund is intended to enable schools to share these.

Funding of up to £10K per school is made available to help up to 10 schools to prepare simple, easy-to-use packages that can be made freely available to other schools.

They must commit to:

‘…make their approach available on an open licence basis. This means that anyone who wishes to use the package (and any trade-marked name) must be granted a non-revocable, perpetual, royalty-free licence to do so with the right to sub-licence. The intellectual property rights to the system will remain with the school/group which devised it.’

Successful applicants were to be confirmed ‘in the week commencing 21 April 2014’

In the event, nine successful applications were announced on 1 May, although one subsequently withdrew, apparently over the licensing terms.

The packages developed with this funding are stored – in a rather user-unfriendly fashion – on this TES Community Blog, along with other material supportive of the decision to dispense with levels.

Much other useful material has been published online which has not been collected into this repository and it is not clear to what extent it will develop beyond its present limits, since the most recent addition was in early November 2014.

A recent survey by Capita Sims (itself a provider of assessment support) conducted between June and September 2014, suggested that:

  • 25% of primary and secondary schools were unprepared for and 53% had not yet finalised plans for replacing levels.
  • 28% were planning to keep the existing system of levels, 21% intended to introduce a new system and 28% had not yet made a decision.
  • 50% of those introducing an alternative expected to do so by September 2015, while 23% intended to do so by September 2016.
  • Schools’ biggest concern (53% of respondents) is measuring progress and setting targets for learners.

Although the survey is four months old and has clear limitations (there were only 126 respondents) this would suggest further support may be necessary, ideally targeted towards the least confident schools.

.

In April 2014 the Government published a set of Assessment Principles, building on earlier material in the primary consultation document. These had been developed by an ‘independent expert panel’.

It is not entirely clear whether the principles apply solely to primary schools and to schools’ own assessment processes (as opposed to statutory assessment).

The introductory statement says:

‘The principles are designed to help all schools as they implement arrangements for assessing pupils’ progress against their school curriculum; Government will not impose a single system for ongoing assessment.

Schools will be expected to demonstrate (with evidence) their assessment of pupils’ progress, to keep parents informed, to enable governors to make judgements about the school’s effectiveness, and to inform Ofsted inspections.’

This might suggest they are not intended to cover statutory assessment and testing but are relevant to secondary schools.

There are nine principles in all, divided into three groups:

.

Principles Capture

.

The last of these seems particularly demanding.

 .

In July 2014, Ofsted published guidance in the form of a ‘Note for inspectors: use of assessment information during inspections in 2014/15’. This says that:

‘In 2014/15, most schools, academies and free schools will have historic performance data expressed in national curriculum levels, except for those pupils in Year 1. Inspectors may find that schools are tracking attainment and progress using a mixture of measures for some, or all, year groups and subjects.

As now, inspectors will use a range of evidence to make judgements, including by looking at test results, pupils’ work and pupils’ own perceptions of their learning. Inspectors will not expect to see a particular assessment system in place and will recognise that schools are still working towards full implementation of their preferred approach.’

It goes on to itemise the ways in which inspectors will check that these systems are effective, without judging the systems themselves, but by gathering evidence of effective implementation through leadership and management, the accuracy of assessment, effectiveness in securing progress and quality of reporting to parents.

. 

In September 2014, NCTL published a research reportBeyond Levels: alternative assessment approaches developed by teaching schools.’

The report summarises the outcomes of small-scale research conducted in 34 teaching school alliances. It offers six rather prolix recommendations for schools and DfE to consider, which can be summarised as follows:

  • A culture shift is necessary in recognition of the new opportunities provided by the new national curriculum and the removal of levels.
  • Schools need access to conferences and seminars to help develop their assessment expertise.
  • Schools would benefit from access to peer reviewed commercial tracking systems relating to the new national curriculum. Clarification is needed about what data will be collected centrally.
  • Teaching school alliances and schools need financial support to further develop assessment practice, especially practical classroom tools, which should be made freely available online.
  • Financial support is needed for teachers to undertake postgraduate research and courses in this field.
  • It is essential to develop professional knowledge about emerging effective assessment practice.

I can find no government response to these recommendations and so have not addressed them in the list of outstanding tasks below.

.

[Postscript: On 25 February 2015, the Government announced the establishment of a ‘Commission on Assessment Without Levels’:

‘To help schools as they develop effective and valuable assessment schemes, and to help us to identify model approaches we are today announcing the formation of a commission on assessment without levels. This commission will continue the evidence-based approach to assessment which we have put in place, and will support primary and secondary schools with the transition to assessment without levels, identifying and sharing good practice in assessment.’

This appears to suggest belated recognition that the steps outlined above have provided schools with insufficient support for the transition to levels-free internal assessment. It is also a response to the possibility that Labour might revisit the decision to remove them (see below).

The Consultation Response on Performance Descriptors released on 26 February (see above) says that the Commission will help to determine the most appropriate response to concerns raised about the Descriptors, while also suggesting that this task will not be devolved exclusively to them.

It adds that the Commission will:

‘…collate, quality assure, publish and share best practice in assessment with schools across the country…and will help to foster innovation and success in assessment practice more widely.’

The membership of the Commission was announced on 9 March.

.

.

The Commission met on 10 March and 23 March 2015 and will meet four more times – in April, May, June and July.

Its Terms of Reference have been published. The Statement of Intended Outputs mentioned in the consultation response on Performance Descriptors appeared without any publicity on 27 March

It seemed that the Commission, together with the further consultation of experts, supplied a convenient mechanism for ‘parking’ some difficult issues until the other side of the Election.

However, neither the terms of reference nor the statement of outputs mentions the Performance Descriptors, so the Commission’s role in relation to them remains shrouded in mystery.

.

.

The authors of the Statement of Outputs feel it necessary to mention in passing that it:

‘…supports the decision to removel levels, but appreciates that the reasons for removing levels are not widely understood’.

It sets out a 10-point list of outputs comprising:

  • Another statement of the purposes of assessment and another set of principles to support schools in developing effective assessment systems, presumably different to those published by the previous expert group in April 2014. (It will be interesting to compare the two sets of principles, to establish whether Government policy on what constitutes effective assessment has changed over the last 12 months. It will also be worthwhile monitoring the gap between the principles and the views of Alison Peacock, one of the Commission’s members. She also sat on the expert panel that developed the original principles, some of which seem rather at odds with her own practice and preferences. Meanwhile, another member – Sam Freedman – has stated

.

.

  • An explanation of ‘how assessment without levels can better serve the needs of pupils and teachers’.
  • Guidance to ‘help schools create assessment policies which reflect the principles of effective assessment without levels’.
  • Clear information about ‘the legal and regulatory assessment requirements’, intende to clarify what they are now, how they will change and when. (The fact that the Commission concludes that such information is not already available is a searing indictment of the Government’s communications efforts to date.)
  • Clarification with Ofsted of ‘the role that assessment without levels will play in the inspection process’ so schools can demonstrate effectiveness without adding to teacher workload. (So again they must believe that Ofsted has not sufficiently clarified this already.)
  • Dissemination of good practice, obtained through engagement with ‘a wide group of stakeholders including schools, local authorities, teachers and teaching unions’. (This is tacit admission that the strategy described above is not working.)
  • Advice to the Government on how ITT and CPD can support assessment without levels and guidance to schools on the use of CPD for this purpose. (There is no reference to the resource implications of introducing additional training and development.)
  • Advice to the Government on ensuring ‘appropriate provision is made for pupils with SEN in the development of assessment policy’. (Their judgement that this is not yet accounted for is a worrying indictment of Government policy to date. They see this as not simply a lapse of communication but a lacuna in the policy-making process.)
  • ‘Careful consideration’ of commitments to tackling teacher workload – which they expect to alleviate by providing information, advice and support. (There is no hint that the introduction of Performance Descriptors will be delayed in line with the Workload Challenge.)
  • A final report before the end of the summer term, though it may publish some outputs sooner. (It will not be able to do so until the outcome of the Election is decided.)

Although there is some implicit criticism of Government policy and communications to date, the failure to make any reference to the Performance Descriptors is unlikely to instil confidence in the capacity of the Commission to provide the necessary challenge to the original proposals, or support to the profession in identifying a workable alternative.]

.

Outstanding tasks

  • Further dissemination of good practice through the existing mechanisms (ongoing) 
  • Further ‘work with professional associations, subject experts, education publishers and external test developers to signpost schools to a range of potential approaches.’ (ongoing)
  • Additional work (via the commission) to ‘collate, quality assure, publish and share’ best practice (Report by July 2015 with other outputs possible from May 2015)

Reporting to parents

.

Consultation response

The consultation document envisaged three outcomes for each test:

  • A scaled score
  • The learner’s position in the national cohort, expressed as a decile
  • The rate of progress from a baseline, derived by comparing a learner’s scaled score with that of other learners with the same level of prior attainment.

Deciles did not survive the consultation

The consultation response confirms that, for each test, parents will receive:

  • Their own child’s scaled score; and
  • The average scaled score for the school, ‘the local area’ (presumably the geographical area covered by the authority in which the school is situated) and the country as a whole.

They must also receive information about progress, but the response only discusses how this might be published on school websites and for the purposes of the floor targets (see sections below), rather than how it should be reported directly to parents.

We have addressed already the available information about the calculation of the scaled scores.

The original consultation document also outlined the broad methodology underpinning the progress measures:

‘In order to report pupils’ progress through the primary curriculum, the scaled score for each pupil at key stage 2 would be compared to the scores of other pupils with the same prior attainment. This will identify whether an individual made more or less progress than pupils with similar prior attainment…

…. Using this approach, a school might report pupils’ national curriculum test results to parents as follows:

In the end of key stage 2 reading test, Sally received a scaled score of 126 (the secondary ready standard is 100), placing her in the top 10% of pupils nationally. The average scaled score for pupils with the same prior attainment was 114, so she has made more progress in reading than pupils with a similar starting-point.’

.

Developments to date

On this web page first published in April 2014 STA commits to publishing guidance during summer term 2015 on how the results of national curriculum tests will be reported, including an explanation of scaled scores.

In September 2014, a further guidance note ‘National curriculum and assessment from September 2014: Information for schools’ shed a little further light on the calculation of the progress measures:

‘Pupil progress will be determined in relation to the average progress made by pupils with the same baseline (i.e. the same KS1 average point score). For example, if a pupil had an APS of 19 at KS1, we will calculate the average scaled score in the KS2 tests for all pupils with an APS of 19 and see whether the pupil in question achieved a higher or lower scaled score than that average The exact methodology of how this will be reported is still to be determined.’

It is hard to get a clear sense of the full range of assessment information that parents will receive.

I have been unable to find any comprehensive description, which would suggest that this is being held back until the methodology for calculating the various measures is finalised.

The various sections above suggest that they will receive details of:

  • Reception baseline assessment outcomes.
  • Attainment in end of KS1 and end of KS2 tests, now expressed as scaled scores (or via teacher assessment, code or P-scales if working below the level of the tests). This will be supplemented by a series of average scaled scores for each test.
  • Progress between the baseline assessment (reception baseline from 2022; KS1 baseline beforehand) and end of KS2 tests, relative to learners with similar prior attainment at the baseline.
  • Attainment in statutory teacher assessments, normally expressed through performance descriptors, but with different arrangements for low attainers.
  • Attainment and progress between reception baseline, KS1 and KS2 tests, provided through schools’ own internal assessment and tracking systems.

We have seen that reporting mechanisms for the first and fourth are not yet finalised.

The fifth is now for schools to determine, taking account of Ofsted’s guidance and, if they wish, the Assessment Principles.

The scales necessary to report the second are not yet published, and these also form the basis of the remaining progress measures.

Parents will be receiving this information in a variety of different formats: scaled scores, average scaled scores, baseline scores, performance descriptors, progress scores and internal tracking measures.

Moreover, the performance descriptor scales will vary according to the assessment and internal tracking will vary from school to school.

This is certainly much more complex than the current unified system of reporting based on levels. Parents will require extensive support to understand what they are receiving.

Outstanding tasks

Previous sections have already referenced expected guidance on reporting baseline assessments, scaled scores and the use of performance descriptors (which presumably includes parental reporting).

One assumes that there will also need to be unified guidance on all aspects of reporting to parents, intended for parental consumption.

So, avoiding duplication of previous sections, the remaining outstanding tasks are to:

  • Finalise the methodology for reporting on pupil progress (summer term 2015) 
  • Provide comprehensive guidance to parents on all aspects of reporting (summer term 2015?)

Publication of outcomes

.

Consultation response

This section covers publication of material for public consumption, within and alongside the Primary School Performance Tables and on schools’ websites.

The initial consultation document has much to say about first of these, while the consultation response barely mentions the Tables, focusing almost exclusively on school websites

The original document suggests that the Performance Tables will include a variety of measures, including:

  • The percentage of pupils meeting the secondary readiness standard
  • The average scaled score
  • Where the school’s pupils fit in the national cohort
  • Pupils’ rate of progress
  • How many of the school’s pupils are among the highest-attaining nationally, through a measure showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject.
  • Teacher assessment outcomes in English maths and science
  • Comparisons of each school’s performance with that of schools with similar intake
  • Data about the progress of those with very low prior attainment.

All the headline measures will be published separately for pupils in receipt of the pupil premium.

All measures will be published as three year rolling averages in addition to annual results.

There is also a commitment to publish a wide range of test and teacher assessment data, relating to both attainment and progress, through a Data Portal:

‘The department is currently procuring a new data portal or “data warehouse” to store the school performance data that we hold and provide access to it in the most flexible way. This will allow schools, governors and parents to find and analyse the data about schools in which they are most interested, for example focusing on the progress of low attainers in mathematics in different schools or the attainment of certain pupil groups.’

The consultation response acknowledges as a guiding principle:

‘…a broad range of information should be published to help parents and the wider public know how well schools are performing.’

The accountability system will:

‘…require schools to publish information on their websites so that parents can understand both the progress pupils make and the standards they achieve.’

Data on low attainers’ attainment and progress will not be published since the diversity of this group demands extensive contextual information.

But when it comes to Performance Tables, the consultation response says only:

‘As now, performance tables will present a wide range of information about primary school performance.’

By implication, they will include progress measures since the text adds:

‘In 2022 performance tables, we will judge schools on whichever is better: their progress from the reception baseline to key stage 2; or their progress from key stage 1 to key stage 2.

However, schools will be required to publish a suite of indicators in standard format on their websites, including:

  • The average progress made by pupils in reading, writing and maths
  • The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard at the end of KS2 in reading, writing and maths
  • The average score of pupils in their end of KS2 assessments and
  • The ‘percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas’ at the end of KS2.

The precise form of the last of these indicators is not explained. This is not quite the same as the ‘measure showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject’ mentioned in the original consultation document.

Does ‘all areas’ mean reading, writing and maths? Must learners achieve a minimum score in each assessment, or a single aggregate score above a certain threshold?

In addition:

‘So that parents can make comparisons between schools, we would like to show each school’s position in the country on these measures and present these results in a manner that is clear for all audiences to understand. We will discuss how best to do so with stakeholders, to ensure that the presentation of the data is clear, fair and statistically robust.’

.

Developments to date

In June 2014, a consultation document was issued ‘Accountability: publishing headline performance measures on school and college websites’. This was accompanied by a press release.

The consultation document explains the intended relationship between the Performance Tables, Data Portal and material published on schools’ websites:

‘Performance tables will continue to provide information about individual schools and colleges and be the central source of school and college performance information.’

Moreover:

‘Future changes to the website, through the school and college performance data portal, will improve accessibility to a wide range of information, including the headline performance measures. It will enable interested parents, students, schools, colleges and researchers to interrogate educational data held by the Department for Education to best meet their requirements.’

But:

‘Nevertheless, the first place many parents and students look for information about a school or college is the institution’s own website’

Schools are already required to publish such information, but there is inconsistency in where and how it is presented. The document expresses the intention that consistent information should be placed ‘on the front page of every school and college website’.

The content proposed for primary school’s websites covers the four headline measures set out in the consultation response.

A footnote says:

‘These measures will apply to all-through primary, junior and middle schools. Variants of these measures will apply for infant and first schools.’

But the variants are not set out.

There is no reference to the plan to show ‘each school’s position in the country on these measures’ as mentioned in the consultation response.

The consultation proposes a standard visual presentation which, for primary schools, looks like this

.

school websites Capture

.

The response to this consultation ‘Publishing performance measures on school and college websites’ appeared in December 2014 (the consultation document had said ‘Autumn 2014’).

The summary of responses says:

‘The majority of respondents to the consultation welcomed the proposals to present headline performance measures in a standard format. There was also strong backing for the proposed visual presentation of data to aid understanding of performance. However, many respondents suggested that without some sense of scale or spread to provide some context to the visual presentation, the data could be misleading. Others said that the language used alongside the charts should be clearer…’

…Whilst most respondents favoured a data application tool that would remove the burden of annually updating performance data on school and college websites, they also highlighted the difficulties of developing a data application that would be compatible with a wide range of school and college websites.’

It is clear that some respondents had questioned why school websites should not simply carry a link on their homepage to the School Performance Tables.

In the light of this reaction, further research will be undertaken to:

  • develop a clear and simple visual representation of the data, but with added contextual information.
  • establish how performance tables data can be presented ‘in a way that reaches more parents’.

The timeline suggests that this will result in ‘proposals for redevelopment of performance tables’ by May 2015, so we can no longer assume that the Tables will cover the list of material suggested in the original consultation document.

The timeline indicates that if initial user research concludes that a data application is required, that will be developed and tested between June and October 2015, for roll out between September 2016 and January 2017.

Schools will be informed by autumn 2015 whether they should carry a link to the Tables, download a data application or pursue a third option.

But, nevertheless:

‘All schools and colleges, including academies, free schools and university technical colleges, will be required to publish the new headline performance measures in a consistent, standard format on their websites from 2016.’

So, if an application is not introduced, it seems that schools will still have to publish the measures on their websites: they will not be able to rely solely on a link to the Performance Tables.

Middle schools will only be required to publish the primary measures. No mention is made of infant or first schools.

.

There is no further reference to the data portal, since this project was quietly shelved in September 2014, following unexplained delays in delivery.

.

.

There has been no subsequent explanation of the implications of this decision. Will the material intended for inclusion in the Portal be included in the Performance Tables, or published by another route, or will it no longer be published?

.

Finally, some limited information has emerged about accountability arrangements for infant schools.

This appears on a web page – New accountability arrangements for infant schools from 2016 – published in June 2014.

It explains that the reception baseline will permit the measurement of progress alongside attainment. The progress of infant school pupils will be published for the first time in the 2019 Performance Tables.

This might mean a further addition to the list of information reported to parents set out in the previous section.

There is also a passing reference to moderation:

‘To help increase confidence and consistency in our moderation of infant schools, we will be increasing the proportion of schools where KS1 assessments are moderated externally. From summer 2015, half of all infant schools will have their KS1 assessments externally moderated.’

But no further information is forthcoming about the nature of other headline measures and how they will be reported.

.

Outstanding tasks

  • Complete user research and publish proposals for redevelopment of Performance Tables (May 2015) 
  • Confirm what data will be published in the 2016 Performance Tables (summer Term 2015?)
  • Confirm how material originally intended for inclusion in Data Portal will be published (summer term 2015?)
  • Confirm the format and publication route for data showing each school’s position in the country on the headline measures (summer term 2015?) 
  • Confirm headline performance measures for infant and first schools (summer term 2015?) 
  • If necessary, further develop and test a prototype data application for schools’ websites (October 2015) 
  • Inform schools whether a data application will be introduced (autumn 2015) 
  • Amend School Information Regulations to require publication of headline measures in standard format (April 2016) 
  • If proceeding, complete development and testing of a data application (May 2016) 
  • If proceeding, complete roll out of data application (February 2017)

.

Floor standards

.

Consultation response

Minimum expectations of schools will continue to be embodied in floor standards. Schools falling below the floor will attract ‘additional scrutiny through inspection’ and ‘intervention may be required’.

Although the new standard:

‘holds schools to account both on the progress they make and on how well their pupils achieve.’

In practice they are able to choose between one or the other.

An all-through primary school will be above the floor standards if:

  • Pupils make sufficient progress between the reception baseline and the end of KS2 in all of reading, writing and maths or
  • 85% or more of pupils meet the new expected standard at the end of KS2 (similar to Level 4b under the current system).

A junior or middle school will be above the floor standard if:

  • pupils make sufficient progress at key stage 2 from their starting point at key stage 1; or
  • 85% or more of pupils meet the new expected standard at the end of key stage 2

At this stage arrangements for measuring the progress of pupils in infant or first schools are still to be considered.

Since the reception baseline will be introduced in 2015, progress in all-through primary schools will continue to be measured from the end of KS1 until 2022.

This should mean that, prior to 2022, the standard would be achieved by ensuring that the progress made by pupils in a school – in reading, writing and maths – equals or exceeds the national average progress made by pupils with similar prior attainment at the end of KS1.

Exactly how individual progress will be aggregated to create a whole school measure is not yet clear. The original consultation document holds up the possibility that slightly below average progress will be acceptable:

‘…we expect the value-added score required to be above the floor to be between 98.5 and 99 (a value-added score of 100 represents average progress).’

