High Attainment in the 2014 Secondary and 16-18 Performance Tables

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This is my annual analysis of high attainment and high attainers’ performance in the Secondary School and College Performance Tables

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

Data Overload courtesy of opensourceway

It draws on the 2014 Secondary and 16-18 Tables, as well as three statistical releases published alongside them:

It also reports trends since 2012 and 2013, while acknowledging the comparability issues at secondary level this year.

This is a companion piece to previous posts on:

The post opens with the headlines from the subsequent analysis. These are followed by a discussion of definitions and comparability issues.

Two substantive sections deal respectively with secondary and post-16 measures. The post-16 analysis focuses exclusively on A level results. There is a brief postscript on the performance of disadvantaged high attainers.

As ever I apologise in advance for any transcription errors and invite readers to notify me of any they spot, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

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Headlines

At KS4:

  • High attainers constitute 32.4% of the cohort attending state-funded schools, but this masks some variation by school type. The percentage attending converter academies (38.4%) has fallen by nine percentage points since 2011 but remains almost double the percentage attending sponsored academies (21.2%).
  • Female high attainers (33.7%) continue to outnumber males (32.1%). The percentage of high-attaining males has fallen very slightly since 2013 while the proportion of high-attaining females has slightly increased.
  • 88.8% of the GCSE cohort attending selective schools are high attainers, virtually unchanged from 2013. The percentages in comprehensive schools (30.9%) and modern schools (21.0%) are also little changed.
  • These figures mask significant variation between schools. Ten grammar schools have a GCSE cohort consisting entirely of high attainers but, at the other extreme, one has only 52%.
  • Some comprehensive schools have more high attainers than some grammars: the highest percentage recorded in 2014 by a comprehensive is 86%. Modern schools are also extremely variable, with high attainer populations ranging from 4% to 45%. Schools with small populations of high attainers report very different success rates for them on the headline measures.
  • The fact that 11.2% of the selective school cohort are middle attainers reminds us that 11+ selection is not based on prior attainment. Middle attainers in selective schools perform significantly better than those in comprehensive schools, but worse than high attainers in comprehensives.
  • 92.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C (or equivalent) including GCSEs in English and maths. While the success rate for all learners is down by four percentage points compared with 2013, the decline is less pronounced for high attainers (1.9 points).
  • In 340 schools 100% of high attainers achieved this measure, down from 530 in 2013. Fifty-seven schools record 67% or less compared with only 14 in 2013. Four of the 57 had a better success rate for middle attainers than for high attainers.
  • 93.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved GCSE grades A*-C in English and maths. The success rate for high attainers has fallen less than the rate for the cohort as a whole (1.3 points against 2.4 points). Some 470 schools achieved 100% success amongst their high attainers on this measure, down 140 compared with 2013. Thirty-eight schools were at 67% or lower compared with only 12 in 2013. Five of these boast a higher success rate for their middle attainers than their high attainers (and four are the same that do so on the 5+ A*-C including English and maths measure).
  • 68.8% of high attainers were entered for the EBacc and 55% achieved it. The entry rate is up 3.8 percentage points and the success rate up 2.9 points compared with 2013. Sixty-seven schools entered 100% of their high attainers, but only five schools managed 100% success. Thirty-seven schools entered no high attainers at all and 53 had no successful high attainers.
  • 85.6% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in English and 84.7% did so in maths. Both are down on 2013 but much more so in maths (3.1 percentage points) than in English (0.6 points).
  • In 108 schools every high attainer made the requisite progress in English. In 99 schools the same was true of maths in 99 schools. Only 21 schools managed 100% success in both English and maths. At the other extreme there were seven schools in which 50% or fewer made expected progress in both English and maths. Several schools recording 50% or below in either English or maths did significantly better with their middle attainers.
  • In sponsored academies one in four high attainers do not make the expected progress in maths and one in five do not do so in English. In free schools one in every five high attainers falls short in English as do one in six in maths.

At KS5:

  • 11.9% of students at state-funded schools and colleges achieved AAB grades at A level or higher, with at least two in facilitating subjects. This is a slight fall compared with the 12.1% that did so in 2013. The best-performing state institution had a success rate of 83%.
  • 14.1% of A levels taken in selective schools in 2014 were graded A* and 41.1% were graded A* or A. In selective schools 26.1% of the cohort achieved AAA or higher and 32.3% achieved AAB or higher with at least two in facilitating subjects.
  • Across all schools, independent as well as state-funded, the proportion of students achieving three or more A level grades at A*/A is falling and the gap between the success rates of boys and girls is increasing.
  • Boys are more successful than girls on three of the four high attainment measures, the only exception being the least demanding (AAB or higher in any subjects).
  • The highest recorded A level point score per A level student in a state-funded institution in 2014 is 1430.1, compared with an average of 772.7. The lowest is 288.4. The highest APS per A level entry is 271.1 compared with an average of 211.2. The lowest recorded is 108.6.

