Response to Russell Hobby’s post of 8 May 2015

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Thank you for taking the time and trouble to provide a considered response to my posts campaigning against the Fair Education Alliance position on the pupil premium: this one launching the campaign and this demolition of Teach First’s official policy statement of 29 April. New-EYEBALL-for-C4D

By responding in this fashion you set a fine example to the other organisations I am challenging to justify their support for this policy.

As things stand, just one other organisation – the Future Leaders Trust – has bothered to make its views known (and duly distanced itself from this policy).

The remainder are unwilling to break ranks. I am not sure whether to charge them with cowardice or complacency. I hope they will now follow your lead.

You have explained that NAHT has not yet formally adopted your recommendation that it support Teach First’s position, so your post constitutes ‘an interim position in lieu of a vote or resolution’. I have offered to meet you to discuss this, to clarify any outstanding issues and – hopefully – to persuade you to revise that recommendation.

Three factual clarifications to begin with:

  • NAHT is listed as a member of the Fair Education Alliance – whose Report Card 2014 is unclear over whether the proposed pupil premium reallocation applies equally to primary and secondary schools – and a supporter of the Read On. Get On campaign, whose publication specifically urges its application in the primary sector (and implies that it is following the Report Card in this respect).
  • There are no proposals in the Report Card for reform of the schools funding formula, whether to increase the weighting for deprivation or for low prior attainment. Teach First’s policy statement mentions a national funding formula but offers no specific proposals for reforming it. I note that NAHT is itself calling for a fair national funding formula.
  • The implication of Teach First’s policy statement is that disadvantaged learners with low prior attainment would attract a pupil premium rate double that available to all other disadvantaged learners, middle as well as high attainers. There is no proposal to change the FSM-driven definition of disadvantage that currently underpins the pupil premium and no definition of what constitutes low prior attainment. I note that you recently floated the idea of replacing ‘ever-6 FSM’ eligibility for pupil premium with ‘a measure of the prior attainment of pupils’.

These are my responses to the substantive points of your argument:

  • It is true that other eligible disadvantaged learners would continue to attract pupil premium funding – at half the rate available for eligible disadvantaged low attainers. This implies that their needs are deemed much less significant, and/or that those needs are significantly easier and cheaper to address. The Report Card makes clear that ‘the change of funding model would increase school accountability for ‘catching up’ pupils’ (p27). All schools would be expected to prioritise ‘catch up’ for disadvantaged low attainers over all other provision for disadvantaged learners. As ASCL has pointed out, this cuts directly across heads’ and governors’ autonomy in deciding how best to allocate pupil premium funding. Hence, in this context, NAHT is arguing for such autonomy to be curtailed. I trust you will concede this?
  • There are presently differential rates of pupil premium for primary and secondary learners. The differential in favour of primary schools was justified by the previous Government, not on equity grounds, but as helping schools to meet higher expectations of ‘secondary readiness’ associated with the new assessment and accountability regime. But the new regime also shifts schools away from a binary approach to a model in which improvements at any point along the scale of prior attainment are equally valued. Double weighting of pupil premium for low attainers points in precisely the opposite direction.
  • You posit an alternative position on equity that:

‘consists in ensuring first that all students achieve a certain level of competence and that therefore more should be invested in those furthest from that threshold… One rationale for this position would be that once individuals have passed a certain threshold they have a capacity for self-improvement whereby they can extend their own education and create opportunities. Below this threshold, such self-determination is significantly harder. Thus, if you had to choose only one option it could be more socially valuable to lift a student to this threshold than to continue to stretch a student already beyond the threshold.’

You explain this as a trade-off imposed as a consequence of scarce resources. Such a position may be ideologically driven, irrational and evidence-free, or supported by an evidence base. The former is not susceptible to counter-argument. The latter can be challenged through an alternative evidence base setting out the equivalent social and economic value of closing excellence gaps. I have presented that evidence base at length and will not revisit it here. But, in determining its final position I trust that NAHT will give full and careful consideration to both sets of evidence, rather than relying exclusively on material that supports your argument. I would welcome your assurances on this point.

  • My broader evidence-driven judgement is that, allowing for scarce resources, the most effective education systems (and the best schools) typically strive to keep excellence and equity in equilibrium. If one is allowed to predominate, the overall quality of education suffers. If a school (or a headteachers’ association or any other organisation targeted by this campaign) holds a particular view on this issue, in which equity is permitted to trump excellence, it seems reasonable to expect it to state explicitly the consequences of that decision – and to hold itself accountable to its stakeholders for those. In the case of a school I would expect this to be made explicit in the vision/mission statements intended for parents and staff alike – and in the documentation supplied to Ofsted prior to inspection. Otherwise there is every risk of hypocrisy. In short, a headteacher who takes this position cannot with integrity run a school that pretends the opposite. If it adopts this policy, I look forward to NAHT advising its members accordingly.
  • You suggest that the distinction between pupil premium and school funding formula is a second order issue. I do not agree. If there is a case for higher weighting for low prior attainment – to reflect the additional costs associated with tackling it – that should be reflected in the core budget through the funding formula, alongside the weightings for pupil deprivation and high needs, typically but not exclusively associated with SEN. The formula should properly recognise the overlap between these factors. I would welcome NAHT’s considered analysis of the totality of funding available to support (disadvantaged) low attainers through all funding streams, since treating pupil premium in isolation is misleading and inappropriate.
  • Pupil premium is different because it is supposed to benefit directly the learners who attract it. Indeed, the latest edition of the Governors’ handbook goes as far as to state that:

‘The pupil premium is a separate funding stream to be used solely for the educational benefit of children eligible and registered for free school meals at any time during the last six years, or those who have been in continuous public care for six months’ (page 109)

While this does not amount to a personal budget, the direct link between the funding and eligible learners means that the reallocation proposed will almost certainly have a direct impact on support for those whose entitlement is reduced, especially if backed up as proposed by accountability pressures. This overrides any consideration of individual needs and circumstances and applies regardless of the total pupil premium funding received by a school. I invite NAHT to consider carefully whether this is in the best interests of the schools its members lead.

  • You accept I have a point about ‘the level of detail in the calculations’. There is no detail whatsoever. This means that the organisations, including NAHT, who support Teach First’s position have effectively signed a ‘blank cheque’. I would hazard a guess that the full consequences of the redistribution, including the risks, have not been thought through. They certainly haven’t been presented. That is not what one would expect of a leading educational organisation, especially one that receives a substantial proportion of its funding from the taxpayer. I recommend that, before taking its decision, NAHT obtains and publishes detailed draft proposals and a full risk analysis.
  • You also acknowledge the potentially negative impact on impact Goal 5. This is especially true of the part relating to progression to selective universities. It suggests that neither Teach First nor the Alliance have properly considered the interaction between their different goals. To suggest, as the Teach First policy statement does, that the appropriate interventions necessary to support Goal 5 are straightforward and inexpensive betrays a certain naivety but also an ignorance of the National strategy for access and student success. I urge that NAHT considers carefully how it will support Goal 5 and whether there is not a risk – even a likelihood – that the proposed reductions in pupil premium would undermine that support.