The consultation response says the amount of progress required will be determined in 2016:

‘The proposed progress measure will be based on value-added in each of reading, writing and mathematics. Each pupil’s scaled scores in each area at key stage 2 will be compared with the scores of pupils who had the same results in their assessments at key stage 1.

For a school to be above the progress floor, pupils will have to make sufficient progress in all of reading, writing and mathematics. For 2016, we will set the precise extent of progress required once key stage 2 tests have been sat for the first time. Once pupils take a reception baseline, progress will continue to be measured using a similar value added methodology.’

In 2022 schools will be assessed against either the reception or KS1 baseline, whichever gives the best result. From 2023 only the reception baseline will be in play.

The attainment standard will be based on achievement of ‘a scaled score of 100 or more’ in each of the reading and maths tests and achievement, via teacher assessment, of the new expected standard in writing (presumably the middle of the five described above).

The attainment standard is significantly more demanding, in that the present requirement is for 65% of learners to meet the expected standard – and the standard itself will now be pitched higher, at the equivalent of Level 4B.

The original consultation document says:

‘Our modelling suggests that a progress measure set at this level, combined with the 85% threshold attainment measure, would result in a similar number of schools falling below the floor as at present. Over time we will consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards.’

The consultation response does not confirm this judgement.

.

Developments

The only significant development since the publication of the consultation response is the detail provided on the June 2014 webpage New accountability arrangements for infant schools from 2016.

In addition to the points in the previous section, this also confirms that:

‘…there will not be a floor standard for infant schools’

But this statement has been called into question, since the table from the performance descriptors consultation, reproduced above, appears to suggest that KS1 teacher assessments in reading, writing and maths do contribute to a floor standard – whether for infant or all-through primary schools is unclear.

.

The aforementioned Centre Forum Report ‘Progress matters in Primary too’ (January 2015) also appears to call into question the results of the modelling reported in the initial consultation document.

It says:

‘…the likelihood is that, based on current performance, progress will be the measure used for the vast majority of schools, at least in the short to medium term. Even those schools which achieve the attainment floor target will only do so by ensuring at least average progress is made by their pupils. As a result, progress will in practice be the dominant accountability metric.’

It undertakes modelling based on 2013 attainment data – ie simulating the effect of the new standards had they been in place in 2013, using selected learning areas within the EYFSP as a proxy for the reception baseline – which suggests that just 10% of schools in 2013 would have met the new attainment floor.

It concludes that:

‘For the vast majority of schools, progress will be their only option for avoiding intervention when the reforms come into effect.’

Unfortunately though, it does not provide an estimate of the proportion of schools likely to achieve the progress floor standard, with either the current KS1 baseline or its proxy for a reception baseline.

Outstanding Tasks

  • Confirm the detailed methodology for deriving both the attainment and progress elements of the floor standards, in relation to both the new reception baseline and the interim KS1 baseline (summer 2015?)
  • Set the amount of progress required to achieve the progress element of the floor standards (summer 2016)
  • (In the consultation document) Consider whether schools should make at least average progress as part of floor standards and ‘move to three year rolling averages for floor standard measures’ (long term)

.

Overall progress, Purdah and General Election outcomes

Progress to date and actions outstanding

The lists of outstanding actions above record some 40 tasks necessary to the successful implementation of the primary assessment and accountability reforms.

If the ‘advance notice’ conventions are observed, roughly half of these require completion by the end of the summer term in July 2015, within the two windows of 50 working days on either side of Purdah.

These conventions have already been set aside in some cases, most obviously in respect of reception baseline assessment and the performance descriptors for statutory teacher assessment.

Unsurprisingly, the commentary above suggests that these two strands of the reform programme are the most complex and potentially the most problematic.

The sheer number of outstanding tasks and the limited time in which to complete them could pose problems.

It is important to remember that there are similar reforms in the secondary and post-16 sectors that need to be managed in parallel.

The leaked amber/red rating was attributed solely to the negative reaction to the draft performance descriptors, but it could also reflect a wider concern that all the necessary steps may not be completed in time to give schools the optimal period for planning and preparation.

Schools may be able to cope with shorter notice in a few instances, where the stakes are relatively low, but if too substantive a proportion of the overall reform programme is delayed into next academic year, they will find the cumulative impact much harder to manage.

In a worst case scenario, implementation of some elements might need to be delayed by a year, although the corollary would be an extended transition period for schools that would be less than ideal. It may also be difficult to disentangle the different strands given the degree of interdependency between them.

Given the proximity of a General Election, it may not be politic to confirm such delays before Purdah intervenes: the path of least resistance is probably to postpone any difficult decisions for consideration by the incoming government.

.

The implications of Purdah

As noted above, if the General Election result is clear-cut, Purdah will last some five-and-a-half weeks and will occur at a critical point in the implementation timetable.

The impact of Purdah should not be under-estimated.

From the point at which Parliament is dissolved on Monday 30 March, the Government must abstain from major policy decisions and announcements.

The Election is typically announced a few days before the dissolution of Parliament. This ‘wash up’ period between announcement and dissolution is typically used to complete essential unfinished business.

The Cabinet Office issues guidance on conduct during Purdah shortly before it begins.

The 2015 guidance has not yet issued so the 2010 guidance is the best source of information about what to expect.

.

[Postscript: 2015 Guidance was posted on 30 March 2015 and is substantively the same as the 2010 edition.]

.

Key points include:

  • ‘Decisions on matters of policy on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the Election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.’
  • ‘Officials should not… be asked to devise new policies or arguments…’
  • ‘Departmental communications staff may…properly continue to discharge during the Election period their normal function only to the extent of providing factual explanation of current Government policy, statements and decisions.’
  • ‘There would normally be no objection to issuing routine factual publications, for example, health and safety advice but these will have to be decided on a case by case basis taking account of the subject matter and the intended audience.’
  • ‘Regular statistical releases and research reports (e.g. press notices, bulletins, publications or electronic releases) will continue to be issued and published on dates which have been pre-announced. Ad hoc statistical releases or research reports should be released only where a precise release date has been published prior to the Election period. Where a pre-announcement has specified that the information would be released during a specified period (e.g. a week, or longer time period), but did not specify a precise day, releases should not be published within the Election period.’
  • ‘Research: Fieldwork involving interviews with the public or sections of it will be postponed or abandoned although regular, continuous and on-going statistical surveys may continue.’
  • ‘Official websites…the release of new online services and publication of reworked content should not occur until after the General Election… Content may be updated for factual accuracy but no substantial revisions should be made and distributed.’
  • The general principles and conventions set out in this guidance apply to NDPBs and similar public bodies.

Assuming similar provisions in 2015, most if not all of the assessment and accountability work programme would grind to a halt.

To take an example, it is conceivable that those awarded baseline assessment contracts would be able to recruit schools after 30 March, but they will receive little or no help from the DfE during the Purdah period. Given that the recruitment deadline is 30 April, this may be expected to depress recruitment significantly.

.

The impact of different General Election outcomes

Forming a Government in the case of a Hung Parliament may also take some time, further delaying the process.

The six days taken in 2010 may not be a guide to what will happen in 2015.

The Cabinet Manual (2011) says:

‘Where an election does not result in an overall majority for a single party, the incumbent government remains in office unless and until the Prime Minister tenders his or her resignation and the Government’s resignation to the Sovereign. An incumbent government is entitled to wait until the new Parliament has met to see if it can command the confidence of the House of Commons, but is expected to resign if it becomes clear that it is unlikely to be able to command that confidence and there is a clear alternative…

…The nature of the government formed will be dependent on discussions between political parties and any resulting agreement. Where there is no overall majority, there are essentially three broad types of government that could be formed:

  • single-party, minority government, where the party may (although not necessarily) be supported by a series of ad hoc agreements based on common interests;
  • formal inter-party agreement, for example the Liberal–Labour pact from 1977 to 1978; or
  • formal coalition government, which generally consists of ministers from more than one political party, and typically commands a majority in the House of Commons’.

If one or more of the parties forming the next government has a different policy on assessment and accountability, this could result in pressure to amend or withdraw parts of the reform programme.

If a single party is involved, pre-Election contact with civil servants may have clarified its intentions, enabling work to resume as soon as the new government is in place but, if more than one party is involved, it may take longer to agree the preferred way forward.

Under a worst case scenario, planners might need to allow for Purdah and post-Election negotiations to consume eight weeks or longer.

The impact of the Election on the shape and scope of the primary assessment and accountability reforms will also depend on which party or parties enter government.

If the same Coalition partners are returned, one might expect uninterrupted implementation, unless the minority Lib Dems seek to negotiate different arrangements, which seems unlikely.

But if a different party or a differently constituted Coalition forms the Government, one might expect decisions to abandon or delay some aspects of the programme.

If Labour forms the Government, or is the major party in a Coalition, some unravelling will be necessary.

They are broadly committed to the status quo:

‘Yet when it comes to many of the technical day-to-day aspects of school leadership – child protection, curriculum reform, assessment and accountability – we believe that a period of stability could prove beneficial for raising pupil achievement. This may not be an exciting rallying cry, but it is crucial that the incoming government takes account of the classroom realities.’

Hunt has also declared:

‘Do not mistake me: I am zealot for minimum standards, rigorous assessment and intelligent accountability.

But if we choose to focus upon exam results and league tables to the detriment of everything else, then we are simply not preparing our young people for the demands of the 21st century.’

And, thus far, Labour has made few specific commitments in this territory.

  • They support reception baseline assessment but whether that extends to sustaining a market of providers is unknown. Might they be inclined to replace this with a single national assessment?.
  • There is very little about floor targets – a Labour invention – although the Blunkett Review appears to suggest that Directors of School Standards will enjoy some discretion in respect of their enforcement.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely that they would delay some of the strands described above – and potentially simplify others.

.

Conclusion

The primary assessment reform programme is both extensive and highly complex, comprising several strands and many interdependencies.

Progress to date can best be described as halting.

There are still many steps to be taken and difficult issues to resolve, about half of which should be completed by the end of this academic year. Pre-Election Purdah will cut significantly into the time available.

More announcements may be delayed into the summer holidays or the following autumn term, but this reduces the planning and preparation time available to schools and has potentially significant workload implications.

Alternatively, implementation of some elements or strands may be delayed by a year, but this extends the transition period between old and new arrangements. Any such rationalisation seems likely to be delayed until after the Election and decisions will be influenced by its outcome.

.

[Postscript: The commitment in the Government’s Workload Challenge response to a one-year lead time, now encapsulated in the Protocol published on 23 March, has not resulted in any specific commitments to delay ahead of the descent of Purdah.

At the onset of Purdah on 30 March some 18 actions appear to be outstanding and requiring completion by the end of the summer term. This will be a tall order for a new Government, especially one of a different complexion.]

.

If Labour is the dominant party, they may be more inclined to simplify some strands, especially baseline assessment and statutory teacher assessment, while also providing much more intensive support for schools wrestling with the removal of levels.

Given the evidence set out above, ‘amber/red’ seems an appropriate rating for the programme as a whole.

It seems increasingly likely that some significant adjustments will be essential, regardless of the Election outcome.

.

GP

January 2015

2014 Primary and Secondary Transition Matrices: High Attainers’ Performance

.

This is my annual breakdown of what the Transition Matrices tell us about the national performance of high attainers.

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

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.

.

Explanatory notes

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.

They show:

  • 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

.

Reading

.

TM reading KS12 Capture

.

Commentary:

  • 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.

.

TM chart 1

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.

.

Writing

.

TM writing KS12 Capture

Commentary:

  • 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.

TM chart 2 

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. 

.

Maths

.

TM maths KS12 Capture

.

Commentary:

  • 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.

.

TM chart 3

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

.

English

.

TM English KS24 Capture

.

Commentary:

  • 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.

.

TM chart 4

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.

.

Maths

.

TM Maths KS24 Capture

.

Commentary:

  • 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.

.

TM chart 5

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.

.

Conclusion

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.

.

GP

January 2015

HMCI Ups the Ante on the Most Able

.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector Wilshaw made some important statements about the education of what Ofsted most often calls ‘the most able’ learners in his 2013/14 Annual Report and various supporting documents.

P1020587

Another Norwegian Landscape by Gifted Phoenix

This short post compiles and summarises these statements, setting them in the context of current inspection policy and anticipated changes to the inspection process.

It goes on to consider what further action might be necessary to remedy the deficiencies Ofsted has identified in schools and to boost our national capacity to educate high attainers.

It continues a narrative which runs through several of my previous posts including:

.

What the Annual Report documents said

Ofsted’s press release marking publication of the 2013/14 Annual Report utilises a theme that runs consistently through all the documentation: while the primary sector continues to improve, progress has stalled in the secondary sector, resulting in a widening performance gap between the two sectors.

It conveys HMCI’s judgement that primary schools’ improvement is attributable to the fact that they ‘attend to the basics’, one of which is:

‘Enabling the more able [sic] pupils to reach their potential’

Conversely, the characteristics of secondary schools where improvement has stalled include:

‘The most able not being challenged’.

It is unclear whether Ofsted maintains a distinction between ‘more able’ and ‘most able’ since neither term is defined at any point in the Annual Report documentation.

In his speech launching the Annual Report, HMCI Wilshaw said:

‘The problem is also acute for the most able children. Primaries have made steady progress in helping this group. The proportion of pupils at Key Stage 2 gaining a Level 5 or above rose from 21% in 2013 to 24% this year. Attainment at Level 6 has also risen, particularly in mathematics, where the proportion reaching the top grade has increased from 3% to 9% in two years.

Contrast that with the situation in secondary schools. In 2013, nearly a quarter of pupils who achieved highly at primary school failed to gain even a B grade at GCSE. A third of our inspections of secondary schools this year pinpointed specific problems with teaching the most able – a third of inspections this year.

We cannot allow this lack of progress to persist. Imagine how dispiriting it must be for a child to arrive at a secondary school bursting with enthusiasm and keen to learn, only to be forced to repeat lessons already learnt and endure teaching that fails to stimulate them. To help tackle this problem, I have commissioned a report into progress at Key Stage 3 and it will report next year.’

HMCI’s written Commentary on the Annual Report says of provision in primary schools:

‘Many primary schools stretch the more able

Good and outstanding schools encourage wider reading and writing at length. Often, a school’s emphasis on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural aspects of the curriculum benefits all pupils but especially the more able, providing them with opportunities to engage with complex issues.

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.’ (Page 9)

The parallel commentary on provision in secondary schools says:

Too many secondary schools are not challenging the most able

In 2013, almost two thirds of the pupils in non-selective schools who attained highly at primary school in English and mathematics did not reach an A or A* in those subjects at GCSE. Nearly a quarter of them did not even achieve a B grade.

Around a third of our inspections of secondary schools this year identified issues in the teaching of the most able pupils. Inspectors found that teachers’ expectations of the most able were too low. There is a worrying lack of scholarship permeating the culture of too many schools.

In the year ahead, Ofsted will look even more closely at the performance of the brightest pupils in routine school inspections and will publish a separate report on what we find.’ (Page 13)

The Annual Report itself adds:

‘Challenging the most able

England’s schools are still not doing enough to help the most able children realise their potential. Ofsted drew attention to this last year, but the story has yet to change significantly. Almost two thirds of the pupils in non-selective schools who attained highly at primary school in English and mathematics did not reach an A* or A in those subjects at GCSE in 2013. Nearly a quarter of them did not even achieve a B grade and a disproportionate number of these are boys. Our brightest pupils are not doing as well as their peers in some other countries that are significantly outperforming England. In PISA 2012, fewer 15-year-olds in England were attaining at the highest levels in mathematics than their peers in Germany, Poland and Belgium. In reading, however, they were on a par.

This year, our inspectors looked carefully at how schools were challenging their most able pupils. Further action for individual schools was recommended in a third of our inspection reports. The majority of recommendations related to improved teaching of this group of pupils. Inspectors called on schools to ensure that the most able pupils are being given challenging work that takes full account of their abilities. Stretching the most able is a task for the whole school. It is important that schools promote a culture that supports the most able pupils to flourish, giving them opportunities to develop the skills needed by top universities and tracking their progress at every stage.

‘Ofsted will continue to press schools to stretch their most able pupils. Over the coming year, inspectors will be looking at this more broadly, taking into account the leadership shown in this area by schools. We will also further sharpen our recommendations so that schools have a better understanding of how they can help their most able pupils to reach their potential. Ofsted will follow up its 2013 publication on the most able in secondary schools with another survey focusing on non-selective primary and secondary schools. As part of this survey, we will examine the transition of the most able pupils from one phase to the next.’

Rather strangely, there are substantive references in only two of the accompanying regional reports.

The Report on London – the region that arguably stands above all others in terms of overall pupil performance – says:

More able pupils [sic]

London does reasonably well overall for more able pupils. In 2012/13 the proportion of pupils who were high attainers in Year 6 and then went on to gain A* or A in GCSE English was 46% in London compared with 41% in England.  In mathematics, the proportions were 49% across England and 58% in London.

However, in 2012/13, seven local authorities – Croydon, Bexley, Havering, Lewisham, Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest – were below the London and national proportions of previously high attaining pupils who went on to attain grade A* or A in GCSE English. With the exception of Bexley, the same local authorities also fell below the London and national levels for the proportion of previously high-attaining pupils who went on to attain grade A* or A in GCSE mathematics.

We have identified the need to secure more rapid progress for London’s more able pupils as one of our key priorities. Inspectors will be paying particular attention to the performance of the more able pupils in schools and local authorities where these pupils are not reaching their full potential.’

The Report on the North-West identifies a problem:

‘Too many of the more able students underperform at secondary school. Of the 23 local authorities in the North West, 13 are below the national level for the percentage of children achieving at least Level 5 at Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics. The proportion subsequently attaining A* or A at GCSE is very low in some areas, particularly Knowsley, Salford and Blackpool.’

But it does not mention tackling this issue amongst its regional priorities.

The six remaining regional reports are silent on the issue.

.

Summarising the key implications

Synthesising the messages from these different sources, it seems that:

  • Primary schools have made ‘steady progress’ in supporting the most able, improving their capacity to identify and develop their potential. 
  • Inspection evidence suggests one third of secondary schools have specific problems with teaching the most able. This is a whole school issue. Too many high attainers at the end of KS2 are no longer high attainers at the end of KS4. Teachers’ expectations are too low. A positive school culture is essential but there is ‘a worrying lack of scholarship permeating the culture of too many schools’.  
  • Ofsted will increase the scrutiny it gives to the performance of the most able in routine school inspections, taking account of the leadership shown by schools (which appears to mean the contribution made by school leaders within schools), and will sharpen their recommendations within school inspection reports to reflect this increased scrutiny. 
  • They will also publish a survey report in 2015 that will feature: the outcomes of their increased scrutiny; provision in ‘non-selective primary and secondary schools’ including transition between phases; and the progress of the most able learners in KS3. 
  • In London the need to secure more rapid progress for more able pupils is a priority for Ofsted’s regional team. They will focus particularly on progress in English and maths between KS2 and KS4 in seven local authorities performing below the national and London average. 

[Postscript: In his Select Committee appearance on 28 January 2015, HMCI said that the 2015 survey report will be published in May.

However, there were press reports a few days ahead that it would be brought forward to Wednesday 4 March.

Publication ahead of the General Election, rather than immediately afterwards, puts pressure on the political parties to set out their response.

Will they continue to advance the familiar line that their generic standards-raising policies will ‘lift all ships’, or will they commit to a more targeted solution, such as the one I proposed here?]

.

All this suggests that schools would be wise to concentrate on strengthening leadership, school culture and transition – as well as eradicating any problems associated with teaching the most able.

KS3 is a particular concern in secondary schools. Although there will be comparatively more attention paid to the secondary sector, primary schools will not escape Ofsted’s increased scrutiny.

This is as it should be since my recent analysis of high attainers and high attainment in the 2014 Primary Performance Tables demonstrates that there is significant underachievement amongst high attainers in the primary sector and, in particular, very limited progress in closing achievement gaps between disadvantaged and other learners at higher attainment levels.

Ofsted does not say that they will give particular attention to most able learners in receipt of the pupil premium. The 2013 survey report committed them to doing so, but I could find no such emphasis in my survey of secondary inspection reports.

.

Will this be enough?

HMCI’s continuing concern about the quality of provision for the most able raises the question whether Ofsted’s increased scrutiny will be sufficient to bring about the requisite improvement.

Government policy is to leave this matter entirely to schools, although this has been challenged in some quarters. Labour in Opposition has been silent on the matter since Burnham’s Demos speech in July 2011.

More recent political debate about selection and setting has studiously avoided the wider question of how best to meet the needs of the most able, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If HMCI Wilshaw were minded to up the ante still further, what additional action might he undertake within Ofsted and advocate beyond it?

I sketch out below a ten-step plan for his and your consideration.

.

  1. Ofsted should strengthen its inspection procedures by publishing a glossary and supplementary inspection guidance, so that schools and inspectors alike have a clearer, shared understanding of Ofsted’s expectations and what provision should look like in outstanding and good schools. This should feature much more prominently the achievement, progress and HE destinations of disadvantaged high attainers, especially those in receipt of the Pupil Premium.

.

  1. The initiative under way in Ofsted’s London region should be extended immediately to all eight regions and a progress report should be included in Ofsted’s planned 2015 survey.

.