Disadvantaged high attainers:

  • On the majority of the KS4 headline measures gaps between FSM and non-FSM performance are increasing, even when the 2013 methodology is applied to control for the impact of the reforms affecting comparability. Very limited improvement has been made against any of the five headline measures between 2011 and 2014. It seems that the pupil premium has had little impact to date on either attainment or progress. Although no separate information is forthcoming about the performance of disadvantaged high attainers, it is highly likely that excellence gaps are equally unaffected.

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Definitions and comparability issues 

Definitions

The Secondary and 16-18 Tables take very different approaches, since the former deals exclusively with high attainers while the latter concentrates exclusively on high attainment.

The Secondary Tables define high attainers according to their prior attainment on end of KS2 tests. Most learners in the 2014 GCSE cohort will have taken these five years previously, in 2009.

The new supporting documentation describes the distinction between high, middle and low attainers thus:

  • low attaining = those below level 4 in the key stage 2 tests
  • middle attaining = those at level 4 in the key stage 2 tests
  • high attaining = those above level 4 in the key stage 2 tests.

Last year the equivalent statement added:

‘To establish a pupil’s KS2 attainment level, we calculated the pupil’s average point score in national curriculum tests for English, maths and science and classified those with a point score of less than 24 as low; those between 24 and 29.99 as middle, and those with 30 or more as high attaining.’

This is now missing, but the methodology is presumably unchanged.

It means that high attainers will tend to be ‘all-rounders’, whose performance is at least middling in each assessment. Those who are exceptionally high achievers in one area but poor in others are unlikely to qualify.

There is nothing in the Secondary Tables or the supporting SFRs about high attainment, such as measures of GCSE achievement at grades A*/A.

By contrast, the 16-18 Tables do not distinguish high attainers, but do deploy a high attainment measure:

‘The percentage of A level students achieving grades AAB or higher in at least two facilitating subjects’

Facilitating subjects include:

‘biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, further mathematics, geography, history, English literature, modern and classical languages.’

The supporting documentation says:

‘Students who already have a good idea of what they want to study at university should check the usual entry requirements for their chosen course and ensure that their choices at advanced level include any required subjects. Students who are less sure will want to keep their options open while they decide what to do. These students might want to consider choosing at least two facilitating subjects because they are most commonly required for entry to degree courses at Russell Group universities. The study of A levels in particular subjects does not, of course, guarantee anyone a place. Entry to university is competitive and achieving good grades is also important.’

The 2013 Tables also included percentages of students achieving three A levels at grades AAB or higher in facilitating subjects, but this has now been dropped.

The Statement of Intent for the 2014 Tables explains:

‘As announced in the government’s response to the consultation on 16-19 accountability earlier this year, we intend to maintain the AAB measure in performance tables as a standard of academic rigour. However, to address the concerns raised in the 16-19 accountability consultation, we will only require two of the subjects to be in facilitating subjects. Therefore, the indicator based on three facilitating subjects will no longer be reported in the performance tables.’

Both these measures appear in SFR03/15, alongside two others:

  • Percentage of students achieving 3 A*-A grades or better At A level or applied single/double award A level.
  • Percentage of students achieving grades AAB or better at A level or applied single/double award A level.

Comparability Issues 

When it comes to analysis of the Secondary Tables, comparisons with previous years are compromised by changes to the way in which performance is measured.

Both SFRs carry an initial warning:

‘Two major reforms have been implemented which affect the calculation of key stage 4 (KS4) performance measures data in 2014:

  1. Professor Alison Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education recommendations which:
  • restrict the qualifications counted
  • prevent any qualification from counting as larger than one GCSE
  • cap the number of non-GCSEs included in performance measures at two per pupil
  1. An early entry policy to only count a pupil’s first attempt at a qualification.’

SFR02/15 explains that some data has been presented ‘on two alternative bases’:

  • Using the 2014 methodology with the changes above applied and
  • Using a proxy 2013 methodology where the effect of these two changes has been removed.