As you know, both ASCL and the NGA now oppose Teach First’s position, as does John Dunford, the pupil premium champion. The Conservative Manifesto pledges that it will ‘continue to provide the pupil premium, protected at current rates’. NAHT should reassess its own position in the light of this information.

Ofsted has announced that it will ensure inspections continue to focus sharply on the progress of able disadvantaged students, given its finding that only one-third of non-selective secondary schools are using pupil premium effectively to support them.

I have seen no evidence to suggest that primary schools are any more effective in this respect. Regardless of the arguments above, NAHT should obtain this evidence and reflect carefully upon its implications. 

In conclusion, I once more urge NAHT to withdraw its support for Teach First’s policy, as advanced by the FEA and Read On. Get On.

I also invite you to consider what more NAHT itself could do to ensure that its members are providing the best possible education for their most able learners, especially those eligible for the pupil premium.

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GP

May 2015

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Fisking Teach First’s defence of its pupil premium policy

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New-EYEBALL-for-C4DThis post scrutinises the arguments advanced by Teach First in defence of reallocating Pupil Premium away from disadvantaged learners with middle or high prior attainment.

Background

On 29 April, Teach First responded formally to my campaign against their proposal that the Pupil Premium budget should be redistributed so that learners with low prior attainment attract double the amount available for those with middle and high prior attainment.

The original proposal was included in the Fair Education Alliance Report Card (December 2014) and repeated in a primary sector context in The Power of Reading (April 2015) published on behalf of the Read On Get On campaign.

I set out formidable arguments against this proposal in an earlier post: ‘Protecting Pupil Premium for High Attainers’ (April 2015).

It invited all the organisations listed as members of the Fair Education Alliance or supporters of Read On Get On to justify their backing for the proposal or else distance themselves from it.

To date I have pursued twelve of these organisations for a reply. Eleven have failed to respond.

The twelfth, The Future Leaders Trust provided a statement:

‘…we agree that mid- and high-attainers from poor backgrounds should not be deprived of the support that they need to succeed. FSM children who achieve Level 5 in Reading, Writing and Maths at age 11 are still significantly less likely to go on to A-levels and university than their more affluent peers….rather than trying to redistribute the existing pie, we should be campaigning for a bigger one’.

I take that to mean that they do not fully support the proposal.

Brian Lightman of ASCL sent me a response

Lightman Capture

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He wrote:

‘ASCL is not a member of the Fair Education Alliance at this stage although we do agree with many aspects for what they are doing and are in discussion with them about what we might support and how.

However with regards to this specific point our position is similar to the one that NGA expressed. We would not be in agreement with allocating PP on the basis of prior attainment.  FSM is a proxy measure which is used to identify the overall level of disadvantage in a school and therefore pupil premium allocations

We strongly believe that decisions about how to use the PP in schools should be decisions made by school leaders who are fully  accountable for the impact of their decisions.’

Russell Hobby of NAHT – which is a member of the Alliance – committed to a response but has so far failed to produce it. (Quelle surprise, since NAHT has form in that department.)

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The National Governors’ Association (NGA) has already confirmed its opposition to Teach First’s position.

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Teach First’s argument is also opposed by John Dunford, the Pupil Premium Champion, and by the Sutton Trust.

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The Teach First response is headed ‘Our policy position on the pupil premium’. It begins:

‘Recently, we’ve had a few questions on our policy position on the Pupil Premium, which we endorsed in the Fair Education Alliance Report Card 2015.’

This helpfully confirms that the proposal set out in the Report Card is official Teach First policy.

It is rather less helpful in failing to acknowledge the source of those questions and failing to link to the counter-arguments set out in my post.

This means that those who want to make up their own minds whether they support Teach First’s position have only one side of the argument available to them. I would have expected more generosity of spirit from an organisation as powerful as Teach First, especially when taking on a singleton blogger like me.

The remainder of this post fisks the Teach First policy position statement.

It strives wherever possible to supplement rather than repeat the substantive arguments advanced in my earlier post, so those who want to consider the case in the round do need to revisit that in addition to the material below.

Recommendation

The statement begins by reiterating the original recommendation, to:

‘Target pupil premium by attainment as well as disadvantage measures. This could be achieved through halving current funding per pupil for FSM Ever 6 [a deprivation measure which includes pupils who have ever been a Looked After Child or eligible for Free School Meals in the previous six years]. Half of this funding could then be re-allocated to pupils eligible for FSM Ever 6 who have low prior attainment. This would give double-weighting to those low income pupils most in need of intervention without raising overall pupil premium spend. The change of funding model would increase school accountability for ‘catching up’ pupils.’

The full implications of what is now declared as official Teach First policy are extremely unclear, because there is no modelling, in the Report Card or elsewhere, of the redistribution or its likely effects.

Indeed, when I challenged Teach First over one aspect of modelling, it admitted that none had been undertaken.

In the absence of any clarification of how the redistribution would work, this is my best guess at what the recommendation means.

One begins with an assumption that one-third of pupil premium beneficiaries are low attainers, while two-thirds are middle and high attainers. (In 2014, 67% of disadvantaged learners achieved KS L4 and above in reading, writing and maths, meaning 33% did not.)

Given a total pupil premium budget of £2.5bn per year, assuming equal shares, the low attainers get £833.33m and the middle and high attainers together get £1.67bn.

One removes half of the funding from the high and middle attainers together – so £833.33m in total, leaving an equivalent sum behind.

The sum removed is added to the low attainers’ budget giving them a total of £1.67bn, meaning they have double the amount available for the other two groups combined.

But this outcome would mean one group, half the size of the other, would also have double the funding, hence each low attainer within that group would have four times the funding allocated to each middle and high attainer.

To make the equation work, one has to divide the sum initially removed from the high and middle attainers into two, allocating £416.67m into each pot.

Then there is £1.25bn for the low attainers and an identical £1.25bn for the middle and high attainers, but there are twice as many of the latter, so each of them gets half the sum available to each low attainer.

Confused yet?

In any case, all of this is guesswork because Teach First has not yet:

  • Confirmed whether this proposal applies to both primary and secondary schools though, since it is referenced in a primary context by the ‘Read On Get On.’ Report and this statement mentions the primary sector in passing , one assumes that it applies equally in both.
  • Defined what constitutes low prior attainment. At secondary level for example, is it below the scaled score equivalent of Level 4b in reading writing and maths combined? Or does it count each assessment separately? Or is it achievement below Level 4, either individually or combined? What is the equivalent measure at primary level? Your guess is as good as mine.