  1. The Better Inspection for All consultation must result in a clearer and more consistent approach to the inspection of provision for the most able learners across all sectors, with separate inspection handbooks adjusted to reflect the supplementary guidance above. Relevant high attainment, high attainer and excellence gaps data should be added to the School Data Dashboard.

.

  1. Ofsted should extend its planned 2015 survey to include a thorough review of the scope and quality of support for educating the most able provided to schools through local authority school improvement services, academy chains, multi-academy trusts and teaching school alliances. It should make recommendations for extending and strengthening such support, eliminating any patchiness of provision.

.

  1. Reforms to the assessment and accountability frameworks mean that less emphasis will be placed in future on the achievement of national benchmarks by borderline candidates and more on the attainment and progress of all learners. But there are still significant gaps in the data published about high attainment and high attainers, especially the differential performance of advantaged and disadvantaged learners. The decision to abandon the planned data portal – in which it was expected some of this data would be deposited – is problematic. Increased transparency would be helpful.

.

  1. There are unanswered questions about the support that the new levels-free assessment regime will provide for the achievement and progression of the most able. There is a risk that a ‘mastery’-focused approach will emphasise progression through increased depth of study, at the expense of greater breadth and faster pace, thus placing an unnecessary constraint on their education. Guidance is desirable to help eliminate these concerns.

.

  1. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) should extend its remit to include excellence gaps. All EEF-sponsored evaluations should routinely consider the impact on disadvantaged high attainers. The EEF should also sponsor projects to evaluate the blend of interventions that are most effective in closing excellence gaps. The Toolkit should be revised where necessary to highlight more clearly where specific interventions have a differential impact on high attainers.

.

  1. Efforts should be made to establish national consensus on the effective education of high attainers through consultation on and agreement of a set of common core principles.

.

  1. A ‘national conversation’ is needed to identify strategies for supporting (disadvantaged) high attainers, pushing beyond the ideological disagreements over selection and setting to consider a far wider range of options, including more innovative approaches to within-school and between-school provision.

.

  1. A feasibility study should be conducted into the viability of a national, non-governmental learner-centred support programme for disadvantaged high attainers aged 11-18. This would be market-driven but operate within a supporting national framework. It would be managed entirely within existing budgets – possibly an annual £50m pupil premium topslice plus a matching contribution from universities’ fair access outreach funding.

.

GP

December 2014

How Well Do Grammar Schools Perform With Disadvantaged Students?

This supplement to my previous post on The Politics of Selection  compares the performance of disadvantaged learners in different grammar schools.

It adds a further dimension to the evidence base set out in my earlier post, intended to inform debate about the potential value of grammar schools as engines of social mobility.

The commentary is based on the spreadsheet embedded below, which relies entirely on data drawn from the 2013 Secondary School Performance Tables.

.

.

If you find any transcription errors please alert me and I will correct them.

.

Preliminary Notes

The 2013 Performance Tables define disadvantaged learners as those eligible for free school meals in the last six years and children in care. Hence both these categories are caught by the figures in my spreadsheet.

Because the number of disadvantaged pupils attending grammar schools is typically very low, I have used the three year average figures contained in the ‘Closing the Gap’ section of the Tables.

These are therefore the number of disadvantaged students in each school’s end of KS4 cohort for 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined. They should illustrate the impact of pupil premium support and wider closing the gap strategies on grammar schools since the Coalition government came to power.

Even when using three year averages the data is frustratingly incomplete, since 13 of the 163 grammar schools have so few disadvantaged students – fewer than six across all three cohorts combined – that the results are suppressed. We have no information at all about how well or how badly these schools are performing in terms of closing gaps.

My analysis uses each of the three performance measures within this section of the Performance Tables:

  • The percentage of pupils at the end of KS4 achieving five or more GCSEs (or equivalents) at grades A*-C, including GCSEs in English and maths. 
  • The proportion of pupils who, by the end of KS4, have made at least the expected progress in English. 
  • The proportion of pupil who, by the end of KS4, have made at least the expected progress in maths.

In each case I have recorded the percentage of disadvantaged learners who achieve the measure and the percentage point gap between that and the corresponding figure for ‘other’ – ie non-disadvantaged – students.

For comparison I have also included the corresponding percentages for all disadvantaged pupils in all state-funded schools and for all high attainers in state-funded schools. The latter is for 2013 only rather than a three-year average.

Unfortunately the Tables do not provide data for high attaining disadvantaged students. The vast majority of disadvantaged students attending grammar schools will be high-attaining according to the definition used in the Tables (average points score of 30 or higher across KS2 English, maths and science).

But, as my previous post showed, some grammar schools record 70% or fewer high attainers, disadvantaged or otherwise. These include: Clarendon House (Kent, now merged), Fort Pitt (Medway), Skegness (Lincolnshire), Dover Boys’ and Girls’ (Kent), Folkestone Girls’ (Kent), St Joseph’s (Stoke), Boston High (Lincolnshire) and the Harvey School (Kent).

Some of these schools feature in the analysis below, while some do not, suggesting that the correlation between selectivity and the performance of disadvantaged students is not straightforward.

.

Number of disadvantaged learners in each school

The following schools are those with suppressed results, placed in order according to the number of disadvantaged learners within scope, from lowest to highest:

  • Tonbridge Grammar School, Kent (2)
  • Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School, Wiltshire (3)
  • Caistor Grammar School, Lincolnshire (3)
  • Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Buckinghamshire (3)
  • Adams’ Grammar School, Telford and Wrekin (4)
  • Chelmsford County High School for Girls, Essex (4)
  • Dr Challoner’s High School, Buckinghamshire (4)
  • King Edward VI School, Warwickshire (4)
  • Alcester Grammar School, Warwickshire (5)
  • Beaconsifeld High School, Buckinghamshire (5)
  • King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford, Essex (5)
  • Reading School, Reading (5)
  • St Bernard’s Catholic Grammar School, Slough (5).

Some of these schools feature among those with the lowest proportions of ‘ever 6 FSM’ pupils on roll, as shown in the spreadsheet accompanying my previous post, but some do not.

The remaining 152 schools each record a combined cohort of between six and 96 students, with an average of 22.

A further 19 schools have a combined cohort of 10 or fewer, meaning that 32 grammar schools in all (20% of the total) are in this category.

At the other end of the distribution, only 16 schools (10% of all grammar schools) have a combined cohort of 40 disadvantaged students or higher – and only four have one of 50 disadvantaged students or higher.

These are:

  • Handsworth Grammar School, Birmingham (96)
  • Stretford Grammar School, Trafford (76)
  • Dane Court Grammar School, Kent (57)
  • Slough Grammar School (Upton Court) (50).

Because the ratio of disadvantaged to other pupils in the large majority of grammar schools is so marked, the results below must be treated with a significant degree of caution.

Outcomes based on such small numbers may well be misleading, but they are all we have.

Arguably, grammar schools should find it relatively easier to achieve success with a very small cohort of students eligible for the pupil premium – since fewer require separate monitoring and, potentially, additional support.

On the other hand, the comparative rarity of disadvantaged students may mean that some grammar schools have too little experience of addressing such needs, or believe that closing gaps is simply not an issue for them.

Then again, it is perhaps more likely that grammar schools will fall short of 100% success with their much larger proportions of ‘other’ students, simply because the probability of special circumstances arising is relatively higher. One might expect therefore to see ‘positive gaps’ with success rates for disadvantaged students slightly higher than those for their relatively more advantaged peers.

Ideally though, grammar schools should be aiming for a perfect 100% success rate for all students on these three measures, regardless of whether they are advantaged or disadvantaged. None is particularly challenging, for high attainers in particular – and most of these schools have been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

.

Five or more GCSE A*-C grades or equivalent including GCSEs in English and maths

In all state-funded schools, the percentage of disadvantaged students achieving this measure across the three year period is 38.7% while the percentage of other students doing so is 66.3%, giving a gap of 27.6 percentage points.

In 2013, 94.7% of all high attainers in state-funded secondary schools achieved this measure.

No grammar school falls below the 38.7% benchmark for its disadvantaged learners. The nearest to it is Pate’s Grammar School, at 43%. But these results were affected by the School’s decision to sit English examinations which were not recognised for Performance Table purposes.

The next lowest percentages are returned by:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (59%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (65%)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls, Warwickshire (71%)
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire (74%)

These were the only four schools below 75%.

Table 1 below illustrates these percentages and the percentage point gap for each of these four schools.

.

Table 1

Table 1: 5+ GCSEs at A*-C or equivalent including GCSEs in English and maths: Lowest performing and largest gaps

.

A total of 46 grammar schools (31% of the 150 without suppressed results) fall below the 2013 figure for high attainers across all state-funded schools.

On the other hand, 75 grammar schools (exactly 50%) achieve 100% on this measure, for combined student cohorts ranging in size from six to 49.

Twenty-six of the 28 schools that had no gap between the performance of their advantaged and disadvantaged students were amongst those scoring 100%. (The other two were at 97% and 95% respectively.)

The remaining 49 with a 100% record amongst their disadvantaged students demonstrate a ‘positive gap’, in that the disadvantaged do better than the advantaged.

The biggest positive gap is seven percentage points, recorded by Clarendon House Grammar School in Kent and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Alford, Lincolnshire.

Naturally enough, schools recording relatively lower success rates amongst their disadvantaged students also tend to demonstrate a negative gap, where the advantaged do better than the disadvantaged.

Three schools had an achievement gap higher than the 27.6 percentage point national average. They were:

  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys (30 percentage points)
  • Spalding Grammar School (28 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (28 percentage points)

So three of the four with the lowest success rates for disadvantaged learners demonstrated the biggest gaps. Twelve more schools had double digit achievement gaps of 10% or higher.

These 15 schools – 10% of the total for which we have data – have a significant issue to address, regardless of the size of their disadvantaged populations.

One noticeable oddity at this end of the table is King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys in Birmingham, which returns a positive gap of 14 percentage points (rounded): with 80% for disadvantaged and 67% for advantaged. On this measure at least, it is doing relatively badly with its disadvantaged students, but considerably worse with those from advantaged backgrounds!

However, this idiosyncratic pattern is also likely to be attributable to the School using some examinations not eligible for inclusion in the Tables.

.

At least expected progress in English

Across all state-funded schools, the percentage of disadvantaged students making at least three levels of progress in English is 55.5%, compared with 75.1% of ‘other’ students, giving a gap of 19.6 percentage points.

In 2013, 86.2% of high attainers achieved this benchmark.

If we again discount Pate’s from consideration, the lowest performing school on this measure is The Boston Grammar School which is at 53%, lower than the national average figure.

A further 43 schools (29% of those for which we have data) are below the 2013 average for all high attainers. Six more of these fall below 70%:

  • The Skegness Grammar School, Lincolnshire (62%)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Cumbria (62%)
  • Plymouth High School for Girls (64%)
  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (65%)
  • Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (65%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (67%)

Table 2 below illustrates these outcomes, together with the attainment gaps recorded by these schools and others with particularly large gaps.

.

Table 2

Table 2: At least expected progress in English from KS2 to KS4: Lowest performing and largest gaps

.

At the other end of the table, 44 grammar schools achieve 100% on this measure (29% of those for which we have data.) This is significantly fewer than achieved perfection on the five or more GCSEs benchmark.

When it comes to closing the gap, only 16 of the 44 achieve a perfect 100% score with both advantaged and disadvantaged students, again much lower than on the attainment measure above.

The largest positive gaps (where disadvantaged students outscore their advantaged classmates) are at The King Edward VI Grammar School, Louth, Lincolnshire (11 percentage points) and John Hampden Grammar School Buckinghamshire (10 percentage points).

Amongst the schools propping up the table on this measure, six record negative gaps of 20 percentage points or higher, so exceeding the average gap in state-funded secondary schools:

  • The Skegness Grammar School (30 percentage points)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Cumbria (28 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (27 percentage points)
  • Plymouth High School for Girls (25 percentage points)
  • Devonport High School for Boys, Plymouth (23 percentage points)
  • Loreto Grammar School, Trafford (20 percentage points).

There is again a strong correlation between low disadvantaged performance and large gaps, although the relationship does not apply in all cases.

Another 23 grammar schools have a negative gap of 10 percentage points or higher.

There is again a curious trend for King Edward VI Camp Hill in Birmingham, which comes in at 75% on this measure, yet its disadvantaged students outscore the advantaged, which are at 65%, ten percentage points lower. As noted above, there may well be extenuating circumstances.

.

At least expected progress in maths

The percentage of disadvantaged students making at least three levels of progress in maths across all state-funded schools is 50.7%, compared with a figure for ‘other’ students of 74.1%, giving a gap of 23.4 percentage points.

In 2013, 87.8% of high attainers achieved this.

On this occasion Pate’s is unaffected (in fact scores 100%), as does King Edward VI Camp Hill School for Boys (in its case for advantaged and disadvantaged alike).

No schools come in below the national average for disadvantaged students, in fact all comfortably exceed it. However, the lowest performers are still a long way behind some of their fellow grammar schools.

The worst performing grammar schools on this measure are:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (59%)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Cumbria (62%)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (63%)
  • Dover Grammar School for Boys, Kent (67%)
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire (68%)
  • Borden Grammar School, Kent (68%)

These are very similar to the corresponding rates for the lowest performers in English.

Table 3 illustrates these outcomes, together with other schools demonstrating very large gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

.

Table 3

Table 3: At least expected progress in maths from KS2 to KS4: Lowest performing and largest gaps

A total of 32 schools (21% of those for which we have data) undershoot the 2013 average for high attainers, a slightly better outcome than for English.

At the other extreme, there are 54 schools (36% of those for which we have data) that score 100% on this measure, slightly more than do so on the comparable measure for English, but still significantly fewer than achieve this on the 5+ GCSE measure.

Seventeen of the 54 also achieve a perfect 100% for advantaged students.

The largest positive gaps recorded are 11 percentage points at The Harvey Grammar School in Kent (which achieved 94% for disadvantaged students) and 7 percentage points at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Alford, Lincolnshire (91% for disadvantaged students).

The largest negative gaps on this measure are equally as substantial as those relating to English. Four schools perform significantly worse than the average gap of 23.4 percentage points:

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire (32 percentage points)
  • Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Cumbria (31 percentage points)
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent (31 percentage points)
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls (27 percentage points)

Queen Elizabeth’s and Stratford Girls’ appeared in the same list for English. Stratford Girls’ appeared in the same list for the 5+ GCSE measure.

A further 20 schools have a double-digit negative gap of 10 percentage points or higher, very similar to the outcome in English.

.

Comparison across the three measures

As will be evident from the tables and lists above, some grammar schools perform consistently poorly on all three measures.

Others perform consistently well, while a third group have ‘spiky profiles’

The number of schools that achieve 100% on all three measures with their disadvantaged students is 25 (17% of those for which we have data).

Eight of these are located in London; none is located in Birmingham. Just two are in Buckinghamshire and there is one each in Gloucestershire, Kent and Lincolnshire.

Only six schools achieve 100% on all three measures with advantaged and disadvantaged students alike. They are:

  • Queen Elizabeth’s, Barnet
  • Colyton Grammar School, Devon
  • Nonsuch High School for Girls, Sutton
  • St Olave’s and St Saviour’s Grammar School, Bromley
  • Tiffin Girls’ School, Kingston
  • Kendrick School, Reading

Five schools recorded comparatively low performance across all three measures (ie below 80% on each):

  • Spalding Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls
  • St Joseph’s College, Stoke on Trent

Their overall performance is illustrated in Table 4.

.

Table 4

Table 4: Schools where 80% or fewer disadvantaged learners achieved each measure

.

This small group of schools are a major cause for concern.

A total of 16 schools (11% of those for which we have data) score 90% or less on all three measures and they, too, are potentially concerning.

Schools which record negative gaps of 10 percentage points or more on all three measures are:

  • Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • Dover Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • The Boston Grammar School, Lincolnshire
  • Stratford Grammar School for Girls
  • Wilmington Grammar School for Boys, Kent
  • St Joseph’s College, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Horncastle, Lincolnshire

Table 5 records these outcomes

.

Table 5

Table 5: Schools with gaps of 10% or higher on all three measures

.

Of these, Boston and Stratford have gaps of 20 percentage points or higher on all three measures.

A total of 32 grammar schools (21% of those for which we have data) record a percentage of 80 percentage points or lower on at least one of the three measures.

.

Selective University Destinations

I had also wanted to include in the analysis some data on progression to selective (Russell Group) universities, drawn from the experimental destination statistics.

Unfortunately, the results for FSM students are suppressed for the vast majority of schools, making comparison impossible. According to the underlying data for 2011/12, all I can establish with any certainty is that:

  • In 29 grammar schools, there were no FSM students in the cohort.
  • Five schools returned 0%, meaning that no FSM students successfully progressed to a Russell Group university. These were Wycombe High School, Wallington High School for Girls, The Crossley Heath School in Calderdale, St Anselm’s College on the Wirral and Bacup and Rawtenstall Grammar School.
  • Three schools were relatively successful – King Edward VI Five Ways in Birmingham reported 58% of FSM students progressing, while King Edward VI Handsworth reported 53% and the Latymer School achieved an impressive 75%.
  • All remaining grammar schools – some 127 in that year – are reported as ‘x’ meaning that there were either one or two students in the cohort, so the percentages are suppressed.

We can infer from this that, at least in 2011/12, very few grammar schools indeed were specialising in providing an effective route to Russell Group universities for FSM students.

.

Conclusion

Even allowing for the unreliability of statistics based on very small cohorts, this analysis is robust enough to show that the performance of grammar schools in supporting disadvantaged students is extremely disparate.

While there is a relatively large group of consistently high performers, roughly one in five grammar schools is a cause for concern on at least one of the three measures. Approximately one in ten is performing no more than satisfactorily across all three. 

The analysis hints at the possibility that the biggest problems tend to be located in rural and coastal areas rather than in London and other urban centres, but this pattern is not always consistent. The majority of the poorest performers seem to be located in wholly selective authorities but, again, this is not always the case.

A handful of grammar schools are recording significant negative gaps between the performance of disadvantaged students and their peers. This is troubling. There is no obvious correlation between the size of the disadvantaged cohort and the level of underperformance.

There may be extenuating circumstances in some cases, but there is no public national record of what these are – an argument for greater transparency across the board.

One hopes that the grammar schools that are struggling in this respect are also those at the forefront of the reform programme described in my previous post – and that they are improving rapidly.

One hopes, too, that those whose business it is to ensure that schools make effective use of the pupil premium are monitoring these institutions closely. Some of the evidence highlighted above would not, in my view, be consistent with an outstanding Ofsted inspection outcome.

If the same pattern is evident when the 2014 Performance Tables are published in January 2015, there will be serious cause for concern.

As for the question whether grammar schools are currently meeting the needs of their – typically few – disadvantaged students, the answer is ‘some are; some aren’t’. This argues for intervention in inverse proportion to success.

.

GP

December 2014

Closing England’s Excellence Gaps: Part 2

This is the second part of an extended post considering what we know – and do not know – about high attainment gaps between learners from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in England.

512px-Bakerloo_line_-_Waterloo_-_Mind_the_gap

Mind the Gap by Clicsouris

Part one provided an England-specific definition, articulated a provisional theoretical model for addressing excellence gaps and set out the published data about the size of excellence gaps at Key Stages 2,4 and 5, respectively.

Part two continues to review the evidence base for excellence gaps, covering the question whether high attainers remain so, international comparisons data and related research and excellence gaps analysis from the USA.

It also describes those elements of present government policy that impact directly on excellence gaps and offers some recommendations for strengthening our national emphasis on this important issue.

 

Whether disadvantaged high achievers remain so

 

The Characteristics of High Attainers

The Characteristics of high attainers (DfES 2007) includes investigation of:

  • whether pupils in the top 10% at KS4 in 2006 were also high attainers at KS3 in 2004 and KS2 in 2001, by matching back to their fine grade points scores; and
  • chances of being a KS4 high attainer given a range of pupil characteristics at KS2 and KS3.

On the first point it finds that 4% of all pupils remain in the top 10% throughout, while 83% of pupils are never in the top 10% group.

Some 63% of those who were high attainers at the end of KS2 are still high attainers at the end of KS3, while 72% of KS3 high attainers are still in that group at the end of KS4. Approximately half of high attainers at KS2 are high attainers at KS4.

The calculation is not repeated for advantaged and disadvantaged high attainers respectively, but this shows that – while there is relatively little movement between  the high attaining population and other learners (with only 17% of the overall population falling within scope at any point) – there is a sizeable ‘drop out’ amongst high attainers at each key stage.

Turning to the second point, logistic regression is used to calculate the odds of being a KS4 high attainer given different levels of prior attainment and a range of pupil characteristics. Results are controlled to isolate the impact of individual characteristics and for attainment.

The study finds that pupils with a KS2 average points score (APS) above 33 are more likely than not to be high attainers at KS4, and this probability increases as their KS2 APS increases. For those with an APS of 36, the odds are 23.73, meaning they have a 24/25 chance of being a KS4 high attainer.

For FSM-eligible learners though, the odds are 0.55, meaning that the chances of being a KS4 high attainer are 45% lower amongst FSM-eligible pupils, compared to  their non-FSM counterparts with similar prior attainment and characteristics.

The full set of findings for individual characteristics is reproduced below.

Ex gap Capture 7

 

An appendix supplies the exact ratios for each characteristic and the text points out that these can be multiplied to calculate odds ratios for different combinations:

The odds for different prior attainment levels and other characteristics combined with FSM eligibility are not worked through, but could easily be calculated. It would be extremely worthwhile to repeat this analysis using more recent data to see whether the results would be replicated for those completing KS4 in 2014.

 

Sutton Trust

In 2008, the Sutton Trust published ‘Wasted talent? Attrition rates of high achieving pupils between school and university’ which examines the attrition rates for FSM-eligible learners among the top 20% of performers at KS2, KS3 and KS4.

A footnote says that this calculation was ‘on the basis of their English and maths scores at age 11, and at later stages of schooling’, which is somewhat unclear. A single, unidentified cohort is tracked across key stages.

The report suggests ‘extremely high rates of ‘leakage’ amongst the least privileged pupils’. The key finding is that two-thirds of disadvantaged top performers at KS2 are not amongst the top performers at KS4, whereas 42% advantaged top performers are not.

 

EPPSE

Also in the longitudinal tradition ‘Performing against the odds: developmental trajectories of children in the EPPSE 3-16 study’ (Siraj-Blatchford et al, June 2011) investigated through interviews the factors that enabled a small group of disadvantaged learners to ‘succeed against the odds’.

Twenty learners were identified who were at the end of KS3 or at KS4 and who had achieved well above predicted levels in English and maths at the end of KS2. Achievement was predicted for the full sample of 2,800 children within the EPPSE study via multi-level modelling, generating:

‘…residual scores for each individual child, indicating the differences between predicted and attained achievement at age 11, while controlling for certain child characteristics (i.e., age, gender, birth weight, and the presence of developmental problems) and family characteristics (i.e., mothers’ education, fathers’ education, socio-economic status [SES] and family income). ‘

The 20 identified as succeeding against the odds had KS2 residual scores for both English and maths within the highest 20% of the sample. ‘Development trajectories’ were created for the group using a range of assessments conducted at age 3, 4, 5, 7, 11 and 14.

The highest job level held in the family when the children were aged 3-4 was manual, semi-skilled or unskilled, or the parent(s) had never worked.

The 20 were randomly selected from each gender – eight boys and 12 girls – while ensuring representation of ‘the bigger minority ethnic groups’. It included nine students characterised as White UK, five Black Caribbean, two Black African and one each of Indian (Sikh), Pakistani, Mixed Heritage and Indian (Hindu).

Interviews were conducted with children, parents and the teacher at their [present] secondary school the learners felt ‘knew them best’. Teacher interviews were secured for 11 of the 20.

Comparison of development trajectories showed significant gaps between this ‘low SES high attainment’ group and a comparative sample of ‘low SES, predicted attainment’ students. They were ahead from the outset and pulled further away.

They also exceeded a comparator group of high SES learners performing at predicted levels from entry to primary education until KS2. Even at KS3, 16 of the 20 were still performing above the mean of the high SES sample.

These profiles – illustrated in the two charts below – were very similar in English and maths respectively. In either case, Group 1 are those with ‘low SES, high attainment’, while Group 4 are ‘high SES predicted attainment’ students.

 

Supp exgap Eng Capture

Supp exgap Maths Capture

 

Interviews identified five factors that helped to explain this success:

  • The child’s perceived cognitive ability, strong motivation for school and learning and their hobbies and interests. Most parents and children regarded cognitive ability as ‘inherent to the child’, but they had experienced many opportunities to develop their abilities and received support in developing a ‘positive self-image’. Parenting ‘reflected a belief in the parent’s efficacy to positively influence the child’s learning’. Children also demonstrated ability to self-regulate and positive attitudes to homework. They had a positive attitude to learning and made frequent use of books and computers for this purpose. They used school and learning as distractions from wider family problems. Many were driven to learn, to succeed educationally and achieve future aspirations.
  • Home context – effective practical and emotional support with school and learning. Families undertook a wide range of learning activities, especially in the early years. These were perceived as enjoyable but also valuable preparation for subsequent schooling. During the primary years, almost all families actively stimulated their children to read. In the secondary years, many parents felt their efforts to regulate their children’s activities and set boundaries were significant. Parents also provided practical support with school and learning, taking an active interest and interacting with their child’s school. Their parenting style is described as ‘authoritative: warm, firm and accepting of their needs for psychological autonomy but demanding’. They set clear standards and boundaries for behaviour while granting extra autonomy as their children matured. They set high expectations and felt strongly responsible for their child’s education and attitude to learning. They believed in their capacity to influence their children positively. Some were motivated by the educational difficulties they had experienced.
  • (Pre-)School environment – teachers who are sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs and use ‘an authoritative approach to teaching and interactive teaching strategies’; and, additionally, supportive school policies. Parents had a positive perception of the value of pre-school education, though the value of highly effective pre-school provision was not clear cut with this sample. Moreover ‘very few clear patterns of association could be discerned between primary school effectiveness and development of rankings on trajectories’. That said both parents and children recognised that their schools had helped them address learning and behavioural difficulties. Success was attributed to the quality of teachers. ‘They thought that good quality teaching meant that teachers were able to explain things clearly, were enthusiastic about the subject they taught, were approachable when things were difficult to understand, were generally friendly, had control over the class and clearly communicated their expectations and boundaries.’
  • Peers providing practical, emotional and motivational support. Friends were especially valuable in helping them to respond to difficulties, helping in class, with homework and revision. Such support was often mutual, helping to build understanding and develop self-esteem, as a consequence of undertaking the role of teacher. Friends also provided role models and competitors.
  • Similar support provided by the extended family and wider social, cultural and religious communities. Parents encouraged their children to take part in extra-curricular activities and were often aware of their educational benefits. Family networks often provided additional learning experiences, particularly for Caribbean and some Asian families.

 

Ofsted

Ofsted’s The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools? (2013) defines this population rather convolutedly as those:

‘…starting secondary school in Year 7 attaining level 5 or above, or having the potential to attain Level 5 and above, in English (reading and writing) and or mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.’ (Footnote p6-7)

There is relatively little data in the report about the performance of high-attaining disadvantaged learners, other than the statement that only 58% of FSM students within the ‘most able’ population in KS2 and attending non-selective secondary schools go on to achieve A*-B GCSE grades in English and maths, compared with 75% of non-FSM pupils, giving a gap of 17 percentage points.

I have been unable to find national transition matrices for advantaged and disadvantaged learners, enabling us to compare the proportion of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils making and exceeding the expected progress between key stages.

 

Regression to the mean and efforts to circumvent it

Much prominence has been given to Feinstein’s 2003 finding that, whereas high-scoring children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds (defined by parental occupation) perform at a broadly similar level when tested at 22 months, the disadvantaged group are subsequently overtaken by relatively low-scoring children from advantaged backgrounds during the primary school years.

The diagram that summarises this relationship has been reproduced widely and much used as the centrepiece of arguments justifying efforts to improve social mobility.

Feinstein Capture

But Feinstein’s finding were subsequently challenged on methodological grounds associated with the effects of regression to the mean.

Jerrim and Vignoles (2011) concluded:

‘There is currently an overwhelming view amongst academics and policymakers that highly able children from poor homes get overtaken by their affluent (but less able) peers before the end of primary school. Although this empirical finding is treated as a stylised fact, the methodology used to reach this conclusion is seriously flawed. After attempting to correct for the aforementioned statistical problem, we find little evidence that this is actually the case. Hence we strongly recommend that any future work on high ability–disadvantaged groups takes the problem of regression to the mean fully into account.’

On the other hand, Whitty and Anders comment:

‘Although some doubt has been raised regarding this analysis on account of the potential for regression to the mean to exaggerate the phenomenon (Jerrim and Vignoles, 2011), it is highly unlikely that this would overturn the core finding that high SES, lower ability children catch up with their low-SES, higher-ability peers.’

Their point is borne out by Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (June 2014) suggesting that Vignoles, as part of the writing team, has changed her mind somewhat since 2011.

This research adopts a methodological route to minimise the impact of regression to the mean. This involves assigning learners to achievement groups using a different test to those used to follow their attainment trajectories and focusing principally on those trajectories from KS2 onwards.

The high attaining group is defined as those achieving Level 3 or above in KS1 writing, which selected in 12.6% of the sample. (For comparison, the same calculations are undertaken based on achieving L3 or above in KS1 maths.) These pupils are ranked and assigned a percentile on the basis of their performance on the remaining KS1 tests and at each subsequent key stage.

The chart summarising the outcomes in the period from KS1 to KS4 is reproduced below, showing the different trajectories of the ‘most deprived’ and ‘least deprived’. These are upper and lower quintile groups of state school students derived on the basis of FSM eligibility and a set of area-based measures of disadvantage and measures of socio-economic status derived from the census.

 

Ex gap 8 Capture

The trajectories do not alter significantly beyond KS4.

The study concludes:

‘…children from poorer backgrounds who are high attaining at age 7 are more likely to fall off a high attainment trajectory than children from richer backgrounds. We find that high-achieving children from the most deprived families perform worse than lower-achieving students from the least deprived families by Key Stage 4. Conversely, lower-achieving affluent children catch up with higher-achieving deprived children between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4.’

Hence:

‘The period between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 appears to be a crucial time to ensure that higher-achieving pupils from poor backgrounds remain on a high achievement trajectory.’

In short, a Feinstein-like relationship is established but it operates at a somewhat later stage in the educational process.

 

International comparisons studies

 

PISA: Resilience

OECD PISA studies have recently begun to report on the performance of what they call ‘resilient’ learners.

Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in Schools (OECD, 2011) describes this population as those who fall within the bottom third of their country’s distribution by socio-economic background, but who achieve within the top third on PISA assessments across participating countries.

This publication uses PISA 2006 science results as the basis of its calculations. The relative position of different countries is shown in the chart reproduced below. Hong Kong tops the league at 24.8%, the UK is at 13.5%, slightly above the OECD average of 13%, while the USA is languishing at 9.9%.

Ex Gap Capture 9

The findings were discussed further in PISA in Focus 5 (OECD 2011), where PISA 2009 data is used to make the calculation. The methodology is also significantly adjusted so that includes a substantially smaller population:

‘A student is classified as resilient if he or she is in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) in the country of assessment and performs in the top quarter across students from all countries after accounting for socio-economic background. The share of resilient students among all students has been multiplied by 4 so that the percentage values presented here reflect the proportion of resilient students among disadvantaged students (those in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of social, economic and cultural status.’

According to this measure, the UK is at 24% and the US has leapfrogged them at 28%. Both are below the OECD average of 31%, while Shanghai and Hong Kong stand at over 70%.

The Report on PISA 2012 (OECD 2013) retains the more demanding definition of resilience, but dispenses with multiplication by 4, so these results need to be so multiplied to be comparable with those for 2009.

This time round, Shanghai is at 19.2% (76.8%) and Hong Kong at 18.1% (72.4%). The OECD average is 6.4% (25.6%), the UK at 5.8% (23.2%) and the US at 5.2% (20.8%).

So the UK has lost a little ground compared with 2009, but is much close to the OECD average and has overtaken the US, which has fallen back by some seven percentage points.

I could find no commentary on these changes.

NFER has undertaken some work on resilience in Northern Ireland, using PISA 2009 reading results (and the original ‘one third’ methodology) as a base. This includes odds ratios for different characteristics of being resilient. This could be replicated for England using PISA 2012 data and the latest definition of resilience.

 

Research on socio-economic gradients

The Socio-Economic Gradient in Teenagers’ Reading Skills: How Does England Compare with Other Countries? (Jerrim 2012) compares the performance of students within the highest and lowest quintiles of the ISEI Index of Occupational Status on the PISA 2009 reading tests.

It quantifies the proportion of these two populations within each decile of  achievement, so generating a gradient, before reviewing how this gradient has changed between PISA 2000 and PISA 2009, comparing outcomes for England, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany and the US.

Jerrim summarises his findings thus:

‘The difference between advantaged and disadvantaged children’s PISA 2009 reading test scores in England is similar (on average) to that in most other developed countries (including Australia, Germany and, to some extent, the US). This is in contrast to previous studies from the 1990s, which suggested that there was a particularly large socio-economic gap in English pupils’ academic achievement.

Yet the association between family background and high achievement seems to be stronger in England than elsewhere.

There is some evidence that the socio-economic achievement gradient has been reduced in England over the last decade, although not amongst the most able pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged homes.’

Jerrim finds that the link in England between family background and high achievement is stronger than in most other OECD countries, whereas this is not the case at the other end of the distribution.

He hypothises that this might be attributable to recent policy focus on reducing the ‘long tail’ while:

‘much less attention seems to be paid to helping disadvantaged children who are already doing reasonably well to push on and reach the top grades’.

He dismisses the notion that the difference is associated with the fact that  disadvantaged children are concentrated in lower-performing schools, since it persists even when controls for school effects are introduced.

In considering why PISA scores show the achievement gap in reading has reduced between 2000 and 2009 at the lower end of the attainment distribution but not at the top, he cites two possibilities: that Government policy has been disproportionately successful at the lower end; and that there has been a more substantial decline in achievement amongst learners from advantaged backgrounds than amongst their disadvantaged peers. He is unable to rule out the latter possibility.

He also notes in passing that PISA scores in maths do not generate the same pattern.

These arguments are further developed in ‘The Reading Gap: The socio-economic gap in children’s reading skills: A cross-national comparison using PISA 2009’ (Jerrim, 2013) which applies the same methodology.

This finds that high-achieving (top decile of the test distribution) boys from the most advantaged quintile in England are two years and seven months ahead of high-achieving boys from the most disadvantaged quintile, while the comparable gap for girls is slightly lower, at two years and four months.

The chart reproduced below illustrates international comparisons for boys. It shows that only Scotland has a larger high achievement gap than England. (The black lines indicate 99% confidence intervals – he associates the uncertainty to ‘sampling variation’.)

Gaps in countries at the bottom of the table are approximately half the size of those in England and Scotland.

Ex gap 10 capture

 

One of the report’s recommendations is that:

‘The coalition government has demonstrated its commitment to disadvantaged pupils by establishing the Education Endowment Foundation… A key part of this Foundation’s future work should be to ensure highly able children from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in school and have the opportunity to enter top universities and professional jobs. The government should provide additional resources to the foundation to trial interventions that specifically target already high achieving children from disadvantaged homes. These should be evaluated using robust evaluation methodologies (e.g. randomised control trials) so that policymakers develop a better understanding of what schemes really have the potential to work.’

The study is published by the Sutton Trust whose Chairman – Sir Peter Lampl – is also chairman of the EEF.

In ‘Family background and access to high ‘status’ universities’ (2013) Jerrim provides a different chart showing estimates by country of disadvantaged high achieving learners. The measure of achievement is PISA Level 5 in reading and the measure of disadvantage remains quintiles derived from the ISEI index.

Ex Gap 12 Capture 

The underlying figures are not supplied.

Also in 2013, in ‘The mathematical skills of school children: how does England compare to the high-performing East Asian jurisdictions?’ Jerrim and Choi construct a similar gradient for maths, drawing on a mix of PISA and TIMSS assessments conducted between 2003 and 2009, so enabling them to consider variation according to the age at which assessment takes place.

The international tests selected are TIMSS 2003, 4th grade; TIMSS 2007, 8th grade and PISA 2009. The differences between what these tests measure are described as ‘slight’. The analysis of achievement relies on deciles of the achievement distribution.

Thirteen comparator countries are included, including six wealthy western economies, three ‘middle income’ western economies and four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan).

This study applies as the best available proxy for socio-economic status the number of books in the family home, comparing the most advantaged (over 200 books) with the least (under 25 books). It acknowledges the limitations of this proxy, which Jerrim discusses elsewhere.

The evidence suggests that:

‘between primary school and the end of secondary school, the gap between the lowest achieving children in England and the lowest achieving children in East Asian countries is reduced’

but remains significant.

Conversely, results for the top 10% of the distribution:

‘suggest that the gap between the highest achieving children in England and the highest achieving children in East Asia increases between the end of primary school and the end of secondary school’.

The latter outcome is illustrated in the chart reproduced below

Ex gap 11 Capture

 

The authors do not consider variation by socio-economic background amongst the high-achieving cohort, presumably because the data still does not support the pattern they previously identified for reading.

 

US studies

In 2007 the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation published ‘Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Low Income Backgrounds’ (Wyner, Bridgeland, Diiulio) The text was subsequently revised in 2009.

This focuses exclusively on gaps attributable to socio-economic status, by comparing the performance of those in the top and bottom halves of the family income distribution in the US, as adjusted for family size.

The achievement measure is top quartile performance on nationally normalised exams administered within two longitudinal studies: The National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B).

The study reports that relatively few lower income students remain high achievers throughout their time in elementary and high school:

  • 56% remain high achievers in reading by Grade 5, compared with 69% of higher income students.
  • 25 percent fall out of the high achiever cohort in high school, compared with 16% of higher income students.
  • Higher income learners who are not high achievers in Grade 1 are more than twice as likely to be high achievers by Grade 5. The same is true between Grades 8 and 12.

2007 also saw the publication of ‘Overlooked Gems: A national perspective on low income promising learners’ (Van Tassel-Baska and Stambaugh). This is a compilation of the proceedings of a 2006 conference which does not attempt a single definition of the target group, but draws on a variety of different research studies and programmes, each with different starting points.

An influential 2009 McKinsey study ‘The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools’ acknowledges the existence of what it calls a ‘top gap’. They use this term with reference to:

  • the number of top performers and the level of top performance in the US compared with other countries and
  • the gap in the US between the proportion of Black/Latino students and the proportion of all students achieving top levels of performance.

The authors discuss the colossal economic costs of achievement gaps more generally, but fail to extend this analysis to the ‘top gap’ specifically.

In 2010 ‘Mind the Other Gap: The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education’ (Plucker, Burroughs and Song) was published – and seems to have been the first study to use this term.

The authors define such gaps straightforwardly as

‘Differences between subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement’

The measures of high achievement deployed are the advanced standards on US NAEP maths and reading tests, at Grades 4 and 8 respectively.

The study identifies gaps based on four sets of learner characteristics:

  • Socio-economic status (eligible or not for free or reduced price lunch).
  • Ethnic background (White versus Black and/or Hispanic).
  • English language proficiency (what we in England would call EAL, compared with non-EAL).
  • Gender (girls versus boys).

Each characteristic is dealt with in isolation, so there is no discussion of the gaps between – for example – disadvantaged Black/Hispanic and disadvantaged White boys.

In relation to socio-economic achievement gaps, Plucker et al find that:

  • In Grade 4 maths, from 1996 to 2007, the proportion of advantaged learners achieving the advanced level increased by 5.6 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged learners doing so increased by 1.2 percentage points. In Grade 8 maths, these percentage point changes were 5.7 and 0.8 percentage points respectively. Allowing for changes in the size of the advantaged and disadvantaged cohorts, excellence gaps are estimated to have widened by 4.1 percentage points in Grade 4 (to 7.3%) and 4.9 percentage points in Grade 8 (to 8.2%).
  • In Grade 4 reading, from 1998 to 2007, the proportion of advantaged learners achieving the advanced level increased by 1.2 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged students doing so increased by 0.8 percentage points. In Grade 8 reading, these percentage point changes were almost negligible for both groups. The Grade 4 excellence gap is estimated to have increased slightly, by 0.4 percentage points (to 9.4%) whereas Grade 8 gaps have increased minimally by 0.2 percentage points (to 3.1%).

They observe that the size of excellence gaps are, at best, only moderately correlated with those at lower levels of achievement.

There is a weak relationship between gaps at basic and advanced level – indeed ‘smaller achievement gaps among minimally competent students is related to larger gaps among advanced students’ – but there is some inter-relationship between those at proficient and advanced level.

They conclude that, whereas No Child Left Behind (NCLB) helped to narrow achievement gaps, this does not extend to high achievers.

There is no substantive evidence that the NCLB focus on lower achievers has increased the excellence gap, although the majority of states surveyed by the NAGC felt that NCLB had diverted attention and resource away from gifted education.

In 2011 ‘Do High Fliers Maintain their Altitude?’ (Xiang et al 2011) provides a US analysis of whether individual students remain high achievers throughout their school careers.

They do not report outcomes for disadvantaged high achievers, but do consider briefly those attending schools with high and low proportions respectively of students eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

For this section of the report, high achievement is defined as ‘those whose math or reading scores placed them within the top ten per cent of their individual grades and schools’. Learners were tracked from Grades 3 to 5 and Grades 6 to 8.

It is described as exploratory, because the sample was not representative.

However:

‘High-achieving students attending high-poverty schools made about the same amount of academic growth over time as their high-achieving peers in low-poverty schools…It appears that the relationship between a school’s poverty rate and the growth of its highest-achieving students is weak. In other words, attending a low-poverty school adds little to the average high achiever’s prospects for growth.’

The wider study was criticised in a review by the NEPC, in part on the grounds that the results may have been distorted by regression to the mean, a shortcoming only briefly discussed in an appendix..

The following year saw the publication of Unlocking Emergent Talent: Supporting High Achievement of Low-Income, High-Ability Students (Olszewski-Kubilius and Clarenbach, 2012).

This is the report of a national summit on the issue convened in that year by the NAGC.