It really behoves Teach First to be clearer on these issues than it has been to date.

However the recommendation above states clearly that learners attracting the pupil premium with low prior attainment would have ‘double weighting’, implying that those with middle and high prior attainment would find their allocations single weighted, so pitched at half this value.

So, in the absence of any further elucidation, I assume that each low attaining pupil premium beneficiary would in future receive twice as much as each middle and high attaining beneficiary.

It would be good to know the size of the premium Teach First expects to be available to each category.

One possible outcome, using the very approximate ratio above, might be:

  • Low attainer primary pupil premium of £1,950 and high/middle attainer primary pupil premium of £975, compared with the present rate of £1,300.
  • Low attainer secondary pupil premium of £1,402 and high/middle attainer pupil premium of £701.

Low attainers would get an additional 50% top-up while all middle/high attainers would get 75% of what they do now.

Until we know the size of the uprating and the numbers used in the calculation, we cannot quantify the redistributive impact, so Teach First has asked its supporters to sign a blank cheque (and they have done so, apparently without too much scrutiny).

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Pupil premium as it operates now

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The positive

The policy statement says:

Teach First is fully supportive of the Pupil Premium. It has been an incredibly important tool that helps to achieve our vision that no child’s success is limited by their socio-economic background.  We will continue to advocate for it, and for it to be protected and enhanced. The introduction of the Pupil Premium has increased accountability for the progress of the country’s poorest children and since this was introduced, an increase in attainment has been seen in those areas where they are the minority, though they still significantly underperform their wealthier peers. We hope and expect the full impact of the Pupil Premium will become apparent as the funding beds in and those pupils who have benefitted from it complete their full school journey.’

The commitment to continued advocacy for the pupil premium to be protected and enhanced rings rather hollow, given that perhaps two-thirds of beneficiaries would have their allocations reduced to half the value of the premium provided for their low attaining peers.

One assumes that ‘protected’ means Pupil Premium should continue to be ring-fenced outside the school funding formula.

‘Enhanced’ is potentially meaningless. It stands proxy for ‘increased’ but, given the wider pressures on the national schools budget, there is little prospect of increasing the total pupil premium budget by the sum necessary to uprate low attainers’ allocations while leaving others unchanged. 

This is apparently what the Future Leaders Trust would like to see, but it simply isn’t realistic.

The data supporting the claim of an increase in attainment since the premium was introduced is unsupported by evidence. What level of attainment? What measure of attainment? What size of area? How do we know the improvement is attributable to the Pupil Premium, as opposed to other factors?

In particular, does this apply to middle and high attainers? If so, what evidence is there to suggest that significantly reducing the sum available to support them will not detract from this progress?

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The negative

The statement continues:

Schools are held accountable to Ofsted for their spending of the Pupil Premium – demonstrating how it has contributed to improved attainment of eligible pupils. There has not yet been a systematic review of how schools are spending the Pupil Premium, however there is some evidence from Ofsted that Pupil Premium is not always being used as effectively as it could be – in some instances plugging gaps in school budgets which have faced cuts – and that it is not always meeting the needs of those who are falling furthest behind (e.g. Chapter 6 in The Tail).’

This betrays selective use of the evidence base.

Where the funding is being used to plug gaps in the school budget (something that Teach First is also advocating at the macro level – see below) surely middle and high attainers will be suffering equally as much as low attainers, quite possibly more.

In ‘The pupil premium: How schools are spending the funding’ (February 2013), Ofsted reported:

‘Where schools spent the Pupil Premium funding successfully to improve achievement, they shared many of the following characteristics. They:

  • carefully ring-fenced the funding so that they always spent it on the target group of pupils
  • 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 tended to have at least some of the following characteristics. They…

  • focused on pupils attaining the nationally expected level at the end of the key stage (Level 4, five A* to C grades at GCSE) but did not go beyond these expectations, so some more able eligible pupils underachieved…’

In ‘The most able students: An update on progress’ (March 2015), Ofsted said:

Our report in 2013 found few instances of the pupil premium being used effectively to support the disadvantaged most able pupils. In the schools visited for this survey, about a third were using the pupil premium funding effectively to target the needs of these pupils.

Ofsted concludes:

‘… 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.’

Most of the evidence I have seen on this issue suggests that the lowest attainers are more likely than higher attainers to have their needs addressed appropriately through the pupil premium.

The case for reallocation via both pupil premium and the NFF

My previous post argues that, to the extent that reallocation is needed, it should be undertaken solely through the national funding formula (NFF) since using pupil premium creates too much ‘collateral damage’ – in the shape of lower allocations for middle and high attainers.

Teach First asserts:

 ‘We believe that low prior attainment is a compounding disadvantage and should be recognised in the National Funding Formula but that there would also be value in making extra funding to low attainers explicit through shifting the emphasis onto this group in the Pupil Premium.

The re-allocation within Pupil Premium funding would incentivise schools to make more progress with their most needy low income pupils: it would focus the accountability – as well as the financial support – directly on that group of pupils most in need of intervention.’

The case for recognition in the NFF is surely built on the costs involved in raising the attainment of low attainers, whether advantaged or disadvantaged.

If Teach First want to make extra funding for low attainers more explicit, that might be achieved by introducing an additional and entirely separate low attainers’ premium which recognises the needs of advantaged and disadvantaged low attainers alike.

But it would be administratively complex for schools to administer two overlapping ring-fenced budgets. It would be more straightforward to undertake the redistribution entirely through the NFF.

Accountability is achieved fundamentally through Ofsted inspection and School Performance Tables. If Teach First believe that schools need to be made more accountable for improving the performance of disadvantaged low attainers – and they cite no evidence to show that this is necessary – those are the obvious routes.

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Grounds for justifying the policy

I had asked Teach First to explain whether it justified the proposal on the grounds that it would divert extra funding to ‘catch-up’ or that it would redistribute wider deprivation funding between schools.

The policy statement makes clear that both are in play, but one takes precedence over the other:

  • First and foremost, Teach First apparently believes that: those with low prior attainment have greater needs; that the potential benefits of investment in low attainers are more significant; and that effective interventions for them are comparatively more expensive than those for disadvantaged middle and high attainers.
  • Secondly, this is assumed to be an effective method of redistributing funding away from a few (number unquantified) schools that have built up substantial funding surpluses through the combined effects of the current NFF and pupil premium, towards some (number again unquantified) which receive rather less support.

Each segment of this argument is tackled below.