It follows Plucker (one of the summit participants) in using as its starting point,the achievement of advanced level on selected NAEP assessments by learners eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

But it also reports some additional outcomes for Grade 12 and for assessments of civics and writing:

  • ‘Since 1998, 1% or fewer of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade free or reduced lunch students, compared to between 5% and 6% of non-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the NAEP civics exam.
  • Since 1998, 1% or fewer of free and reduced lunch program-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the eighth-grade NAEP writing exam while the percentage of non-eligible students who achieved advanced scores increased from 1% to 3%.’

The bulk of the report is devoted to identifying barriers to progress and offering recommendations for improving policy, practice and research. I provided an extended analysis in this post from May 2013.

Finally, ‘Talent on the Sidelines: Excellence Gaps and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass’ (Plucker, Hardesty and Burroughs 2013) is a follow-up to ‘Mind the Other Gap’.

It updates the findings in that report, as set out above:

  • In Grade 4 maths, from 1996 to 2011, the proportion of advantaged students scoring at the advanced level increased by 8.3 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged learners doing so increased by 1.5 percentage points. At Grade 8, the comparable changes were 8.5 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points respectively. Excellence gaps have increased by 6.8 percentage points at Grade 4 (to 9.6%) and by 7 percentage points at Grade 8 (to 10.3%).
  • In Grade 4 reading, from 1998 to 2011, the proportion of advantaged students scoring at the advanced level increased by 2.6 percentage points, compared with an increase of 0.9 percentage points amongst disadvantaged learners. Grade 8 saw equivalent increases of 1.8 and 0.9 percentage points respectively. Excellence gaps are estimated to have increased at Grade 4 by 1.7 percentage points (to 10.7%) and marginally increased at Grade 8 by 0.9 percentage points (to 4.2%).

In short, many excellence gaps remain large and most continue to grow. The report’s recommendations are substantively the same as those put forward in 2010.

 

How Government education policy impacts on excellence gaps

Although many aspects of Government education policy may be expected to have some longer-term impact on raising the achievement of all learners, advantaged and disadvantaged alike, relatively few interventions are focused exclusively and directly on closing attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners – and so have the potential to makes a significant difference to excellence gaps.

The most significant of these include:

 

The Pupil Premium:

In November 2010, the IPPR voiced concerns that the benefits of the pupil premium might not reach all those learners who attract it.

Accordingly they recommended that pupil premium should be allocated directly to those learners through an individual Pupil Premium Entitlement which might be used to support a menu of approved activities, including ‘one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able low income pupils’.

The recommendation has not been repeated and the present Government shows no sign of restricting schools’ freedom to use the premium in this manner.

However, the Blunkett Labour Policy Review ‘Putting students and parents first’ recommends that Labour in government should:

‘Assess the level and use of the Pupil Premium to ensure value for money, and that it is targeted to enhance the life chances of children facing the biggest challenges, whether from special needs or from the nature of the background and societal impact they have experienced.’

In February 2013 Ofsted reported that schools spending the pupil premium successfully to improve achievement:

‘Never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels’.

Conversely, where schools were less successful in spending the funding, they:

‘focused on pupils attaining the nationally expected level at the end of the key stage…but did not go beyond these expectations, so some more able eligible pupils underachieved.’

In July 2013, DfE’s Evaluation of Pupil Premium reported that, when deciding which disadvantaged pupils to target for support, the top criterion was ‘low attainment’ and was applied in 91% of primary schools and 88% of secondary schools.

In June 2013, in ‘The Most Able Students’, Ofsted reported that:

‘Pupil Premium funding was used in only a few instances to support the most able students who were known to be eligible for free school meals. The funding was generally spent on providing support for all underachieving and low-attaining students rather than on the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Accordingly, it gave a commitment that:

‘Ofsted will… consider in more detail during inspection how well the pupil premium is used to support the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

However, this was not translated into the school inspection guidance.

The latest edition of the School Inspection Handbook says only:

‘Inspectors should pay particular attention to whether more able pupils in general and the most able pupils in particular are achieving as well as they should. For example, does a large enough proportion of those pupils who had the highest attainment at the end of Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics achieve A*/A GCSE grades in these subjects by the age of 16?

Inspectors should summarise the achievements of the most able pupils in a separate paragraph of the inspection report.’

There is no reference to the most able in parallel references to the pupil premium.

There has, however, been some progress in giving learners eligible for the pupil premium priority in admission to selective schools.

In May 2014, the TES reported that:

‘Thirty [grammar] schools have been given permission by the Department for Education to change their admissions policies already. The vast majority of these will introduce the changes for children starting school in September 2015…A small number – five or six – have already introduced the reform.’

The National Grammar Schools Association confirmed that:

‘A significant number of schools 38 have either adopted an FSM priority or consulted about doing so in the last admissions round. A further 59 are considering doing so in the next admissions round.’

In July 2014, the Government launched a consultation on the School Admissions Code which proposes extending to all state-funded schools the option to give priority in their admission arrangements to learners eligible for the pupil premium. This was previously open to academies and free schools via their funding agreements.

 

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)

The EEF describes itself as:

‘An independent grant-making charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents.’

The 2010 press release announcing its formation emphasised its role in raising standards in underperforming schools. This was reinforced by the Chairman in a TES article from June 2011:

‘So the target group for EEF-funded projects in its first couple of years are pupils eligible for free school meals in primary and secondary schools underneath the Government’s floor standards at key stages 2 and 4. That’s roughly 1,500 schools up and down the country. Projects can benefit other schools and pupils, as long as there is a significant focus on this core target group of the most needy young people in the most challenging schools.’

I have been unable to trace any formal departure from this position, though it no longer appears in this form in the Foundation’s guidance. The Funding FAQs say only:

‘In the case of projects involving the whole school, rather than targeted interventions, we would expect applicants to be willing to work with schools where the proportion of FSM-eligible pupils is well above the national average and/or with schools where FSM-eligible pupils are under-performing academically.’

I can find no EEF-funded projects that are exclusively or primarily focused on high-attaining disadvantaged learners, though a handful of its reports do refer to the impact on this group.

 

Changes to School Accountability Measures

As we have seen in Part one, the School Performance Tables currently provide very limited information about the performance of disadvantaged high achievers.

The July 2013 consultation document on primary assessment and accountability reform included a commitment to publish a series of headline measures in the tables including:

‘How many of the school’s pupils are among the highest-attaining nationally, by…showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject.’

Moreover, it added:

‘We will publish all the headline measures to show the attainment and progress of pupils for whom the school is in receipt of the pupil premium.’

Putting two and two together, this should mean that, from 2016, we will be able to see the percentage of pupil premium-eligible students achieving a high scaled score, though we do not yet know what ‘high scaled score’ means, nor do we know whether the data will be for English and maths separately or combined.

The October 2013 response to the secondary assessment and accountability consultation document fails to say explicitly whether excellence gap measures will be published in School Performance Tables.

It mentions that:

‘Schools will now be held to account for (a) the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils, (b) the progress made by their disadvantaged pupils, and (c) the in-school gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.’

Meanwhile a planned data portal will contain:

‘the percentage of pupils achieving the top grades in GCSEs’

but the interaction between these two elements, if any, remains unclear.

The March 2014 response to the consultation on post-16 accountability and assessment says:

‘We intend to develop measures covering all five headline indicators for students in 16-19 education who were in receipt of pupil premium funding in year 11.’

The post-16 headline measures include a new progress measure and an attainment measure showing the average points score across all level 3 qualifications.

It is expected that a destination measure will also be provided, as long as the methodology can be made sufficiently robust. The response says:

‘A more detailed breakdown of destinations data, such as entry to particular groups of universities, will continue to be published below the headline. This will include data at local authority level, so that destinations for students in the same area can be compared.’

and this should continue to distinguish the destinations of disadvantaged students.

Additional A level attainment measures – the average grade across the best three A levels and the achievement of AAB grades with at least two in facilitating subjects seem unlikely to be differentiated according to disadvantage.

There remains a possibility that much more excellence gap data, for primary, secondary and post-16, will be made available through the planned school portal, but no specification had been made public at the time of writing.

More worryingly, recent news reports have suggested that the IT project developing the portal and the ‘data warehouse’ behind it has been abandoned. The statements refer to coninuing to deliver ‘the school performance tables and associated services’ but there is no clarification of whether this latter phrase includes the portal. Given the absence of an official statement, one suspects the worst.

 

 

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC)

The Commission was established with the expectation that it would ‘hold the Government’s feet to the fire’ to encourage progress on these two topics.

It publishes annual ‘state of the nation’ reports that are laid before Parliament and also undertakes ‘social mobility advocacy’.

The first annual report – already referenced in Part one – was published in November 2013. The second is due in October 2014.

The Chairman of the Commission was less than complimentary about the quality of the Government’s response to its first report, which made no reference to its comments about attainment gaps at higher grades. It remains to be seen whether the second will be taken any more seriously.

The Commission has already shown significant interest in disadvantaged high achievers – in June 2014 it published the study ‘Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds’ referenced above – so there is every chance that the topic will feature again in the 2014 annual report.

The Commission is of course strongly interested in the social mobility indicators and progress made against them, so may also include recommendations for how they might be adjusted to reflect changes to the schools accountability regime set out above.

 

Recommended reforms to close excellence gaps

Several proposals emerge from the commentary on current Government policy above:

  • It would be helpful to have further evaluation of the pupil premium to check whether high-achieving disadvantaged learners are receiving commensurate support. Schools need further guidance on ways in which they can use the premium to support high achievers. This should also be a focus for the pupil premium Champion and in pupil premium reviews.
  • Ofsted’s school inspection handbook requires revision to fulfil its commitment to focus on the most able in receipt of the premium. Inspectors also need guidance (published so schools can see it) to ensure common expectations are applied across institutions. These provisions should be extended to the post-16 inspection regime.
  • All selective secondary schools should be invited to prioritise pupil premium recipients in their admissions criteria, with the Government reserving the right to impose this on schools that do not comply voluntarily.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation should undertake targeted studies of interventions to close excellence gaps, but should also ensure that the impact on excellence gaps is mainstreamed in all the studies they fund. (This should be straightforward since their Chairman has already called for action on this front.)
  • The Government should consider the case for the inclusion of data on excellence gaps in all the headline measures in the primary, secondary and post-16 performance tables. Failing that, such data (percentages and numbers) should be readily accessible from a new data portal as soon as feasible, together with historical data of the same nature. (If the full-scale portal is no longer deliverable, a suitable alternative openly accessible database should be provided.) It should also publish annually a statistical analysis of all excellence gaps and the progress made towards closing them. As much progress as possible should be made before the new assessment and accountability regime is introduced. At least one excellence gap measure should be incorporated into revised DfE impact indicators and the social mobility indicators.
  • The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) should routinely consider the progress made in closing excellence gaps within its annual report – and the Government should commit to consider seriously any recommendations they offer to improve such progress.

This leaves the question whether there should be a national programme dedicated to closing excellence gaps, and so improving fair access to competitive universities. (It makes excellent sense to combine these twin objectives and to draw on the resources available to support the latter.)

Much of the research above – whether it originates in the US or UK – argues for dedicated state/national programmes to tackle excellence gaps.

More recently, the Sutton Trust has published a Social Mobility Manifesto for 2015 which recommends that the next government should:

‘Reintroduce ring-fenced government funding to support the most able learners (roughly the top ten per cent) in maintained schools and academies from key stage three upwards. This funding could go further if schools were required to provide some level of match funding.

Develop an evidence base of effective approaches for highly able pupils and ensure training and development for teachers on how to challenge their most able pupils most effectively.

Make a concerted effort to lever in additional support from universities and other partners with expertise in catering for the brightest pupils, including through creating a national programme for highly able learners, delivered through a network of universities and accessible to every state-funded secondary school serving areas of disadvantage.’

This is not as clear as it might be about the balance between support for the most able and the most able disadvantaged respectively.

I have written extensively about what shape such a programme should have, most recently in the final section of ‘Digging Beneath the Destination Measures’ (July 2014).

The core would be:

‘A light touch framework that will supply the essential minimum scaffolding necessary to support effective market operation on the demand and supply sides simultaneously…

The centrepiece of the framework would be a structured typology or curriculum comprising the full range of knowledge, skills and understanding required by disadvantaged students to equip them for progression to selective higher education

  • On the demand side this would enable educational settings to adopt a consistent approach to needs identification across the 11-19 age range. Provision from 11-14 might be open to any disadvantaged learner wishing it to access it, but provision from 14 onwards would depend on continued success against challenging attainment targets.
  • On the supply side this would enable the full range of providers – including students’ own educational settings – to adopt a consistent approach to defining which knowledge, skills and understanding their various programmes and services are designed to impart. They would be able to qualify their definitions according to the age, characteristics, selectivity of intended destination and/or geographical location of the students they serve.

With advice from their educational settings, students would periodically identify their learning needs, reviewing the progress they had made towards personal targets and adjusting their priorities accordingly. They would select the programmes and services best matched to their needs….

…Each learner within the programme would have a personal budget dedicated to purchasing programmes and services with a cost attached. This would be fed from several sources including:

  • Their annual Pupil Premium allocation (currently £935 per year) up to Year 11.
  • A national fund fed by selective higher education institutions. This would collect a fixed minimum topslice from each institution’s outreach budget, supplemented by an annual levy on those failing to meet demanding new fair access targets. (Institutions would also be incentivised to offer programmes and services with no cost attached.)
  • Philanthropic support, bursaries, scholarships, sponsorships and in-kind support sourced from business, charities, higher education, independent schools and parents. Economic conditions permitting, the Government might offer to match any income generated from these sources.’

 

Close

We know far too little than we should about the size of excellence gaps in England – and whether or not progress is being made in closing them.

I hope that this post makes some small contribution towards rectifying matters, even though the key finding is that the picture is fragmented and extremely sketchy.

Rudimentary as it is, this survey should provide a baseline of sorts, enabling us to judge more easily what additional information is required and how we might begin to frame effective practice, whether at institutional or national level.

 

GP

September 2014

Closing England’s Excellence Gaps: Part One

This post examines what we know – and do not know – about high attainment gaps between learners from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in England.

Mind the Gap by Clicsouris

Mind the Gap by Clicsouris

It assesses the capacity of current national education policy to close these gaps and recommends further action to improve the prospects of doing so rapidly and efficiently.

Because the post is extremely long I have divided it into two parts.

Part one comprises:

  • A working definition for the English context, explanation of the significance of excellence gaps, description of how this post relates to earlier material and provisional development of the theoretical model articulated in those earlier posts.
  • A summary of the headline data on socio-economic attainment gaps in England, followed by a review of published data relevant to excellence gaps at primary, secondary and post-16 levels.

Part two contains:

  • A distillation of research evidence, including material on whether disadvantaged high attainers remain so, international comparisons studies and research derived from them, and literature covering excellence gaps in the USA.
  • A brief review of how present Government policy might be expected to impact directly on excellence gaps, especially via the Pupil Premium, school accountability measures, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC). I have left to one side the wider set of reforms that might have an indirect and/or longer-term impact.
  • Some recommendations for strengthening our collective capacity to quantify address and ultimately close excellence gaps.

The post is intended to synthesise, supplement and update earlier material, so providing a baseline for further analysis – and ultimately consideration of further national policy intervention, whether under the present Government or a subsequent administration.

It does not discuss the economic and social origins of educational disadvantage, or the merits of wider policy to eliminate poverty and strengthen social mobility.

It starts from the premiss that, while education reform cannot eliminate the effects of disadvantage, it can make a significant, positive contribution by improving significantly the life chances of disadvantaged learners.

It does not debate the fundamental principle that, when prioritising educational support to improve the life chances of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, governments should not discriminate on the basis of ability or prior attainment.

It assumes that optimal policies will deliver improvement for all disadvantaged learners, regardless of their starting point. It suggests, however, that intervention strategies should aim for equilibrium, prioritising gaps that are furthest away from it and taking account of several different variables in the process.

 

A working definition for the English context

The literature in Part two reveals that there is no accepted universal definition of excellence gaps, so I have developed my own England-specific working definition for the purposes of this post.

An excellence gap is:

‘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.’

This demands further clarification of what typically constitutes a disadvantaged learner and a threshold of high achievement.

In the English context, the measures of disadvantage with the most currency are FSM eligibility (eligible for and receiving free school meals) and eligibility for the deprivation element of the pupil premium (eligible for and receiving FSM at some point in the preceding six years – often called ‘ever 6’).

Throughout this post, for the sake of clarity, I have given priority to the former over the latter, except where the former is not available.

The foregrounded characteristic is socio-economic disadvantage, but this does not preclude analysis of the differential achievement of sub-groups defined according to secondary characteristics including gender, ethnic background and learning English as an additional language (EAL) – as well as multiple combinations of these.

Some research is focused on ‘socio-economic gradients’, which show how gaps vary at different points of the achievement distribution on a given assessment.

The appropriate thresholds of high achievement are most likely to be measured through national assessments of pupil attainment, notably end of KS2 tests (typically Year 6, age 11), GCSE and equivalent examinations (typically Year 11, age 16) and A level and equivalent examinations (typically Year 13, age 18).

Alternative thresholds of high achievement may be derived from international assessments, such as PISA, TIMSS or PIRLS.

Occasionally – and especially in the case of these international studies – an achievement threshold is statistically derived, in the form of a percentile range of performance, rather than with reference to a particular grade, level or score. I have not allowed for this within the working definition.

Progress measures typically relate to the distance travelled between: baseline assessment (currently at the end of KS1 – Year 2, age 7 – but scheduled to move to Year R, age 4) and end of KS2 tests; or between KS2 tests and the end of KS4 (GCSE); or between GCSE and the end of KS5 (Level 3/A level).

Some studies extend the concept of progress between two thresholds to a longitudinal approach that traces how disadvantaged learners who achieve a particular threshold perform throughout their school careers – do they sustain early success, or fall away, and what proportion are ‘late bloomers’?

 

Why are excellence gaps important?

Excellence gaps are important for two different sets of reasons: those applying to all achievement gaps and those which apply more specifically or substantively to excellence gaps.

Under the first heading:

  • The goal of education should be to provide all learners, including disadvantaged learners, with the opportunity to maximise their educational potential, so eliminating ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’.
  • Schools should be ‘engines of social mobility’, helping disadvantaged learners to overcome their backgrounds and compete equally with their more advantaged peers.
  • International comparisons studies reveal that the most successful education systems can and do raise attainment for all and close socio-economic achievement gaps simultaneously.
  • There is a strong economic case for reducing – and ideally eradicating – underachievement attributable to disadvantage.

Under the second heading:

  • An exclusive or predominant focus on gaps at the lower end of the attainment distribution is fundamentally inequitable and tends to reinforce the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’.
  • Disadvantaged learners benefit from successful role models – predecessors or peers from a similar background who have achieved highly and are reaping the benefits.
  • An economic imperative to increase the supply of highly-skilled labour will place greater emphasis on the top end of the achievement distribution. Some argue that there is a ‘smart fraction’ tying national economic growth to a country’s stock of high achievers. There may be additional spin-off benefits from increasing the supply of scientists, writers, artists, or even politicians!
  • The most highly educated disadvantaged learners are least likely to confer disadvantage on their children, so improving the proportion of such learners may tend to improve inter-generational social mobility.

Excellence gaps are rarely identified as such – the term is not yet in common usage in UK education, though it has greater currency in the US. Regardless of terminology, they rarely receive attention, either as part of a wider set of achievement gaps, or separately in their own right.

 

Relationship with earlier posts

Since this blog was founded in April 2010 I have written extensively about excellence gaps and how to address them.

The most pertinent of my previous posts are:

I have also written about excellence gaps in New Zealand – Part 1 and Part 2 (June 2012) – but do not draw on that material here.

Gifted education (or apply your alternative term) is amongst those education policy areas most strongly influenced by political and ideological views on the preferred balance between excellence and equity. This is particularly true of decisions about how best to address excellence gaps.

The excellence-equity trade-off was identified in my first post (May 2010) as one of three fundamental polarities that determine the nature of gifted education and provide the basis for most discussion about what form it should take.

The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education (March 2013) highlighted their significance thus:

‘Gifted education is about balancing excellence and equity. That means raising standards for all while also raising standards faster for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Through combined support for excellence and equity we can significantly increase our national stock of high level human capital and so improve economic growth…

…Excellence in gifted education is about maximising the proportion of high achievers reaching advanced international benchmarks (eg PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS) so increasing the ‘smart fraction’ which contributes to economic growth.

Equity in gifted education is about narrowing (and ideally eliminating) the excellence gap between high achievers from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds (which may be attributable in part to causes other than poverty). This also increases the proportion of high achievers, so building the ‘smart fraction’ and contributing to economic growth.’

More recently, one of the 10 draft core principles I set out in ‘Why Can’t We Have National Consensus on Educating High Attainers?’ (June 2014) said:

‘We must pursue simultaneously the twin priorities of raising standards and closing gaps. We must give higher priority to all disadvantaged learners, regardless of their prior achievement. Standards should continue to rise amongst all high achievers, but they should rise faster amongst disadvantaged high achievers. This makes a valuable contribution to social mobility.’

 

This model provisionally developed

Using my working definition as a starting point, this section describes a theoretical model showing how excellence and equity are brought to bear when considering excellence gaps – and then how best to address them.

This should be applicable at any level, from a single school to a national education system and all points in between.

The model depends on securing the optimal balance between excellence and equity where:

  • Excellence is focused on increasing the proportion of all learners who achieve highly and, where necessary, increasing the pitch of high achievement thresholds to remove unhelpful ceiling effects. The thresholds in question may be nationally or internationally determined and are most likely to register high attainment through a formal assessment process. (This may be extended so there is complementary emphasis on increasing the proportion of high-achieving learners who make sufficiently strong progress between two different age- or stage-related thresholds.)
  • Equity is focused on increasing the proportion of high-achieving disadvantaged learners (and/or the proportion of disadvantaged learners making sufficiently strong progress) at a comparatively faster rate, so they form a progressively larger proportion of the overall high-achieving population, up to the point of equilibrium, where advantaged and disadvantaged learners are equally likely to achieve the relevant thresholds (and/or progress measure). This must be secured without deliberately repressing improvement amongst advantaged learners – ie by introducing policies designed explicitly to limit their achievement and/or progress relative to disadvantaged learners – but a decision to do nothing or to redistribute resources in favour of disadvantage is entirely permissible.

The optimal policy response will depend on the starting position and the progress achieved over time.

If excellence gaps are widening, the model suggests that interventions and resources should be concentrated in favour of equity. Policies should be reviewed and adjusted, or strengthened where necessary, to meet the desired objectives.

If excellence gaps are widening rapidly, this reallocation and adjustment process will be relatively more substantial (and probably more urgent) than if they are widening more slowly.

Slowly widening gaps will demand more reallocation and adjustment than a situation where gaps are stubbornly resistant to improvement, or else closing too slowly. But even in the latter case there should be some reallocation and adjustment until equilibrium is achieved.

When excellence gaps are already closing rapidly – and there are no overt policies in place to deliberately repress improvement amongst high-achieving advantaged learners – it may be that unintended pressures in the system are inadvertently bringing this about. In that case, policy and resources should be adjusted to correct these pressures and so restore the correct twin-speed improvement.

The aim is to achieve and sustain equilibrium, even beyond the point when excellence gaps are eliminated, so that they are not permitted to reappear.

If ‘reverse gaps’ begin to materialise, where disadvantaged learners consistently outperform their more advantaged peers, this also threatens equilibrium and would suggest a proportionate redistribution of effort towards excellence.

Such scenarios are most likely to occur in settings where there are a large proportion of learners that, while not disadvantaged according to the ‘cliff edge’ definition required to make the distinction, are still relatively disadvantaged.

Close attention must therefore be paid to the distribution of achievement across the full spectrum of disadvantage, to ensure that success at the extreme of the distribution does not mask significant underachievement elsewhere.

One should be able to determine a more precise policy response by considering a restricted set of variables. These include:

  • The size of the gaps at the start of the process and, associated with this, the time limit allowed for equilibrium to be reached. Clearly larger gaps are more likely to take longer to close. Policy makers may conclude that steady improvement over several years is more manageable for the system than a rapid sprint towards equilibrium. On the other hand, there may be benefits associated with pace and momentum.
  • The rate at which overall high achievement is improving. If this is relatively fast, the rate of improvement amongst advantaged high achievers will be correspondingly strong, so the rate for disadvantaged high achievers must be stronger still.
  • The variance between excellence gaps at different ages/stages. If the gaps are larger at particular stages of education, the pursuit of equilibrium suggests disproportionate attention is given to those so gaps are closed consistently. If excellence gaps are small for relatively young learners and increase with age, priority should be given to the latter, but there may be other factors in play, such as evidence that closing relatively small gaps at an early stage will have a more substantial ‘knock-on’ effect later on.
  • The level at which high achievement thresholds are pitched. Obviously this will influence the size of the gaps that need to be closed. But, other things being equal, enabling a higher proportion of learners to achieve a relatively high threshold will demand more intensive support. On the other hand, relatively fewer learners – whether advantaged or disadvantaged – are likely to be successful. Does one need to move a few learners a big distance or a larger proportion a smaller one?
  • Whether or not gaps at lower achievement thresholds are smaller and/or closing at a faster rate. If so, there is a strong case for securing parity of progress at higher and lower thresholds alike. On the other hand, if excellence gaps are closing more quickly, it may be appropriate to reallocate resources away from them and towards lower levels of achievement.
  • The relative size of the overall disadvantaged population, the associated economic gap between advantage and disadvantage and (as suggested above) the distribution in relation to the cut-off. If the definition of disadvantage is pitched relatively low (ie somewhat disadvantaged), the disadvantaged population will be correspondingly large, but the economic gap between advantage and disadvantage will be relatively small. If the definition is pitched relatively high (ie very disadvantaged) the reverse will be true, giving a comparatively small disadvantaged population but a larger gap between advantage and disadvantage.
  • The proportion of the disadvantaged population that is realistically within reach of the specified high achievement benchmarks. This variable is a matter of educational philosophy. There is merit in an inclusive approach – indeed it seems preferable to overestimate this proportion than the reverse. Extreme care should be taken not to discourage late developers or close off opportunities on the basis of comparatively low current attainment, so reinforcing existing gaps through unhelpfully low expectations. On the other hand, supporting unrealistically high expectations may be equally damaging and ultimately waste scarce resources. There may be more evidence to support such distinctions with older learners than with their younger peers. 

 

How big are England’s headline attainment gaps and how fast are they closing?

Closing socio-economic achievement gaps has been central to English educational policy for the last two decades, including under the current Coalition Government and its Labour predecessor.

It will remain an important priority for the next Government, regardless of the outcome of the 2015 General Election.

The present Government cites ‘Raising the achievement of disadvantaged children’ as one of ten schools policies it is pursuing.

The policy description describes the issue thus:

‘Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are far less likely to get good GCSE results. Attainment statistics published in January 2014 show that in 2013 37.9% of pupils who qualified for free school meals got 5 GCSEs, including English and mathematics at A* to C, compared with 64.6% of pupils who do not qualify.

We believe it is unacceptable for children’s success to be determined by their social circumstances. We intend to raise levels of achievement for all disadvantaged pupils and to close the gap between disadvantaged children and their peers.’

The DfE’s input and impact indicators  – showing progress against the priorities set out in its business plan – do not feature the measure mentioned in the policy description (which is actually five or more GCSEs at Grades A*-C or equivalents, including GCSEs in English and maths).

The gap on this measure was 27.7% in 2009, improving to 26.7% in 2013, so there has been a small 1.0 percentage point improvement over five years, spanning the last half of the previous Government’s term in office and the first half of this Government’s term.

Instead the impact indicators include three narrower measures focused on closing the attainment gap between free school meal pupils and their peers, at 11, 16 and 19 respectively:

  • Impact Indicator 7 compares the percentages of FSM-eligible and all other pupils achieving level 4 or above in KS2 assessment of reading, writing and maths. The 2013 gap is 18.7%, down 0.4% from 19.1% in 2012.
  • Impact Indicator 8 compares the percentages of FSM-eligible and all other pupils achieving A*-C grades in GCSE maths and English. The 2013 gap is 26.5%, up 0.3% from 26.2% in 2012.
  • Impact Indicator 9 compares the percentages of learners who were FSM-eligible at age 15 and all other learners who attain a level 3 qualification by the end of the academic year in which they are 19. The 2013 gap is 24.3%, up 0.1% from 24.2% in 2012.

These small changes, not always pointing in the right direction, reflect the longer term narrative, as is evident from the Government’s Social Mobility Indicators which also incorporate these three measures.

  • In 2005-06 the KS2 L4 maths and English gap was 25.0%, so there has been a fairly substantial 6.3 percentage point reduction over seven years, but only about one quarter of the gap has been closed.
  • In 2007-08 the KS4 GCSE maths and English gap was 28.0%, so there has been a minimal 1.5 percentage point reduction over six years, equivalent to annual national progress of 0.25 percentage points per year. At that rate it will take another century to complete the process.
  • In 2004-05 the Level 3 qualification gap was 26.4%, so there has been a very similar 2.1 percentage point reduction over 8 years.

The DfE impact indicators also include a set of three destination measures that track the percentage of FSM learners progressing to Oxford and Cambridge, any Russell Group university and any university.

There is a significant time lag with all of these – the most recent available data relates to 2011/2012 – and only two years of data have been collected.

All show an upward trend. Oxbridge is up from 0.1% to 0.2%, Russell Group up from 3% to 4% and any university up from 45% to 47% – actually a 2.5 percentage point improvement.

The Oxbridge numbers are so small that a percentage measure is a rather misleading indicator of marginal improvement from a desperately low base.

It is important to note that forthcoming changes to the assessment regime will impose a different set of headline indicators at ages 11 and 16 that will not be comparable with these.

From 2014 significant methodological adjustments are being introduced to School Performance Tables that significantly restrict the range of qualifications equivalent to GCSEs. Only the first entry in each subject will count for Performance Table purposes, this applying to English Baccalaureate subjects in 2014 and then all subjects in 2015.

Both these factors will tend to depress overall results and may be expected to widen attainment gaps on the headline KS4 measure as well as the oft-cited 5+ GCSEs measure.

From 2016 new baseline assessments, the introduction of scaled scores at the end of KS2 and a new GCSE grading system will add a further layer of change.

As a consequence there will be substantial revisions to the headline measures in Primary, Secondary and Post-16 Performance Tables. The latter will include destination measures, provided they can be made methodologically sound.

At the time of writing, the Government has made negligible reference to the impact of these reforms on national measures of progress, including its own Impact Indicators and the parallel Social Mobility indicators, though the latter are reportedly under review.

 

Published data on English excellence gaps

The following sections summarise what data I can find in the public domain about excellence gaps at primary (KS2), secondary (KS4) and post-16 (KS5) respectively.

I have cited the most recent data derivable from Government statistical releases and performance tables, supplemented by other interesting findings gleaned from research and commentary.

 

Primary (KS2) 

The most recent national data is contained in SFR51/2013: National Curriculum Assessments at Key Stage 2: 2012 to 2013. This provides limited information about the differential performance of learners eligible for and receiving FSM (which I have referred to as ‘FSM’), and for those known to be eligible for FSM at any point from Years 1 to 6 (known as ‘ever 6’ and describing those in receipt of the Pupil Premium on grounds of deprivation).

There is also additional information in the 2013 Primary School Performance Tables, where the term ‘disadvantaged’ is used to describe ‘ever 6’ learners and ‘children looked after’.

There is comparably little variation between these different sets of figures at national level. In the analysis below (and in the subsequent section on KS4) I have used FSM data wherever possible, but have substituted ‘disadvantaged’ data where FSM is not available.  All figures apply to state-funded schools only.

I have used Level 5 and above as the best available proxy for high attainment. Some Level 6 data is available, but in percentages only, and these are all so small that comparisons are misleading.

The Performance Tables distinguish a subset of high attainers, on the basis of prior attainment (at KS1 for KS2 and at KS2 for KS4) but no information is provided about the differential performance of advantaged and disadvantaged high attainers.

In 2013:

  • 21% of all pupils achieved Level 5 or above in reading, writing and maths combined, but only 10% of FSM pupils did so, compared with 26% of others, giving an attainment gap of 16%. The comparable gap at Level 4B (in reading and maths and L4 in writing) was 18%. At Level 4 (across the board) it was 20%. In this case, the gaps are slightly larger at lower attainment levels but, whereas the L4 gap has narrowed by 1% since 2012, the L5 gap has widened by 1%.
  • In reading, 44% of all pupils achieved Level 5 and above, but only 21% of FSM pupils did so, compared with 48% of others, giving an attainment gap of 21%. The comparable gap at Level 4 and above was eight percentage points lower at 13%.
  • In writing (teacher assessment), 31% of all pupils achieved level 5 and above, but only 15% of FSM pupils did so, compared with 34% of others, giving an attainment gap of 19%. The comparable gap at Level 4 and above was three percentage points lower at 16%.
  • In grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS), 47% of all pupils achieved Level 5 and above, but only 31% of FSM pupils did so, compared with 51% of others, giving an attainment gap of 20%. The comparable gap at Level 4 and above was two percentage points lower at 18%.
  • In maths, 41% of pupils in state-funded schools achieved Level 5 and above, up 2% on 2012. But only 24% of FSM pupils achieved this compared with 44% of others, giving an attainment gap of 20%. The comparable gap at level 4 and above is 13%.

Chart 1 shows these outcomes graphically. In four cases out of five, the gap at the higher attainment level is greater, substantially so in reading and maths. All the Level 5 gaps fall between 16% and 20%.

 

Ex gap table 1

Chart 1: Percentage point gaps between FSM and all other pupils’ attainment at KS2 L4 and above and KS2 L5 and above, 2013 

 

It is difficult to trace reliably the progress made in reducing these gaps in English, since the measures have changed frequently. There has been more stability in maths, however, and the data reveals that – whereas the FSM gap at Level 4 and above has reduced by 5 percentage points since 2008 (from 18 points to 13 points) – the FSM gap at Level 5 and above has remained between 19 and 20 points throughout. Hence the gap between L4+ and L5+ on this measure has increased in the last five years.

There is relatively little published about KS2 excellence gaps elsewhere, though one older Government publication, a DfES Statistical Bulletin: The characteristics of high attainers (2007) offers a small insight.

It defines KS2 high attainers as the top 10%, on the basis of finely grained average points scores across English, maths and science, so a more selective but wider-ranging definition than any of the descriptors of Level 5 performance above.

According to this measure, some 2.7% of FSM-eligible pupils were high attainers in 2006, compared with 11.6% of non-FSM pupils, giving a gap of 8.9 percentage points.

The Bulletin supplies further analysis of this population of high attainers, summarised in the table reproduced below.

 

EX Gap Capture 1 

  

Secondary (KS4) 

While Government statistical releases provide at least limited data about FSM performance at high levels in end of KS2 assessments, this is entirely absent from KS4 data, because there is no information about the achievement of GCSE grades above C, whether for single subjects or combinations.

The most recent publication: SFR05/2014: GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics, offers a multitude of measures based on Grades G and above or C and above, many of which are set out in Chart 2, which illustrates the FSM gap on each, organised in order from the smallest gap to the biggest.

(The gap cited here for A*-C grades in English and maths GCSEs is very slightly different to the figure in the impact indicator.)

 

Ex gap table 2

Chart 2: Percentage point gaps between FSM and all other pupils’ attainment on different KS4 measures, 2013

 

In its State of the Nation Report 2013, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission included a table comparing regional performance on a significantly more demanding ‘8+ GCSEs excluding equivalents and including English and maths’ measure. This uses ‘ever 6’ rather than FSM as the indicator of disadvantage.

The relevant table is reproduced below. It shows regional gaps of between 20 and 26 percentage points on the tougher measure, so a similar order of magnitude to the national indicators at the top end of Chart 2.

 

ExGap 2 Capture

 

Comparing the two measures, one can see that:

  • The percentages of ‘ever 6’ learners achieving the more demanding measure are very much lower than the comparable percentages achieving the 5+ GCSEs measure, but the same is also true of their more advantaged peers.
  • Consequently, in every region but London and the West Midlands, the attainment gap is actually larger for the less demanding measure.
  • In London, the gaps are much closer, at 19.1 percentage points on the 5+ measure and 20.9 percentage points on the 8+ measure. In the West Midlands, the gap on the 8+ measure is larger by five percentage points. In all other cases, the difference is at least six percentage points in the other direction.

We do not really understand the reasons why London and the West Midlands are atypical in this respect.

The Characteristics of High Attainers (2007) provides a comparable analysis for KS4 to that already referenced at KS2. In this case, the top 10% of high attainers is derived on the basis of capped GCSE scores.

This gives a gap of 8.8 percentage points between the proportion of non-FSM (11.2%) and FSM (2.4%) students within the defined population, very similar to the parallel calculation at KS2.

Other variables within this population are set out in the table reproduced below.

 

ExGap Capture 3

Finally, miscellaneous data has also appeared from time to time in the answers to Parliamentary Questions. For example:

  • In 2003, 1.0% of FSM-eligible learners achieved five or more GCSEs at A*/A including English and maths but excluding equivalents, compared with 6.8% of those not eligible, giving a gap of 5.8 percentage points. By 2009 the comparable percentages were 1.7% and 9.0% respectively, resulting in an increased gap of 7.3 percentage points (Col 568W)
  • In 2006/07, the percentage of FSM-eligible pupils securing A*/A grades at GCSE in different subjects, compared with the percentage of all pupils in maintained schools doing so were as shown in the table below (Col 808W)
FSM All pupils Gap
Maths 3.7 15.6 11.9
Eng lit 4.1 20.0 15.9
Eng lang 3.5 16.4 12.9
Physics 2.2 49.0 46.8
Chemistry 2.5 48.4 45.9
Biology 2.5 46.8 44.3
French 3.5 22.9 19.4
German 2.8 23.2 20.4

Table 1: Percentage of FSM-eligible and all pupils achieving GCSE A*/A grades in different GCSE subjects in 2007

  • In 2008, 1% of FSM-eligible learners in maintained schools achieved A* in GCSE maths compared with 4% of all pupils in maintained schools. The comparable percentages for Grade A were 3% and 10% respectively, giving an A*/A gap of 10 percentage points (Col 488W)

 

Post-16 (KS5)

The most recent post-16 attainment data is provided in SFR10/2014: Level 2 and 3 attainment by young people aged 19 in 2013 and SFR02/14: A level and other level 3 results: academic year 2012 to 2013.

The latter contains a variety of high attainment measures – 3+ A*/A grades;  AAB grades or better; AAB grades or better with at least two in facilitating subjects;  AAB grades or better, all in facilitating subjects – yet none of them distinguish success rates for advantaged and disadvantaged learners.

The former does includes a table which provides a time series of gaps for achievement of Level 3 at age 19 through 2 A levels or the International Baccalaureate. The measure of disadvantage is FSM-eligibility in Year 11. The gap was 22.0 percentage points in 2013, virtually unchanged from 22.7 percentage points in 2005.

In (How) did New Labour narrow the achievement and participation gap (Whitty and Anders, 2014) the authors reproduce a chart from a DfE roundtable event held in March 2013 (on page 44).

This is designed to show how FSM gaps vary across key stages and also provides ‘odds ratios’ – the relative chances of FSM and other pupils achieving each measure. It relies on 2012 outcomes.

The quality of the reproduction is poor, but it seems to suggest that, using the AAB+ in at least two facilitating subjects measure, there is a five percentage point gap between FSM students and others (3% versus 8%), while the odds ratio shows that non-FSM students are 2.9 times more likely than FSM students to achieve this outcome.

Once again, occasional replies to Parliamentary Questions provide some supplementary information:

  • In 2007, 189 FSM-eligible students (3.7%) in maintained mainstream schools (so excluding sixth form colleges and FE colleges) achieved 3 A grades at A level. This compared with 13,467 other students (9.5%) giving a gap of 5.8 percentage points (Source: Parliamentary Question, 26 November 2008, Hansard (Col 1859W)
  • In 2008, 160 students (3.5%) eligible for FSM achieved that outcome. This compares with 14,431 (10.5%) of those not eligible for FSM, giving a gap of 7.0 percentage points. The figures relate to 16-18 year-olds, in maintained schools only, who were eligible for FSM at age 16. They do not include students in FE sector colleges (including sixth form colleges) who were previously eligible for FSM. Only students who entered at least one A level, applied A level or double award qualification are counted. (Parliamentary Question, 6 April 2010, Hansard (Col 1346W))
  • Of pupils entering at least one A level in 2010/11 and eligible for FSM at the end of Year 11, 546 (4.1%) achieved 3 or more GCE A levels at A*-A compared with 22,353 other pupils (10.6%) so giving a gap of 6.5 percentage points. These figures include students in both the schools and FE sectors. (Parliamentary Question, 9 July 2012, Hansard (Col 35W)) 

 In September 2014, a DfE response to a Freedom of Information request provided some additional data about FSM gaps at A level over the period from 2009 to 2013. This is set out in the table below, which records the gaps between FSM and all other pupils, presumably for all schools and colleges, whether or not state-funded.

Apart from the atypical result for the top indicator in 2010, all these percentages fall in the range 6.0% to 10%, so are in line with the sources above.

 

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
3+ grades at A*/A or applied single/double award 9.0 12.8 9.3 8.7 8.3
AAB+ grades in facilitating subjects 6.3 6.2
AAB+ grades at least 2 in facilitating subjects 9.8

 

Additional evidence of Key Stage excellence gaps from a sample born in 1991

In Progress made by high-achieving children from disadvantaged backgrounds (Crawford, Macmillan and Vignoles, 2014) provides useful data on the size of excellence gaps at different key stages, as well as analysis of whether disadvantaged high achievers remain so through their school careers.

The latter appears in Part two, but the first set of findings provides a useful supplement to the broad picture set out above.

This study is based on a sample of learners born in 1991/1992, so they would presumably have taken end of KS2 tests in 2002, GCSEs in 2007 and A levels in 2009. It includes all children who attended a state primary school, including those who subsequently attended an independent secondary school.

It utilises a variety of measures of disadvantage, including whether learners were always FSM-eligible (in Years 7-11), or ‘ever FSM’ during that period. This summary focuses on the distinction between ‘always FSM’ and ‘never FSM’.