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The impact of low attainment

The statement says:

We believe this is important because intervention at the lower ends of the prior attainment distribution could have significant impact on later attainment.  The FEA report card showed that those who fall behind early are not likely to catch up – last year only 7% of pupils achieving below expected levels aged 11 went on to get 5 ‘good’ GCSEs aged 16. And we charted how this ‘class ceiling’ can systemically hold some pupils back – having a knock-on effect on their wellbeing, employment and access to higher education.

There is similar evidence in respect of disadvantaged high attainers, where the comparator group are those with equivalent prior attainment from more advantaged backgrounds.

In ‘Closing England’s Excellence Gaps: Part 2’ (September 2014) I set out all the research evidence I could find on the subsequent progress made by high attainers, including:

  • The chances of FSM-eligible KS2 high attainers still being so at the end of KS4 are 45% lower than for other high attainers with similar prior attainment and characteristics (DfES 2007)
  • 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. (Ofsted 2013)
  • 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.’ (Vignoles 2014)

Teach First continues:

Recent analysis of pupils’ progress has shown that – although the majority of pupils do not have linear trajectories – pupils with high prior attainment are much more likely to stay on a linear trajectory than those with low prior attainment… However, low prior-attainers at Primary and Secondary have much more varied trajectories – indicating that rapid progress is possible, despite the fact that it is often not the case – and that focus on this group could be fruitful.’

I am not quite sure what this contributes to the argument. The analysis relates to progress subsequent to KS1 attainment. As the paper notes:

For children achieving a Level 1C, B or A at this stage, their development is so unpredictable that most will either outperform or underperform any Key Stage Two target that might be set.’

Moreover, the percentages are low at all levels – for example, only 12% of pupils with L3C at KS1 make linear progress at all key stages.

And of course they apply to all learners and not to disadvantaged learners, so we cannot see how much variation there is as a consequence of disadvantage.

The same is true of the primary and secondary transition matrices which, amongst other things show that, in 2014:

  • Of those with KS2 L5A in English or maths only half (48% in maths; 51% in English) achieved a GCSE A* grade.
  • Of those with KS2 L5C in English or maths, just one in five makes only a single level of progress by the end of KS4 in English, while the same is true of almost a third of students in maths.

Perhaps more to the point, excellence gaps are wide and growing. The graph below compares the percentage point gaps between disadvantaged and all other learners at KS2 L4 and above and L5 and above in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

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Fisk graph

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In 2014 the L5 gaps are larger across the board, with particularly large differences in maths and reading. In the latter, the gap at L5+ is more than twice as large as it is at L4+.

I note in passing that the Teach First model would presumably involve any disadvantaged low attainer who subsequently achieved or exceeded the expected level of performance moving from the higher level of pupil premium to the lower, otherwise the system would be inequitable. This would be complex and costly to administer.

Finally in this section, Teach First argues:

‘As well as huge personal cost, there is huge national cost to this underachievement – consultancy BCG estimated that boosting the attainment of this group could raise GDP by up to £56bn a year by 2050 (BCG, 2013)’

This is a secondary reference to a finding quoted in ‘The Tail’, which appears to be a sacred script for Teach First and the probable source of their false ideological position.

The actual wording in Marshall’s book is:

‘In a comparable study for the UK, the consulting firm BCG found that matching Finnish levels of social mobility (in terms of raising the educational outcomes of poor children) would add £6bn a year to GDP by 2030 and £56bn a year by 2050. Bringing below-average students in the UK to the national average would add £14bn a year to GDP by 2030 and £140bn by 2050.’

It doesn’t inspire confidence that Teach First has misquoted this statement in the Report Card as well as in its policy statement.

The original source is the Sutton Trust’s ‘Mobility Manifesto’ (2010). The calculations are based on PISA 2006 average scores in maths and science and based on a methodology derived by Hanushek. I shall leave it to others to comment on the reliability of the findings.

The first calculation involved estimating the benefits of matching the distribution of scores across the UK (so not just England) with those of Finland; the second with raising attainment across all socio-economic groups (based on parents’ education) to the UK average (excepting the higher than average value already recorded by the highest socio-economic group).

This is of course an entirely hypothetical model which attempts to quantify the impact of education on economic growth.

I will only note that, in ‘The High Cost of Low Educational Performance’ (2010) Hanushek also calculates the not inconsiderable benefits of improving average PISA maths and science performance by 25 points, so impacting across the attainment spectrum.

I reviewed the parallel literature on the economic benefits of investment at the top end in ‘The Economics of Gifted Education Revisited’ (March 2013).

In light of that, it seems to me there is a reasonable case for arguing that investment at the top end would yield commensurate benefits.

Hanushek himself recognises that:

Importantly, the relative size of the effects of performance at the bottom and at the top of the distribution depends on the specification, and further research is needed to yield more detailed predictions. Even so, the evidence strongly suggests that both dimensions of educational performance count for the growth potential of an economy.’

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The impact on Goal 5

My original post pointed out that the Fair Education Alliance was also pursuing another goal to:

Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25% most selective universities

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the graduation gap between young people from low income backgrounds and those from high income backgrounds. Our goal is for at least 5,000 more pupils from low income backgrounds to graduate each year, with 1,600 of these young people graduating from the most selective universities.’

I argued that reducing pupil premium for middle and high attainers would make this much harder to achieve, especially the highlighted final phrase, because it would reduce the chances of such learners achieving the grades necessary for admission to such universities.

Teach First’s policy statement says:

We see this recommendation as focusing on a different part of ‘the gap’ from Impact Goal 5 (the gap in university access) recommendations – this policy is about raising the attainment at KS2 and KS4 (our Impact Goals One and Two) for some of the nation’s most vulnerable children.’

This is risible I’m afraid, since a corollary of rationing pupil premium in this fashion is that exactly those disadvantaged learners most likely to proceed to selective universities will lose funding, while those least likely to do so will gain.

The reference to ‘vulnerable children’ introduces a whole new dimension, only for it to disappear as rapidly. Because if we are talking about funding for additional needs, perhaps SEN or behavioural, a range of additional considerations (and funding streams) apply.

Teach First continues:

We know that the kind of intensive interventions needed to raise attainment can be expensive and that working to change a pupil’s trajectory is likely to be harder than to ‘keep pupils on track’.  We also know that there are an array of inexpensive projects working with schools who can boost the non-cognitive and academic skills of those pupils already on positive trajectories – such as debatemateThe Brilliant Club and our own Futures programme. Hence our recommendation that Pupil Premium funding is redistributed to give greater weighting to low prior attainment and the more expensive interventions required there to change a child’s life.’

Hang on, weren’t we told earlier that the majority of students don’t have linear trajectories?

I would like to see evidence that it is necessarily harder to move, for example, a secure L3 to a L4 than it is to move a secure L5 to a L6. My experience suggests that interventions to raise disadvantaged attainment at the top end may need to be equally intensive as those lower down, especially when the focus is admission to selective universities.