It selects a basket of high attainment measures spread across the key stages, including:

  • At KS1, achieving Level 3 or above in reading and maths.
  • At KS2, achieving Level 5 or above in English and maths.
  • At KS4, achieving six or more GCSEs at grades A*-C in EBacc subjects (as well as five or more).
  • At KS5, achieving two or more (and three or more) A levels at grades A-B in any subjects.
  • Also at KS5, achieving two or more (and three or more) A levels at grades A-B in facilitating subjects.

The choice of measures at KS2 and KS5 is reasonable, reflecting the data available at the time. For example, one assumes that A* grades at A level do not feature in the KS5 measures since they were not introduced until 2010).

At KS4, the selection is rather more puzzling and idiosyncratic. It would have been preferable to have included at least one measure based on performance across a range of GCSEs at grades A*-B or A*/A.

The authors justify their decision on the basis that ‘there is no consensus on what is considered high attainment’, even though most commentators would expect this to reflect higher grade performance, while few are likely to define it solely in terms of breadth of study across a prescribed set of ‘mainstream’ subjects.

Outcomes for ‘always FSM’ and ‘never FSM’ on the eight measures listed above are presented in Chart 3.

Ex gap Table 3

Chart 3: Achievement of ‘always FSM’ and ‘never FSM’ on a basket of high attainment measures for pupils born in 1991/92

 

This reveals gaps of 12 to 13 percentage points at Key Stages 1 and 2, somewhat smaller than several of those described above.

It is particularly notable that the 2013 gap for KS2 L5 reading, writing and maths is 16 percentage points, whereas the almost comparable 2002 (?) gap for KS2 English and maths amongst this sample is 13.5%. Even allowing for comparability issues, there may tentative evidence here to suggest widening excellence gaps at KS2 over the last decade.

The KS4 gaps are significantly larger than those existing at KS1/2, at 27 and 18 percentage points respectively. But comparison with the previous evidence reinforces the point that the size of the gaps in this sample is attributable to subject mix: this must be the case since the grade expectation is no higher than C.

The data for A*/A performance on five or more GCSEs set out above, which does not insist on coverage of EBacc subjects other than English and maths, suggests a gap of around seven percentage points. But it also demonstrates big gaps – again at A*/A – for achievement in single subjects, especially the separate sciences.

The KS5 gaps on this sample range from 2.5 to 13 percentage points. We cited data above suggesting a five percentage point gap in 2012 for AAB+, at least two in facilitating subjects. These findings do not seem wildly out of kilter with that, or with the evidence of gaps of around six to seven percentage points for AAA grades or higher.

 

Overall pattern 

The published data provides a beguiling glimpse of the size of excellence gaps and how they compare with FSM gaps on the key national benchmarks.

But discerning the pattern is like trying to understand the picture on a jigsaw when the majority of pieces are missing.

The received wisdom is capture in the observation by Whitty and Anders that:

‘Even though the attainment gap in schools has narrowed overall, it is largest for the elite measures’

and the SMCPC’s comment that:

‘…the system is better at lifting children eligible for FSM above a basic competence level (getting 5A*–C) than getting them above a tougher level of attainment likely to secure access to top universities.’

This seems broadly true, but the detailed picture is rather more complicated.

  • At KS2 there are gaps at L5 and above of around 16-20 percentage points, the majority higher than the comparable gaps at L4. But the gaps for core subjects combined are smaller than for each assessment. There is tentative evidence that the former may be widening.
  • At KS4 there are very significant differences between results in individual subjects. When it comes to multi-subject indicators, differences in the choice of subject mix – as well as choice of grade – make it extremely difficult to draw even the most tentative conclusions about the size of excellence gaps and how they relate to benchmark-related gaps at KS4 and excellence gaps at KS2.
  • At KS5, the limited evidence suggests that A level excellence gaps at the highest grades are broadly similar to those at GCSE A*/A. If anything, gaps seem to narrow slightly compared with KS4. But the confusion over KS4 measures makes this impossible to verify.

We desperately need access to a more complete dataset so we can understand these relationships more clearly.

This is the end of Part one. In Part two, we move on to consider evidence about whether high attainers remain so, before examining international comparisons data and related research, followed by excellence gaps analysis from the USA.

Part two concludes with a short review of how present government policy impacts on excellence gaps and some recommendations for strengthening the present arrangements.

 

GP

September 2014

A Closer Look at Level 6

This post provides a data-driven analysis of Level 6 (L6) performance at Key Stage 2, so as to:

pencil-145970_640

  • Marshall the published information and provide a commentary that properly reflects this bigger picture;
  • Establish which data is not yet published but ought to be in the public domain;
  • Provide a baseline against which to measure L6 performance in the 2014 SATs; and
  • Initiate discussion about the likely impact of new tests for the full attainment span on the assessment and performance of the highest attainers, both before and after those tests are introduced in 2016.

Following an initial section highlighting key performance data across the three L6 tests – reading; grammar, punctuation and spelling (GPS); and maths – the post undertakes a more detailed examination of L6 achievement in English, maths and science, taking in both teacher assessment and test outcomes.

It  concludes with a summary of key findings reflecting the four purposes above.

Those who prefer not to read the substantive text can jump straight to the summary from here

I apologise in advance for any transcription errors and statistical shortcomings in the analysis below.

Background

Relationship with previous posts

This discussion picks up themes explored in several previous posts.

In May 2013 I reviewed an Investigation of Level 6 Key Stage 2 Tests commissioned and published by in February that year by the Department for Education.

My overall assessment of that report?

‘A curate’s egg really. Positive and useful in a small way, not least in reminding us that primary-secondary transition for gifted learners remains problematic, but also a missed opportunity to flag up some other critical issues – and of course heavily overshadowed by the primary assessment consultation on the immediate horizon.’

The performance of the highest primary attainers also featured strongly in an analysis of the outcomes of NAHT’s Commission on Assessment (February 2014) and this parallel piece on the response to the consultation on primary assessment and accountability (April 2014).

The former offered the Commission two particularly pertinent recommendations, namely that it should:

‘shift from its narrow and ‘mildly accelerative’ view of high attainment to accommodate a richer concept that combines enrichment (breadth), extension (depth) and acceleration (faster pace) according to learners’ individual needs.’

Additionally it should:

‘incorporate a fourth ‘far exceeded’ assessment judgement, since the ‘exceeded’ judgement covers too wide a span of attainment.’

The latter discussed plans to discontinue L6 tests by introducing from 2016 single tests for the full attainment span at the end of KS2, from the top of the P-scales to a level the initial consultation document described as ‘at least of the standard of’ the current L6.

It opined:

‘The task of designing an effective test for all levels of prior attainment at the end of key stage 2 is…fraught with difficulty…I have grave difficulty in understanding how such assessments can be optimal for high attainers and fear that this is bad assessment practice.’

Aspects of L6 performance also featured in a relatively brief review of High Attainment in 2013 Primary School Performance Tables (December 2013). This post expands significantly on the relevant data included in that one.

The new material is drawn from three principal sources:

The recent history of L6 tests

Level 6 tests have a rather complex history. The footnotes to SFR 51/2013 simplify this considerably, noting that:

  • L6 tests were initially available from 1995 to 2002
  • In 2010 there was a L6 test for mathematics only
  • Since 2012 there have been tests of reading and mathematics
  • The GPS test was introduced in 2013.

In fact, the 2010 maths test was the culmination of an earlier QCDA pilot of single level tests. In that year the results from the pilot were reported as statutory National Curriculum test results in pilot schools.

In 2011 optional L6 tests were piloted in reading, writing and maths. These were not externally marked and the results were not published.

The June 2011 Bew Report came out in favour:

‘We believe that the Government should continue to provide level 6 National Curriculum Tests for schools to use on an optional basis, whose results should be reported to parents and secondary schools.’

Externally marked L6 tests were offered in reading and maths in 2012, alongside L6 teacher assessment in writing. The GPS test was added to the portfolio in the following year.

In 2012, ministers were talking up the tests describing them as:

‘…a central element in the Coalition’s drive to ensure that high ability children reach their potential. Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said: “Every child should be given the opportunity to achieve to the best of their abilities.

“These tests will ensure that the brightest pupils are stretched and standards are raised for all.”’

In 2012 the Primary Performance Tables used L6 results only in the calculation of ‘level 5+’, APS, value-added and progress measures, but this was not the case in 2013.

The Statement of Intent on the Tables said:

‘…the percentage of the number of children at the end of Key Stage 2 achieving level 6 in a school will also be shown in performance tables. The Department will not publish any information at school level about the numbers of children entered for the level 6 tests, or the percentage achieving level 6 of those entered for level 6.’

The nature of the test is unchanged for 2014: they took place on 12, 13 and 15 May respectively. This post is timed to coincide with their administration.

The KS2 ARA booklet  continues to explain that:

‘Children entered for level 6 tests are required to take the levels 3-5 tests. Headteachers should consider a child’s expected attainment before registering them for the level 6 tests as they should be demonstrating attainment above level 5. Schools may register children for the level 6 tests and subsequently withdraw them.

The child must achieve a level 5 in the levels 3-5 test and pass the corresponding level 6 test in the same year in order to be awarded an overall level 6 result. If the child does not pass the level 6 test they will be awarded the level achieved in the levels 3-5 test.’

Anticipated future developments

At the time of writing the Government has not published a Statement of Intent explaining whether there will be any change in the reporting of L6 results in the December 2014 Primary School Performance Tables.

An accompanying Data Warehouse (aka Portal) is also under development and early iterations are expected to appear before the next set of Tables. The Portal will make available a wider range of performance data, some of it addressing high attainment.

The discussion in this post of material not yet in the public domain is designed in part as a marker to influence consideration of material for inclusion in the Portal.

As noted above, the Government has published its response to the consultation on primary assessment and accountability arrangements, confirming that new single assessments for the full attainment span will be introduced in 2016.

At the time of writing, there is no published information about the number of entries for the 2014 tests. (In 2013 these details were released in the reply to a Parliamentary Question.)

Entries had to be confirmed by March 2014, so it may be that the decision to replace the L6 tests, not confirmed until that same month, has not impacted negatively on demand. The effect on 2015 entries remains to be seen, but there is a real risk that these will be significantly depressed.

L6 tests are scheduled to be taken for the final time in May 2015. The reading and maths tests will have been in place for four consecutive years; the GPS test for three.

Under the new arrangements there will continue to be tests in reading, GSP and maths – plus a sampling test in science – as well as teacher assessment in reading, writing, maths and science.

KS2 test outcomes (but not teacher assessment) will be reported by means of a scaled score for each test, alongside three average scaled scores, for the school, the local area and nationally.

The original consultation document proposed that each scaled score would be built around a ‘secondary readiness standard’ loosely aligned with the current L4B, but converted into a score of 100.

The test development frameworks mention that:

‘at the extremes of the scaled score distribution, as is standard practice, the scores will be truncated such that above and below a certain point, all children will be awarded the same scaled score in order to minimise the effect for children at the ends of the distribution where the test is not measuring optimally.’

A full set of sample materials including tests and mark schemes for every test will be published by September 2015, the beginning of the academic year in which the new tests are first deployed.

The consultation document said these single tests would:

‘include challenging material (at least of the standard of the current level 6 test) which all pupils will have the opportunity to answer, without the need for a separate test’.

The development frameworks published on 31 March made it clear that the new tests should:

‘provide a suitable challenge for all children and give every child the opportunity to achieve as high a standard…as possible.’

Additionally:

‘In order to improve general accessibility for all children, where possible, questions will be placed in order of difficulty.’

These various and potentially conflicting statements informed the opinion I have already repeated.

The question then arises whether the Government’s U turn on separate tests for the highest attainers is in the latter’s best interests. There cannot be a continuation of L6 tests per se, because the system of levels that underpins it will no longer exist, but separate tests could in principle continue.

Even if the new universal tests provide equally valid and reliable judgements of their attainment – which is currently open to question – one might reasonably argue that the U turn itself may undermine continuity of provision and continued improvement in schools’ practice.

The fact that this practice needs substantive improvement is evidenced by Ofsted’s recent decision to strengthen the attention given to the attainment and progress of what they call ‘the most able’ in all school inspection reports.

L6 tests: Key Performance Data

Entry and success rates

As noted above, the information in the public domain about entry rates to L6 tests is incomplete.

The 2013 Investigation provides the number of pupils entered for each test in 2012. We do not have comparable data for 2013, but a PQ reply does supply the number of pupils registered for the tests in both 2012 and 2013. This can be supplemented by material in the 2013 SFR and the corresponding 2012 publication.

The available data is synthesised in this table showing for each year – and where available – the number registered for each test, the number entered, the total number of pupils achieving L6 and, of those, the number attending state-funded schools.

                    2012                   2013
Reg Ent Pass PassSF Reg Ent Pass Pass SF
Reading 47,148 46,810 942 x 73,118 x 2,262 2,137
GPS x x x x 61,883 x 8,606 x
Maths 55,809 55,212 18,953 x 80,925 x 35,137 33,202

One can see that there are relatively small differences between the numbers of pupils registered and the number entered, so the former is a decent enough proxy for the latter. I shall use the former in the calculations immediately below.

It is also evident that the proportions of learners attending independent schools who achieve L6 are small though significant. But, given the incomplete data set for state-funded schools, I shall use the pass rate for all schools in the following calculations.

In sum then, in 2012, the pass rates per registered entry were:

  • Reading – 2.0%
  • Maths – 34.0%

And in 2013 they were:

  • Reading – 3.1%
  • GPS – 13.9%
  • Maths – 43.4%

The pass rates in 2013 have improved significantly in both reading and maths, the former from a very low base. However, the proportion of learners successful in the L6 reading test remains extremely small.

The 2013 Investigation asserted, on the basis of the 2012 results, that:

‘The cost of supporting and administering a test for such a small proportion of the school population appears to outweigh the benefits’

However it did not publish any information about that cost.

It went on to suggest that there is a case for reviewing whether the L6 test is the most appropriate means to  ‘identify a range of higher performing pupils, for example the top 10%’. The Government chose not to act on this suggestion.

Gender, ethnic background and disadvantage

The 2013 results demonstrate some very significant gender disparities, as revealed in Chart 1 below.

Girls account for 62% of successful pupils in GPS and a whopping 74% in reading, while boys account for 61% of successful pupils in maths. These imbalances raise important questions about whether gender differences in high attainment are really this pronounced, or whether there is significant underachievement amongst the under-represented gender in each case.

Chart 1: Number of pupils successful in 2013 L6 tests by gender

L6 chart 1

There are equally significant disparities in performance by ethnic background. Chart 2 below illustrates how the performance of three selected ethnic minority groups – white, Asian and Chinese – varies by test and gender.

It shows that pupils from Chinese backgrounds have a marked ascendancy in all three tests, while Asian pupils are ahead of white pupils in GPS and maths but not reading. Girls are ahead of boys within all three ethnic groups, girls leading in reading and GPS and boys leading in maths. Chinese girls comfortably out-perform white and Asian boys

Chinese pupils are way ahead in maths, with 29% overall achieving L6 and an astonishing 35% of Chinese boys achieving this outcome.

The reasons for this vast disparity are not explained and raise equally awkward questions about the distribution of high attainment and the incidence of underachievement.

 

Chart 2: Percentages of pupils successful in 2013 L6 tests by gender and selected ethnic background

L6 chart2

There are also significant excellence gaps on each of the tests, though these are hard to visualise when working solely with percentages (pupil numbers have not been published).

The percentage variations are shown in the table below. This sets out the FSM gap and the disadvantaged gap, the latter being based on the ever-6 FSM measure that underpins the Pupil Premium.

These figures suggest that, while learners eligible for the Pupil Premium are demonstrating success on the maths test (and, for girls at least, on the GPS test too), they are over three times less likely to be successful than those from advantaged backgrounds. The impact of the Pupil Premium is therefore limited.

The gap between the two groups reaches as high as 7% for boys in maths. Although this is low by comparison with the corresponding gap at level 4, it is nonetheless significant. There is more about excellence gaps in maths below.

 

Reading GPS        Maths   
G B G B G B
FSM 0 0 1 0 2 3
Non-FSM 1 0 2 1 6 9
Gap 1 0 1 1 4 6
 
Dis 0 0 1 0 2 3
Non-Dis 1 0 3 2 7 10
Gap 1 0 2 2 5 7

Schools achieving L6 success

Finally in this opening section, a comparison of schools achieving L6 success in the 2013 Primary School Performance Tables reveals different patterns for each test.

The table below shows how many schools secured different percentages of pupils at L6. The number of schools achieving 11-20% at L6 in the GPS test is over 20 times the number that achieved that outcome in reading. But over eight times more schools secured this outcome in maths than managed it in GPS.

No schools made it beyond 20% at L6 in reading and none pushed beyond 40% at L6 in GPS, but the outliers in maths managed well over 60% and even 70% returns.

11-20% 21-30% 31-40% 41-50% 51-60% 61-70% 71-80% Total
Reading 24 24
GPS 298 22 2 322
Maths 2521 531 106 25 0 1 2 3186

There is also some evidence of schools being successful in more than one test.

Amongst the small sample of 28 schools that secured 41% or more L6s in maths,  two also featured amongst the top 24 performers in reading and five amongst the top 24 performers in GSP.

The school with arguably the best record across all three tests is Christ Church Primary School in Hampstead, which secured 13% in reading, 21% in GPS and 46% in maths, from a KS2 cohort of 24. The FSM/Pupil Premium rates at the school are low but, nevertheless, this is an outstanding result.

The following sections look more closely at L6 test and teacher assessment results in each subject. Each section consists of a series of bullet points highlighting significant findings.

English

 

Reading Test

The evidence on performance on the L6 reading test is compromised to some extent by the tiny proportions of pupils that achieve it. However:

  • 9,605 schools registered pupils for the 2013 L6 reading test, up 48% from 6,469 in 2012, and the number of pupils registered increased from 47,148 in 2012 to 73,118 in 2013, an increase of 55%.
  • Of the 539,473 learners who undertook the 2013 KS2 reading tests, only 2,262 (about 0.42%) achieved L6. This figure includes some in independent schools; the comparable figure for state-funded schools only is 2,137, so 5.5% of L6s were secured in the independent sector.
  • Of this first total – ie including pupils from independent schools – 1,670 were girls (0.63% of all girls who undertook the KS2 reading tests) and 592 were boys (0.21% of all boys who undertook the KS2 reading tests).
  • These are significant improvements on the comparable 2012 figures which showed about 900 learners achieving L6, including 700 girls and 200 boys. (The figures were rounded in the SFR but the 2013 evaluation confirmed the actual number as 942). The overall percentage achieving L6 therefore increased by about 140% in 2013, compared with 2012. If we assume registration for L6 tests as a proxy for entry, this suggests that just over 3% of entrants passed in 2013.
  • In state-funded schools only, the percentage of learners from a Chinese background entered for KS2 reading tests who achieved L6 reaches 2%, compared with 1% for those of mixed background and 0% for learners from white, Asian and black backgrounds.
  • Amongst the defined sub-groups, learners of Irish, any other white, white and Asian and any other Asian backgrounds also make it to 1%. All the remainder are at 0%.
  • The same is true of EAL learners and native English speakers, FSM-eligible and disadvantaged learners, making worthwhile comparisons almost impossible.
  • The 2013 transition matrices show that 12% of learners who had achieved L4 at the end of KS1 went on to achieve L6, while 1% of those who had achieved L3 did so. Hence the vast majority of those at L4 in KS1 did not make two levels of progress.
  • Progression data in the SFR shows that, of the 2,137 learners achieving L6 in state funded schools, 2,047 were at L3 or above at KS1, 77 were at L2A, 10 were at L2B and 3 were at L2C. Of the total population at KS1 L3 or above, 1.8% progressed to L6.
  • Regional and local authority breakdowns are given only as percentages, of limited value for comparative purposes because they are so small. Only London and the South East record 1% at L6 overall, with all the remaining regions at 0%. Only one local authority – Richmond upon Thames – reaches 2%.
  • However 1% of girls reach L6 in all regions apart from Yorkshire and Humberside and a few more authorities record 2% of girls at L6: Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Kingston, Richmond and Solihull.
  • The 2013 Primary School Performance Tables show that some 12,700 schools recorded no learners achieving L6.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, 36 schools recorded 10% or more of their KS2 cohort achieving L6. Four of these recorded 15% or higher:

Iford and Kingston C of E Primary School, East Sussex (19%; cohort of 21).

Emmanuel C of E Primary School, Camden (17%; cohort of 12).

Goosnargh Whitechapel Primary School, Lancashire (17%; cohort of 6).

High Beech  C of E VC Primary School, Essex (15%; cohort of 13).

Reading TA

There is relatively little data about teacher assessment outcomes.

  • The total number of pupils in all schools achieving L6 in reading TA in 2013 is 15,864 from a cohort of 539,729 (2.94%). This is over seven times as many as achieved L6 in the comparable test (whereas in maths the figures are very similar). It would be useful to know how many pupils achieved L6 in TA, were entered for the test and did not succeed.
  • The number of successful girls is 10,166 (3.85% of females assessed) and the number of boys achieving L6 is 5,698 (2.06% of males assessed). Hence the gap between girls and boys is far narrower on TA than it is on the corresponding test.
  • Within the 2013 Performance Tables, eight schools recorded 50% or more of their pupils at L6, the top performer being Peppard Church of England Primary School, Oxfordshire, which reached 83% (five from a cohort of six).

 

Writing (including GPS)

 

GPS Test

The L6 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling (GPS) test was newly introduced in 2013. This is what we know from the published data:

  • The number of schools that registered for the test was 7,870, almost 2,000 fewer than registered for the reading test. The number of pupil registrations was 61,883, over 12,000 fewer than for reading.
  • The total number of successful learners is 8,606, from a total of 539,438 learners assessed at KS2, including those in independent schools taking the tests, giving an actual percentage of 1.6%. As far as I can establish, a comparable figure for state-funded schools is not available.
  • As with reading, there are significant differences between boys and girls. There were 5,373 successful girls (2.04% of girls entered for KS2 GPS tests) and 3,233 successful boys (1.17% of boys entered for KS2 GPS). This imbalance in favour of girls is significant, but not nearly as pronounced as in the reading test.
  • The proportion of pupil registrations for the L6 GPS test resulting in L6 success is around one in seven (13.9%) well over four times as high as for reading.
  • The ethnic breakdown in state-funded schools shows that Chinese learners are again in the ascendancy. Overall, 7% of pupils from a Chinese background achieved L6, compared with 1% white, 2% mixed, 2% Asian and 1% black.
  • Chart 3 below shows how L6 achievement in GPS varies between ethnic sub-groups. Indian pupils reach 4% while white and Asian pupils score 3%, as do pupils from any other Asian background.

Chart 3: 2013 GPS L6 performance by ethnic sub-groups

L6 chart 3

  • When gender differences are taken into account, Chinese girls are at 8% (compared with boys at 7%), ahead of Indian girls at 5% (boys 3%), white and Asian girls at 4% (boys 3%) and any other Asian girls also at 4% (boys 3%). The ascendancy of Chinese girls over boys from any other ethnic background is particularly noteworthy and replicates the situation in maths (see below).
  • Interestingly, EAL learners and learners with English as a native language both record 2% at L6. Although these figures are rounded, it suggests that exceptional performance in this aspect of English does not correlate with being a native speaker.
  • FSM-eligible learners register 0%, compared with 2% for those not eligible. However, disadvantaged learners are at 1% and non-disadvantaged 2% (Disadvantaged boys are at 0% and non-disadvantaged girls at 3%). Without knowing the numbers involved we can draw few reliable conclusions from this data.
  • Chart 4 below gives illustrates the regional breakdown for boys, girls and both genders. At regional level, London reaches 3% success overall, with both the South East and Eastern regions at 2% and all other regions at 1%. Girls record 2% in every region apart from the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. Only in London do boys reach 2%.

 

Chart 4: 2013 L6 GPS outcomes by gender and region

L6 chart 4

  • At local authority level the highest scoring are Richmond (7%); the Isles of Scilly (6%); Kingston and Sutton (5%); and Harrow, Hillingdon and Wokingham (4%).
  • The School Performance Tables reveal that some 10,200 schools posted no L6 results while, at the other extreme, 34 schools recorded 20% or more of their KS2 cohort at L6 and 463 schools managed 10% or above. The best records were achieved by:

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, Southwark (38%; cohort of 24).

The Vineyard School, Richmond  (38%; cohort of 56).

Cartmel C of E Primary School,  (29%; cohort of 7) and

Greystoke School, (29%; cohort of 7).

Writing TA

When it comes to teacher assessment:

  • 8,410 learners from both state and independent schools out of a total of 539,732 assessed (1.56%) were judged to be at L6 in writing. The total figure for state-funded schools is 7,877 pupils. This is very close to the number successful in the L6 GPS test, even though the focus is somewhat different.
  • Of these, 5,549 are girls (2.1% of the total cohort) and 2,861 boys (1.04% of the total cohort). Hence the imbalance in favour of girls is more pronounced in writing TA than in the GPS test, whereas the reverse is true for reading. 
  • About 5% of learners from Chinese backgrounds achieve L6, as do 3% of white Asian and 3% of Irish pupils.
  • The 2013 transition matrices record progression in writing TA, rather than in the GSP test. They show that 61% of those assessed at L4 at KS1 go on to achieve L6, so only 6 out of 10 are making the expected minimum two levels of progress. On the other hand, some 9% of those with KS1 L3 go on to achieve L6, as do 2% of those at L2A.
  • The SFR provides further progression data – again based on the TA outcomes – for state-funded schools only. It shows us that one pupil working towards L1 at KS1 went on to achieve L6 at KS2, as did 11 at L1, 54 at L2C, 393 at L2B, 1,724 at L2A and 5,694 at L3 or above. Hence some pupils are making five or more levels of progress.
  • The regional breakdown – this time including independent schools – gives the East Midlands, West Midlands, London and the South West at 2%, with all the rest at 1%. At local authority level, the best performers are: City of London at 10%; Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea and Richmond at 5% and Windsor and Maidenhead at 4%.

English TA

There is additionally a little information about pupils achieving L6 across the subject:

  • The SFR confirms that 8,087 pupils (1.5%) were assessed at L6 in English, including 5,244 girls (1.99% of all girls entered) and 2,843 boys (1.03% of all boys entered). These figures are for all schools, including independent schools.
  • There is a regional breakdown showing the East and West Midlands, London and the South West at 2%, with all the remainder at 1%. Amongst local authorities, the strongest performers are City of London (10%); and Bristol, Greenwich, Hackney, Richmond, Windsor and Maidenhead (4%). The exceptional performance of Bristol, Greenwich and Hackney is noteworthy.
  • In the Performance Tables, 27 schools record 30% or more pupils at L6 across English, the top performer again being Newton Farm, at 60%.

Maths

L6 performance in maths is more common than in other tests and subjects and the higher percentages generated typically result in more meaningful comparisons.

  • The number of school registrations for L6 maths in 2013 was 11,369, up almost 40% from 8,130 in 2012. The number of pupil registrations was 80,925, up some 45% from 55,809 in 2012.
  • The number of successful pupils – in both independent and state schools – was 35,137 (6.51% of all entrants). The gender imbalance in reading and GPS is reversed, with 21,388 boys at this level (7.75% of males entered for the overall KS2 test) compared with 13,749 girls (5.22% of females entered for the test). The SFR gives a total for state-funded schools of 33,202 pupils, so some 5.5% of Level 6s were achieved in independent schools.
  • Compared with 2012, the numbers of successful pupils has increased from 18,953. This represents an increase of 85%, not as huge as the increase for reading but a very substantial increase nevertheless. 
  • The number of successful girls has risen by some 108% from 6,600 (rounded) and the number of successful boys by about 72%, from 12,400 (rounded), so the improvement in girls’ success is markedly larger than the corresponding improvement for boys.  
  • Assuming L6 test registration as a proxy for entry, the success rate in 2013 is around 43.4%, massively better than for reading (3%) and GPS (13.9%). The corresponding success rate in 2012 was around 34%. (Slightly different results would be obtained if one used actual entry rates and passes for state schools only, but we do not have these figures for both years.)
  • The breakdown in state-funded schools for the main ethnic groups by gender is illustrated by Chart 5 below. This shows how performance by boys and girls varies according to whether they are white ( W), mixed (M), Asian (A), black (B) or Chinese (C). It also compares the outcomes in 2012 and 2013. The superior performance of Chinese learners is evident, with Chinese boys reaching a staggering 35% success rate in 2013. As things stand, Chinese boys are almost nine times more likely to achieve L6 than black girls.
  • Chart 5 also shows that none of the gender or ethnic patterns has changed between 2012 and 2013, but some groups are making faster progress, albeit from a low base. This is especially true of white girls, black boys and, to a slightly lesser extent, Asian girls.
  • Chinese girls and boys have improved at roughly the same rate and black boys have progressed faster than black girls but, in the remaining three groups, girls are improving at a faster rate than boys.

Chart 5: L6 Maths test by main ethnic groups and gender

L6 chart 5

  • Amongst sub-groups, not included on this table, the highest performing are: any other Asian background 15%, Indian 14%, white and Asian 11% and Irish 10%. Figures for Gypsy/Roma and any other white background are suppressed, while travellers of Irish heritage are at 0%, black Caribbean at 2% and any other black background at 3%. In these latter cases, the differential with Chinese performance is huge.
  • EAL learners record a 7% success rate, compared with 6% for native English language speakers, an improvement on the level pegging recorded for GPS. This gap widens to 2% for boys – 9% versus 7% in favour of EAL, whereas for girls it is 1% – 6% versus 5% in favour of EAL. The advantage enjoyed by EAL learners was also evident in 2012.
  • The table below shows the position for FSM and disadvantaged learners by gender, and how this has changed since 2012.
FSM boys Non FSM boys Gap Dis boys Non dis boys Gap
2012 1% 5% 4% 1% 6% 5%
2013 3% 9% 6% 3% 10% 7%
FSM girls Non FSM girls Gap Dis girls Non dis girls Gap
2012 1% 3% 2% 1% 3% 2%
2013 2% 6% 4% 2% 7% 5%
FSM all Non FSM all Gap Dis all Non dis all Gap
2012 1% 4% 3% 1% 4% 3%
2013 2% 7% 5% 2% 8% 6%
  • This shows that the gap between FSM and non-FSM and between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged has grown – for boys, girls and the groups as a whole – between 2012 and 2013. All the gaps have increased by 2% or 3%, with higher gaps between disadvantaged and advantaged girls and for disadvantaged boys and girls together, compared with their more advantaged peers.
  • The gaps are all between 2% and 7%, so not large compared with those lower down the attainment spectrum, but the fact that they are widening is a significant cause for concern, suggesting that Pupil Premium funding is not having an impact at L6 in maths.
  • The Transition Matrices show that 89% of learners assessed at L4 in KS1 went on to achieve L6, while 26% of those with L3 at KS1 did so, as did 4% of those with L2A and 1% of those with L2B. Hence a noticeable minority is making four levels of progress.
  • The progression data in the SFR, relating to state-funded schools, show that one pupil made it from W at KS1 to L6, while 8 had L1, 82 had 2C, 751 had 2B, 4,983 had 2A and 27,377 had L3. Once again, a small minority of learners is making four or five levels of progress.
  • At regional level, the breakdown is: NE 6%, NW 6%, Y+H 5%, EM 6%, WM 6%, E 6%, London 9%, SE 7% and SW 6%. So London has a clear lead in respect of the proportion of its learners achieving L6.
  • The local authorities leading the rankings are: City of London 24%, Richmond 19%, Isles of Scilly 17%, Harrow and Kingston 15%, Trafford and Sutton 14%. No real surprises there!
  • The Performance Tables show 33 schools achieved 40% or higher on this measure. Eight schools were at 50% or above. The best performing schools were:

St Oswald’s C of E Aided Primary School, Cheshire West and Chester (75%; cohort 8)

St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School, Hurst Green, Lancashire (71%; cohort 7)

Haselor School, Warwickshire (67%; cohort 6).

  • Some of the schools achieving 50% were significantly larger, notably Bowdon C of E Primary School, Trafford, which had a KS2 cohort of 60.

Maths TA

The data available on maths TA is more limited:

  • Including pupils at independent schools, a total of 33,668 were assessed at L6 in maths (6.24% of all KS2 candidates). This included 20,336 boys (7.37% of all male KS2 candidates) and 13,332 girls (5.06% of all female candidates). The number achieving L6 maths TA is slightly lower than the corresponding number achieving L6 in the test.
  • The regional breakdown was as follows: NE 5%; NW 5%; Y+H 5%; EM 5%, WM 6%; E 6%, London 8%; SE 7%, SW 6%, so London’s ascendancy is not as significant as in the test. 
  • The strongest local authority performers are: City of London 24%; Harrow and Richmond 15%; Sutton 14%; Trafford 13%; Solihull and Bromley 12%.
  • In the Performance Tables, 63 schools recorded 40% or higher on this measure, 15 of them at 50% or higher. The top performer was St Oswald’s C of E Aided Primary School (see above) with 88%.

Science

Science data is confined to teacher assessment outcomes.

  • A total of just 1,633 pupils achieved L6 in 2013, equivalent to 0.3% of the KS2 science cohort. Of these, 1,029 were boys (0.37%) and 604 were girls (0.23%), suggesting a gender imbalance broadly similar to that in maths.
  • No regions and only a handful of local authorities recorded a success rate of 1%.
  • In the Performance Tables, 31 schools managed 20% or higher and seven schools were above 30%. The best performing were:

Newton Farm (see above) (50%; cohort 30)

Hunsdon Junior Mixed and Infant School, Hertfordshire (40%; cohort 10)

Etchingham Church of England Primary School, East Sussex (38%; cohort 16)

St Benedict’s Roman Catholic Primary School Ampleforth, North Yorkshire (36%; cohort 14).

Conclusions

 

Key findings from this data analysis

I will not repeat again all of the significant points highlighted above, but these seem particularly worthy of attention and further analysis:

  • The huge variation in success rates for the three L6 tests. The proportion of learners achieving L6 in the reading test is improving at a faster rate than in maths, but from a very low base. It remains unacceptably low, is significantly out of kilter with the TA results for L6 reading and – unless there has been a major improvement in 2014 – is likely to stay depressed for the limited remaining lifetime of the test.
  • In the tests, 74% of those successful in reading are girls, 62% of those successful in GPS are girls and 61% of those successful in maths are boys. In reading there are also interesting disparities between gender distribution at L6 in the test and in teacher assessment. Can these differences be attributed solely to gender distinctions or is there significant gender-related underachievement at the top of the attainment distribution? If so, how can this be addressed? 
  • There are also big variations in performance by ethnic background. Chinese learners in particular are hugely successful, especially in maths. In 2013, Chinese girls outscored significantly boys from all other backgrounds, while an astonishing 35% of Chinese boys achieved L6. This raises important questions about the distribution of high attainment, the incidence of underachievement and how the interaction between gender and ethnic background impacts on these.
  • There are almost certainly significant excellence gaps in performance on all three tests (ie between advantaged and disadvantaged learners), though in reading and GPS these are masked by the absence of numerical data. In maths we can see that the gaps are not as large as those lower down the attainment spectrum, but they widened significantly in 2013 compared with 2012. This suggests that the impact of the Pupil Premium on the performance of the highest attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds is extremely limited.  What can and should be done to address this issue?
  • EAL learners perform equally as well as their counterparts in the GPS test and even better in maths. This raises interesting questions about the relationship between language acquisition and mathematical performance and, even more intriguingly, the relationship between language acquisition and skill in manipulating language in its written form. Further analysis of why EAL learners are so successful may provide helpful clues that would improve L6 teaching for all learners.
  • Schools are recording very different success rates in each of the tests. Some schools that secure very high L6 success rates in one test fail to do so in the others, but a handful of schools are strong performers across all three tests. We should know more than we do about the characteristics and practices of these highly successful schools.

Significant gaps in the data

A data portal to underpin the School Performance Tables is under construction. There have been indications that it will contain material about high attainers’ performance but, while levels continue to be used in the Tables, this should include comprehensive coverage of L6 performance, as well as addressing the achievement of high attainers as they are defined for Performance Table purposes (a much broader subset of learners).

Subject to the need to suppress small numbers for data protection purposes, the portal might reasonably include, in addition to the data currently available:

  • For each test and TA, numbers of registrations, entries and successful pupils from FSM and disadvantaged backgrounds respectively, including analysis by gender and ethnic background, both separately and combined. All the data below should also be available for these subsets of the population.
  • Registrations and entries for each L6 test, for every year in which the tests have been administered, showing separately rates for state-funded and all schools and rates for different types of state-funded school.
  • Cross-referencing of L6 test and TA performance, to show how many learners are successful in one, the other and both – as well as how many learners achieve L6 on more than one test and/or TA and different combinations of assessments.
  • Numbers of pupils successful in each test and TA by region and LA, as well as regional breakdowns of the data above and below.
  • Trends in this data across all the years in which the tests and TA have been administered.
  • The annual cost of developing and administering each of the L6 tests so we can make a judgement about value for money.

It would also be helpful to produce case studies of schools that are especially successful in maximising L6 performance, especially for under-represented groups.

 

The impact of the new tests pre- and post-2016

We do not yet know whether the announcement that L6 tests will disappear after 2015 has depressed registration, entry and success rates in 2014. This is more likely in 2015, since the 2014 registration deadline and the response to the primary assessment and accountability consultation were broadly co-terminous.

All the signs are that the accountability regime will continue to focus some attention on the performance of high attainers:

  • Ofsted is placing renewed emphasis on the attainment and progress of the ‘most able’ in school inspection, though they have a broad conceptualisation of that term and may not necessarily highlight L6 achievement.
  • From 2016, schools will be required to publish ‘the percentage of pupils who achieve a high score in all areas at the end of key stage 2.’ But we do not know whether this means publishing separately the percentage of pupils achieving high scores in each area, or only the percentage of pupils achieving high scores across all areas. Nor do we know what will count as a high score for these purposes.
  • There were commitments in the original primary assessment and accountability consultation document to inclusion of measures in the Primary Performance Tables setting out:

‘How many of a school’s pupils are amongst the highest attaining nationally, by showing the percentage of pupils achieving a high scaled score in each subject.’

but these were not repeated in the consultation response.

In short, there are several unanswered questions and some cause to doubt the extent to which Level 6-equivalent performance will continue to be a priority. The removal of L6 tests could therefore reduce significantly the attention primary schools give to their highest attainers.

Moreover, questions remain over the suitability of the new tests for these highest attainers. These may possibly be overcome but there is considerable cause for concern.

It is quite conceivable that the test developers will not be able to accommodate effective assessment of L6 performance within single tests as planned.

If that is the case, the Government faces a choice between perpetuating separate tests, or the effective relegation of the assessment of the highest attainers to teacher assessment alone.

Such a decision would almost certainly need to be taken on this side of a General Election. But of course it need not be binding on the successor administration. Labour has made no commitments about support for high attainers, which suggests they will not be a priority for them should they form the next Government.

The recently published Assessment Principles are intended to underpin effective assessment systems within schools. They state that such systems:

‘Differentiate attainment between pupils of different abilities, giving early recognition of pupils who are falling behind and those who are excelling.’

This lends welcome support to the recommendations I offered to NAHT’s Commission on Assessment

But the national system for assessment and accountability has an equally strong responsibility to differentiate throughout the attainment spectrum and to recognise the achievement of those who excel.

As things stand, there must be some doubt whether it will do so.

Postscript

On 19 May 2014 two newspapers helpfully provided the entry figures for the 2014 L6 tests. These are included in the chart below.

L6 postscript chart

It is clear that entries to all three tests held up well in 2014 and, as predicted, numbers have not yet been depressed as a consequence of the decision to drop L6 tests after 2015.

The corresponding figures for the numbers of schools entering learners for each test have not been released, so we do not know to what extent the increase is driven by new schools signing up, as opposed to schools with previous entries increasing the numbers they enter.

This additional information makes it easier to project approximate trends into 2015, so we shall be able to tell next year whether the change of assessment policy will cause entry rates to tail off.

  • Entries for the L6 reading test were 49% up in 2013 and 36% up in 2014. Assuming the rate of increase in 2015 falls to 23% (ie again 13% down on the previous year), there would be some 117,000 entries in 2015.
  • Entries for the L6 maths test were 41% up in 2013 and 36% up in 2014. Assuming the rate of increase in 2015 falls to 31% (ie again 5% down on the previous year), there would be around 139,000 entries in 2015.
  • GPS is more problematic because we have only two years on which to base the trend. If we assume that the rate of increase in entries will fall somewhere between the rate for maths and the rate for reading in 2014 (their second year of operation) there would be somewhere between 126,000 and 133,000 entries in 2015 – so approximately 130,000 entries.

It is almost certainly a projection too far to estimate the 2014 pass rates on the basis of the 2014 entry rates, so I will resist the temptation. Nevertheless, we ought to expect continued improvement at broadly commensurate rates.

The press stories include a Government ‘line to take’ on the L6 tests.

In the Telegraph, this is:

‘Want to see every school stretching all their pupils and these figures show that primary schools have embraced the opportunity to stretch their brightest 11-year-olds.’

‘This is part of a package of measures – along with toughening up existing primary school tests, raising the bar and introducing higher floor standards – that will raise standards and help ensure all children arrive at secondary school ready to thrive.’

In the Mail it is:

‘We brought back these tests because we wanted to give teachers the chance to set high aspirations for pupils in literacy and numeracy.’

‘We want to see every school stretching all their pupils. These figures show that primary schools have embraced the opportunity to stretch their brightest 11-year-olds by  teaching them more demanding new material, in line with the new curriculum, and by entering them for the Level 6 test.’

There is additionally confirmation in the Telegraph article that ‘challenging material currently seen in the level 6 exams would be incorporated into all SATs tests’ when the new universal assessments are introduced, but nothing about the test development difficulties that this presents.

But each piece attributed this welcome statement to Mr Gove:

‘It is plain wrong to set a ceiling on the talents of the very brightest pupils and let them drift in class.’

‘Letting teachers offer level 6 tests means that the most talented children will be fully stretched and start secondary school razor sharp.’

Can we read into that a commitment to ensure that the new system – including curriculum, assessment, qualifications, accountability and (critically) Pupil Premium support for the disadvantaged – is designed in a joined up fashion to meet the needs of ‘the very brightest pupils’?

I wonder if Mr Hunt feels able to follow suit.

GP

May 2014