On top of pupil premium, there is additional investment in catch-up, including over £50m a year (£500 per pupil) for the Catch-up Premium and the £50m annual topslice from the pupil premium budget for end of KS2 summer schools, also heavily focused on catch-up.

I have called for a similar £50m topslice to support intensive provision for disadvantaged high attainers seeking admission to selective universities.

In their parallel response to that post, Teach First says:

‘The single biggest factor linked to HE access is prior attainment. The Russell Group highlight that, of 15-year-olds on Free School Meals in 2007, only 0.3% achieved 3As or equivalent in their A-levels two years later – a huge barrier for progression to the most selective universities.

In this response, however, it all seems much more straightforward. There ‘are [sic] an array of inexpensive projects’ that can sort this out. (Do English teachers now consider an array to be plural?)

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. I believe debatemate and The Brilliant Club are both Teach First spin-offs (run by alumni). While debatemate is a member of the Fair Education Alliance, The Brilliant Club is not. While debatemate is focused on developing speaking and listening and critical thinking skills, The Brilliant Club is dedicated principally to placing PhD students in schools.

No doubt both are valuable niche programmes and there are dozens more like them, offered by commercial, third sector or university providers. Some are free, some relatively cheap, others more expensive.

The problem is that disadvantaged students aiming for selective universities need a coherent, long-term support programme that addresses their particular strengths and weaknesses. This is increasingly recognised in the national strategy for access.

They also need support from their schools to secure that provision, drawing on a range of different providers to supply the elements they must combine to generate a holistic programme. That’s precisely what my proposed £50m pupil premium topslice would achieve.

It would support a personal budget of £2,000 a year (almost exactly the same as the illustrative higher rate pupil premium for low attainers above) for some 5,000 high attaining pupil premium eligible learners.

It would be designed to increase significantly the number of such students progressing to high tariff universities, including Russell Group institutions and especially Oxbridge.

No sign of Teach First support for this of course.

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Redistribution of funding

Reverting to its secondary reason for reallocating pupil premium, Teach First argues:

‘A secondary effect of this Pupil Premium change is that it might better recognise the compound disadvantage of growing up in a low income home in an area with a history of educational under-performance.

The Free School Meals (FSM) measure of disadvantage in the UK is not fully progressive or entirely comprehensive. For example, the binary FSM/non-FSM to dictate funding does not allow for recognition of  low-income families who just miss the eligibility criteria for Free School Meals; the national funding formula does not currently compensate for geographical isolation and high transport costs which can compound low incomes in parts of the country. Consequently – due to the combination of a high intake of pupils attracting the Premium and a currently unequal national school funding formula – there are a small number of very successful schools building up surpluses. Meanwhile some schools with arguably greater need, where pupils suffer different socioeconomic disadvantages that affect their attainment, are receiving comparatively little extra funding. This hampers their ability to deal with the challenges that their students face and to prevent those vulnerable pupils from falling behind their peers.  Those areas struggling to raise the attainment of their deprived pupils would most benefit from this double-weighting for their pupils who have fallen behind.’

My previous post argued strongly that any redistribution of this nature should be undertaken through the NFF and not the pupil premium.

Teach First is perfectly at liberty to lobby for changes to the Formula that would achieve its desired outcomes, though it seems that only ‘a small number’ of schools have built up surpluses.

There is no reason in principle why the NFF should not take account of aspects of disadvantage not caught by ‘ever 6 FSM’ (or indeed the other routes to pupil premium), or reflect sparsity factors.

Pupil premium reallocation might be a ‘quick fix’ for this problem but, as noted above, the collateral damage is too great. It drives a coach and horses through the principle that every ‘ever 6 FSM’ learner attracts the same rate of support. As such, it is not to be tolerated.

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Conclusion

This policy position is fundamentally inequitable, predicated as it is on the mistaken ideological assumption that a low attainer’s needs must necessarily outweigh and be prioritised over those of a high attainer with the same level of disadvantage.

Teach First will surely nail their colours to this mast and sail away into the sunset. In doing so, they confirm the existence of the bias I already suspected.

But, in the words of the Report Card itself, we need ‘a fair education for all’ supported by the ‘sound moral argument for giving every child an equal chance to succeed‘. Success should not mean all learners achieving the same outcomes. The success of one group should not be at the expense of another.

Nothing in Teach First’s new line of argument has persuaded me that high attainers’ chances of success will be protected if their pupil premium is reduced in this way. The same goes for the ‘squeezed middle’.

At bottom, this is nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So I call again on the members of the Fair Education Alliance and supporters of Read On Get On to justify their commitment to this ill-conceived and ill-formed idea.

Or else make clear that they no longer support it.

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GP

April 2015

Protecting pupil premium for high attainers

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This post continues the campaign I have been waging against the Fair Education Alliance, a Teach First-inspired ‘coalition for change in education’ over a proposal in its Report Card 2014 to f-school-letter-gradehalve the pupil premium for disadvantaged learners with high prior attainment.

I am:

  • Inviting Fair Education Alliance members (and Read On. Get On. partners) to defend the proposal or else distance themselves from it and
  • Calling on both campaigns to withdraw it.

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Background

The Fair Education Alliance was launched by Teach First in June 2014. It aims to:

‘…significantly narrow the achievement gap between young people from our poorest communities and their wealthier peers by 2022’.

There are 27 members in all (see below).

The Alliance plans to monitor progress annually against five Fair Education Impact Goals through an annual Report Card.

The first Report Card, published in December 2014, explains that the Alliance was formed:

‘…in response to the growing demand for a national debate on why thousands of children do not get a fair education’.

The Impact Goals are described thus:

  • ‘Narrow the gap in literacy and numeracy at primary school

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the attainment gap between primary schools serving lower income pupils and those educating higher income pupils. Our goal is for this gap to be narrowed by 90 % by 2022.

  • Narrow the gap in GCSE attainment at secondary school

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the attainment gap between secondary schools serving lower income pupils and those educating higher income pupils. Our goal is to close 44 % of this gap by 2022.

  • Ensure young people develop key strengths, including resilience and wellbeing, to support high aspirations

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to ensuring young people develop non-cognitive skills, including the positive wellbeing and resilience they need to succeed in life. The Alliance will be working with other organisations to develop measurement tools which will allow the development of these key skills to be captured.

  • Narrow the gap in the proportion of young people taking part in further education or employment-based training after finishing their GCSEs.

The Fair Education Alliance wants to see an increase in the number of young people from low-income communities who stay in further education or employment-based training once they have completed Key Stage 4. Our goal is for 90% of young people from schools serving low income communities to be in post-16 education or employment-based training by 2022.

  • Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25% most selective universities

The Fair Education Alliance is committed to closing the graduation gap between young people from low income backgrounds and those from high income backgrounds. Our goal is for at least 5,000 more pupils from low income backgrounds to graduate each year, with 1,600 of these young people graduating from the most selective universities.’

The problematic proposal relates to Impact Goal 2, focused on the GCSE attainment gap in secondary schools.

The gap in question is between:

  • Schools serving low income communities: ‘State schools where 50 % or more of the pupils attending come from the most deprived 30 % of families according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI)’ and
  • Schools serving high income communities: ‘State schools where 50 % or more of the pupils attending come from the least deprived 30 % of families according to IDACI’.

The Report Card explains that the Alliance is focused on gaps between schools rather than gaps between pupils:

‘…to better capture data that includes those pupils whose families are on a low income but are just above the income threshold for free school meals (the poverty measure in schooling). This measurement also helps monitor the impact of the Alliance’s efforts towards meeting the goals as many members work with and through schools to tackle educational inequality, rather than with individual pupils.’

Under Goal 2, the gap the Alliance wishes to close relates to:

‘Average point score…across eight GCSE subjects, with extra weighting for English and maths’

The measure excludes equivalent qualifications. The baseline gap – derived from 2012/13 data:

‘…is currently 101.7 average points – the difference between 8 C grades and 8 A grades.

The Report Card says this gap has narrowed by 10.5% since 2010/11, but warns that new accountability measures could work in the opposite direction.

The problematic recommendation

The Report Card discusses the distribution of funding to support deprivation, arguing that:

  • Some aspects of disadvantage ‘are given less recognition in the current funding system. ‘For instance FSM Ever 6 does not include low income families who just miss the eligibility criteria for free school meals; and the national funding formula is not able to compensate for geographical isolation and high transport costs which can compound low incomes in parts of the country.’
  • ‘Consequently – due to the combination of a high intake of pupils attracting the premium and a currently unequal national school funding formula – there are a small number of very successful schools building up large surpluses. Meanwhile some schools with arguably greater need, where pupils suffer different socioeconomic disadvantages that affect their attainment, are receiving comparatively little extra funding. This hampers their ability to deal with the challenges that their students face and to prevent those vulnerable pupils from falling behind their peers.’

To rectify this problem, the Report Card recommends a significant policy adjustment:

Target pupil premium by attainment as well as disadvantage measures: This could be achieved through halving current funding per pupil for FSM Ever 6. Half of this funding could then be re-allocated to pupils eligible for FSM Ever 6 who have low prior attainment. This would give double-weighting to those low income pupils most in need of intervention without raising overall pupil premium spend. The change of funding model would increase school accountability for ‘catching up’ pupils.

The proposal is advanced in a section about secondary schools; it is unclear whether it is intended to apply equally to primary schools.

Quite what constitutes low prior attainment is never made entirely clear either. One assumes that, for secondary students, it is anything below the scaled score equivalent of KS2 L4b in English (reading and writing), maths or both.

This does of course mean that learners attracting the pupil premium who achieve the requisite scores will be as much short-changed as those who exceed them. Low attainers must take precedence over middle attainers as well as high attainers.

I am minded to extend my campaign to encompass the ‘squeezed middle’, but perhaps I should let someone else bear that standard.

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Why this is objectionable

I oppose this proposal because:

  • The pupil premium is described as ‘additional funding for publicly funded schools in England to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers’. Although not a personal funding entitlement – the funding can be aggregated and deployed as schools see fit – schools are held accountable for the impact of the pupil premium on the attainment and progress of the pupils that attract it. There is presently no distinction according to the attainment of these students, but the change proposed by the Alliance would shift the accountability focus to prioritise the achievement and progress of disadvantaged low attainers over disadvantaged middle and high attainers.
  • The pupil premium should not be treated as part of the overall school budget. As Ofsted said in its first report on the premium (September 2012):

‘School leaders, including governing bodies, should ensure that Pupil Premium funding is not simply absorbed into mainstream budgets, but instead is carefully targeted at the designated children. They should be able to identify clearly how the money is being spent.’

Since the premium follows the pupil, schools with large numbers of eligible pupils should not have any part of this funding clawed back, nor should those with relatively few eligible pupils have it supplemented.

  • If there are problems with the distribution of deprivation funding, this should be addressed through the school funding formula. It is wrong to suggest that a national funding formula would be incapable of compensating for associated sparsity factors. It is for those devising such a formula to determine whether to compensate for pupils not eligible for the premium and factors such as geographical isolation and high transport costs. The Alliance is perfectly entitled to lobby for this. But, in the absence of such a formula, the premium should not be rationed or redistributed to compensate.

‘Our report in 2013 found few instances of the pupil premium being used effectively to support the disadvantaged most able pupils. In the schools visited for this survey, about a third were using the pupil premium funding effectively to target the needs of these pupils.

  • Any decision to double weight pupil premium for disadvantaged learners with low prior attainment would be likely to penalise disadvantaged high attainers. Although schools could theoretically decide to aggregate the funding and spend it differently, the clear intention is that the accountability framework would incentivise correspondingly stronger improvement by low attainers relative to middle and higher attainers. It is hard to understand how this, combined with the redistribution of funding, would help schools to support the latter and so meet Ofsted’s expectations
  • There are strong equity arguments against such a redistribution: disadvantaged learners should not be penalised on the basis of their prior attainment. That is  not ‘A fair education for all’, nor is it consistent with the ‘sound moral argument for giving every child an equal chance to succeed‘ mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Report Card. There is a fundamental distinction between reflecting the additional costs attributable to supporting all low attainers in the funding formula and redistributing allocations associated with individual disadvantaged learners for the same purpose.
  • The Report Card itself recognises the significance of disadvantaged high attainers:

‘As the Level 5 attainment gap highlights, there is not only a need to catch up those ‘slipping behind’ but also an imperative to ‘stretch the top’ when looking at pupils from low income communities. Some schools do well by this measure: sharing best practice in making better than expected levels of progress and stretching the highest attainers is crucial for ensuring all schools can replicate the successes some have already developed.’

How this can be squared with the proposed redistribution of pupil premium is not addressed. 

  • Such a policy would make the Alliance’s own goal of narrowing the gap in university graduation from the 25% most selective universities much harder to achieve, since it would reduce the likelihood of disadvantaged learners reaching the level of attainment necessary to secure admission.
  • There is already additional funding, outside the school funding settlement, dedicated to ‘catch-up’ for those with low prior attainment. Well over £50m per year is allocated to the ‘catch-up premium’ providing £500 per pupil who did not achieve at least KS2 L4 in reading and/or maths. This may be used for individual or small group tuition, summer schools or resources and materials. A further £50m has also been top-sliced from the pupil premium to provide an annual summer schools programme for those at the end of KS2. A core purpose is ‘to help disadvantaged pupils who are behind in key areas such as literacy and numeracy to catch up with their peers’. There is no corresponding funding for disadvantaged high attainers.
  • For FY2015/16, the Government adjusted the funding formula to allocate an additional £390m to schools in the least fairly funded authorities. This involved setting a minimum funding level for five pupil characteristics, one being ‘pupils from deprived backgrounds’, another ‘pupils with low attainment before starting at their primary or secondary school’. The values for the latter are £660 for primary schools and £940 for secondary schools. This establishes a precedent for reflecting the needs of low attaining learners in further progress towards a national funding formula.

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The campaign to date

I had an inconclusive discussion with Teach First officials on the day the Report Card was published

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Subsequently I pressed the Fair Education Alliance spokesperson at Teach First on some specific questions.

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I received two undertakings to respond online but nothing has materialised. Finally, on 17 April I requested a response within 24 hours.

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Nothing doing.

Meanwhile though, Sam Freedman published a piece that appeared to accept that such imbalances should be rectified through the schools funding formula:

‘The distribution, in turn, will depend on whether the next Government maintains the pupil premium at the same level – which has shifted funds towards poorer parts of the country – and whether they introduce a “National Funding Formula” (NFF).

At the moment there are significant and historic differences between funding in different parts of the country. Inner London for instance is overfunded, and many schools have significant surpluses, whereas other parts of the country, often more rural, have much tighter margins. The current Government have taken steps to remedy this but plan to go further if they win the election by introducing a NFF. Doing this would help alleviate the worst effects of the cuts for schools that are currently underfunded.’

Freedman himself retweeted this comment.

We had a further conversation on 20 April after this post had been published.

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Another influential Twitterata also appeared influenced – if not yet fully converted – by my line of argument:

Positive though some of these indications are, there are grounds to fear that at least some Alliance Members remain wedded to the redistribution of pupil premium.

The idea recently reappeared in a publication underpinning the Read On Get On campaign, supported by a variety of organisations including Teach First and some of the Fair Education Alliance.

The report in question – The Power of Reading (April 2015) – mentions that:

‘The Read On. Get On. campaign is working closely with the Fair Education Alliance and the National Literacy Forum to achieve our core goals, and this report reflects and builds on their recommendations.’

One of its ‘recommendations to the new Government’ is ‘Ensure stronger support for disadvantaged children who are falling behind’.

‘In what is likely to be a tight public spending round, our priority for further investment is to improve the quality of early education for the poorest children, as set out above. However, there are options for reforming existing pupil premium spending for primary school children so that it focuses resources and accountability on children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are falling behind…

….One option proposed by the Fair Education Alliance is to refocus the existing pupil premium on children who are eligible for free school meals and who start primary school behind. This would use existing funding and accountability mechanisms for the pupil premium to focus attention on children who need the most urgent help to progress, including in reading. It would make primary schools more accountable for how they support disadvantaged children who are falling behind. The primary pupil premium will be worth £1,300 per pupil in 2015–16 and is paid straight to schools for any child registered as eligible for free school meals at any point in the last six years. The FEA proposes halving the existing premium, and redistributing the other half to children who meet the existing eligibility criteria and have low prior attainment. New baseline tests for children at the start of the reception year, to be introduced in September 2016, could be used as the basis for measuring the prior attainment of children starting primary school.’

Interestingly, this appears to confirm that the Fair Education Alliance supports a redistribution of pupil premium in the primary sector as well as the secondary, something I could not find expressed on the face of the Report Card.

I reacted angrily

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The campaign continued

It won’t be long now before I leave the education world behind for ever, but I have decided to devote spare moments to the pursuit on social media of the organisations that form the Fair Education Alliance and/or support Read On. Get On.

I am asking each organisation to:

  • Justify their support for the policy that has been advanced or 
  • Formally distance themselves from it

I also extend an invitation to both campaigns to formally withdraw their proposals.

I shall publish the outcomes here.

The organisations involved are listed below. If any of them would care to cut to the chase, they are most welcome to use the comments facility on this blog or tweet me @GiftedPhoenix

Since my experience to date has been of surprising coyness when organisations are challenged over their ill-conceived policy ideas, I am imposing a ‘three strikes’ rule.

Any organisation that fails to respond having been challenged three times will be awarded a badge of shame and consigned to the Scrapheap.

Let’s see who’s in there by the end of term.

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[Postscript 2 (May 10 2015): Teach First published a defence of its policy on 29 April. On 30 April I published a further post fisking this statement to reveal the weaknesses and gaps in their argument.

Of the organisations that are members of the Alliance and/or support Read On. Get On, only Future Leaders and NAHT have responded to my request for clarification.

Future Leaders have distanced themselves from the offending proposal (see their comment on this blog). NAHT has published a response from Russell Hobby to which I have replied. We meet shortly to discuss the matter.

Importantly though, the National Governors’ Association (NGA) has also confirmed its opposition

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And so has ASCL. General Secretary Brian Lightman sent me this statement:

‘ASCL is not a member of the Fair Education Alliance at this stage although we do agree with many aspects for what they are doing and are in discussion with them about what we might support and how. 

However with regards to this specific point our position is similar to the one that NGA expressed. We would not be in agreement with allocating PP on the basis of prior attainment.  FSM is a proxy measure which is used to identify the overall level of disadvantage in a school and therefore pupil premium allocations

We strongly believe that decisions about how to use the PP in schools should be decisions made by school leaders who are fully  accountable for the impact of their decisions.’]

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GP

April 2015

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Fair Education Alliance

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I have published a comment from Future Leaders in which they accept that:

‘…mid- and high-attainers from poor backgrounds should not be deprived of the support that they need to succeed’.

Thanks to them for their prompt and clear response.

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Read On. Get On.

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The Scrapheap

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National Literacy Trust (12/5/15)

Achievement for All (9/6/15)

Teaching Leaders (9/6/15)

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Addressed to Teach First and its Fair Education Alliance

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This short opinion piece was originally commissioned by the TES in November.

My draft reached them on 24 November; they offered some edits on 17 December.

Betweentimes the Fair Education Alliance Report Card made its appearance on 9 December.

Then Christmas intervened.

On 5 January I offered the TES a revised version they said should be published on 27 February. It never appeared.

This Tweet

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prompted an undertaking that it would appear on 27 March. I’ll believe that when I see it.

But there’s no reason why you should wait any longer. This version is more comprehensive anyway, in that it includes several relevant Twitter comments and additional explanatory material.

I very much hope that Teach First and members of the Fair Education Alliance will read it and reflect seriously on the proposal it makes.

As the final sequence of Tweets below shows, Teach First committed to an online response on 14 February. Still waiting…

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How worried are you that so few students on free school meals make it to Oxbridge?

Many different reasons are offered by those who argue that such concern may be misplaced:

  • FSM is a poor proxy for disadvantage; any number of alternatives is preferable;
  • We shouldn’t single out Oxbridge when so many other selective universities have similarly poor records;
  • We obsess about Oxbridge when we should be focused on progression to higher education as a whole;
  • We should worry instead about progression to the most selective courses, which aren’t necessarily at the most selective universities;
  • Oxbridge suits a particular kind of student; we shouldn’t force square pegs into round holes;
  • We shouldn’t get involved in social engineering.

Several of these points are well made. But they can be deployed as a smokescreen, obscuring the uncomfortable fact that, despite our collective best efforts, there has been negligible progress against the FSM measure for a decade or more.

Answers to Parliamentary Questions supplied  by BIS say that the total fluctuated between 40 and 45 in the six years from 2005/06 to 2010/11.

The Department for Education’s experimental destination measures statistics suggested that the 2010/11 intake was 30, rising to 50 in 2011/12, of which 40 were from state-funded schools and 10 from state-funded colleges. But these numbers are rounded to the nearest 10.

By comparison, the total number of students recorded as progressing to Oxbridge from state-funded schools and colleges in 2011/12 is 2,420.

This data underpins the adjustment of DfE’s  ‘FSM to Oxbridge’ impact indicator, from 0.1% to 0.2%. It will be interesting to see whether there is stronger progress in the 2012/13 destination measures, due later this month.

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[Postscript: The 2012/13 Destinations Data was published on 26 January 2014. The number of FSM learners progressing to Oxbridge is shown only in the underlying data (Table NA 12).

This tells us that the numbers are unchanged: 40 from state-funded schools; 10 from state-funded colleges, with both totals again rounded to the nearest 10.

So any improvement in 2011/12 has stalled in 2012/13, or is too small to register given the rounding (and the rounding might even mask a deterioration)

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The non-FSM totals progressing to Oxbridge in 2012/13 are 2,080 from state-funded schools and 480 from state-funded colleges, giving a total of 2,560. This is an increase of some 6% compared with 2011/12.

Subject to the vagaries of rounding, this suggests that the ratio of non-FSM to FSM learners progressing from state-funded institutions deteriorated in 2012/13 compared with 2011/12.]

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The routine explanation is that too few FSM-eligible students achieve the top grades necessary for admission to Oxbridge. But answers to Parliamentary Questions reveal that, between 2006 and 2011, the number achieving three or more A-levels at grade A or above increased by some 45 per cent, reaching 546 in 2011.

Judged on this measure, our national commitment to social mobility and fair access is not cutting the mustard. Substantial expenditure – by the taxpayer, by universities and the third sector – is making too little difference too slowly. Transparency is limited because the figures are hostages to fortune.

So what could be done about this? Perhaps the answer lies with Teach First and the Fair Education Alliance.

Towards the end of last year Teach First celebrated a decade of impact. It published a report and three pupil case studies, one of which featured a girl who was first in her school to study at Oxford.

I tweeted

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Teach First has a specific interest in this area, beyond its teacher training remit. It runs a scheme, Teach First Futures, for students who are  “currently under-represented in universities, including those whose parents did not go to university and those who have claimed free school meals”.

Participants benefit from a Teach First mentor throughout the sixth form, access to a 4-day Easter school at Cambridge, university day trips, skills workshops and careers sessions. Those applying to Oxbridge receive unspecified additional support.

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Information about the number of participants is not always consistent, but various Teach First sources suggest there were some 250 in 2009, rising to 700 in 2013. This year the target is 900. Perhaps some 2,500 have taken part to date.

Teach First’s impact report  says that 30 per cent of those who had been through the programme in 2013 secured places at Russell Group universities and that 60 per cent of participants interviewed at Oxbridge received an offer.

I searched for details of how many – FSM or otherwise – had actually been admitted to Oxbridge. Apart from one solitary case study, all I could find was a report that mentioned four Oxbridge offers in 2010.

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Through the Fair Education Alliance, Teach First and its partners are committed to five impact goals, one of which is to:

‘Narrow the gap in university graduation, including from the 25% most selective universities, by 8%’*

Last month the Alliance published a Report Card which argued that:

‘The current amount of pupil premium allocated per disadvantaged pupil should be halved, and the remaining funds redistributed to those pupils who are disadvantaged and have low prior attainment. This would give double-weighting to those low income pupils most in need of intervention without raising overall pupil premium spend.’

It is hard to understand how this would improve the probability of achieving the impact goal above, even though the gaps the Alliance wishes to close are between schools serving high and low income communities.

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Perhaps it should also contemplate an expanded Alliance Futures Scheme, targeting simultaneously this goal and the Government’s ‘FSM to Oxbridge’ indicator, so killing two birds with one stone.

A really worthwhile Scheme would need to be ambitious, imposing much-needed coherence without resorting to prescription.

Why not consider:

  • A national framework for the supply side, in which all providers – universities included – position their various services.
  • Commitment on the part of all secondary schools and colleges to a coherent long-term support programme for FSM students, with open access at KS3 but continuing participation in KS4 and KS5 subject to successful progress.
  • Schools and colleges responsible for identifying participants’ learning and development needs and addressing those through a blend of internal provision and appropriate services drawn from the national framework.
  • A personal budget for each participant, funded through an annual £50m topslice from the Pupil Premium (there is a precedent) plus a matching sum from universities’ outreach budgets. Those with the weakest fair access records would contribute most. Philanthropic donations would be welcome.
  • The taxpayer’s contribution to all university funding streams made conditional on them meeting challenging but realistic fair access and FSM graduation targets – and publishing full annual data in a standard format.

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*In the Report card, this impact goal is differently expressed, as narrowing the gap in university graduation, so that at least 5,000 more students from low income backgrounds graduate each year, 1,600 of them from the most selective universities. This is to be achieved by 2022.

‘Low income backgrounds’ means schools where 50% or more pupils come from the most deprived 30% of families according to IDACI.

The gap to be narrowed is between these and pupils from ‘high income backgrounds’, defined as schools where 50% or more pupils come from the least deprived 30% of families according to IDACI.

‘The most selective universities’ means those in the Sutton Trust 30 (the top 25% of universities with the highest required UCAS scores).

The proposed increases in graduation rates from low income backgrounds do not of themselves constitute a narrowing gap, since there is no information about the corresponding changes in graduation rates from high income grounds.

This unique approach to closing gaps adds yet another methodology to the already long list applied to fair access. It risks adding further density to the smokescreen described at the start of this post.

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GP

January 2015