It points out that more minor changes have not been accounted for, including the removal of unregulated IGCSEs, the application of discounting across different qualification types, the shift to linear GCSE formats and the removal of the speaking and listening component from English.

Moreover, the proxy measure does not:

‘…isolate the impact of changes in school behaviour due to policy changes. For example, we can count best entry results rather than first entry results but some schools will have adjusted their behaviours according to the policy changes and stopped entering pupils in the same patterns as they would have done before the policy was introduced.’

Nevertheless, the proxy is the best available guide to what outcomes would have been had the two reforms above not been introduced. Unfortunately, it has been applied rather sparingly.

Rather than ignore trends completely, this post includes information about changes in high attainers’ GCSE performance compared with previous years, not least so readers can see the impact of the changes that have been introduced.

It is important that we do not allow the impact of these changes to be used as a smokescreen masking negligible improvement or even declines in national performance on key measures.

But we cannot escape the fact that the 2014 figures are not fully comparable with those for previous years. Several of the tables in SFR06/2015 carry a warning in red to this effect (but not those in SFR 02/2015).

A few less substantive changes also impact slightly on the comparability of A level results: the withdrawal of January examinations and ‘automatic add back’ of students whose results were deferred from the previous year because they had not completed their 16-18 study programme.

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Secondary outcomes

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The High Attainer Population 

The Secondary Performance Tables show that there were 172,115 high attainers from state-funded schools within the relevant cohort in 2014, who together account for 32.3% of the entire state-funded school cohort.

This is some 2% fewer than the 175,797 recorded in 2013, which constituted 32.4% of that year’s cohort.

SFR02/2015 provides information about the incidence of high, middle and low attainers by school type and gender.

Chart 1, below, compares the proportion of high attainers by type of school, showing changes since 2011.

The high attainer population across all state-funded mainstream schools has remained relatively stable over the period and currently stands at 32.9%. The corresponding percentage in LA-maintained mainstream schools is slightly lower: the difference is exactly two percentage points in 2014.

High attainers constitute only around one-fifth of the student population of sponsored academies, but close to double that in converter academies. The former percentage is relatively stable but the latter has fallen by some nine percentage points since 2011, presumably as the size of this sector has increased.

The percentage of high attainers in free schools is similar to that in converter academies but has fluctuated over the three years for which data is available. The comparison between 2014 and previous years will have been affected by the inclusion of UTCs and studio schools prior to 2014.

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*Pre-2014 includes UTCs and studio schools; 2014 includes free schools only

Chart 1: Percentage of high attainers by school type, 2011-2014

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Table 1 shows that, in each year since 2011, there has been a slightly higher percentage of female high attainers than male, the gap varying between 0.4 percentage points (2012) and 1.8 percentage points (2011).

The percentage of high-attaining boys in 2014 is the lowest it has been over this period, while the percentage of high attaining girls is slightly higher than it was in 2013 but has not returned to 2011 levels.

Year Boys Girls
2014 32.1 33.7
2013 32.3 33.3
2012 33.4 33.8
2011 32.6 34.4

Table 1: Percentage of high attainers by gender, all state-funded mainstream schools 2011-14

Table 2 shows that the percentage of high attainers in selective schools is almost unchanged from 2013, at just under 89%. This compares with almost 31% in comprehensive schools, unchanged from 2013, and 21% in modern schools, the highest it has been over this period.

The 11.2% of learners in selective schools who are middle attainers remind us that selection by ability through 11-plus tests gives a somewhat different sample than selection exclusively on the basis of KS2 attainment.

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Year Selective Comprehensive Modern
2014 88.8 30.9 21.0
2013 88.9 30.9 20.5
2012 89.8 31.7 20.9
2011 90.3 31.6 20.4

Table 2: Percentage of high attainers by admissions practice, 2011-14

The SFR shows that these middle attainers in selective schools are less successful than their high attaining peers, and slightly less successful than high attainers in comprehensives, but they are considerably more successful than middle attaining learners in comprehensive schools.

For example, in 2014 the 5+ A*-C grades including English and maths measure is achieved by:

  • 97.8% of high attainers in selective schools
  • 92.2% of high attainers in comprehensive schools
  • 88.1% of middle attainers in selective schools and
  • 50.8% of middle attainers in comprehensive schools.

A previous post ‘The Politics of Selection: Grammar schools and disadvantage’ (November 2014) explored how some grammar schools are significantly more selective than others – as measured by the percentage of high attainers within their GCSE cohorts – and the fact that some comprehensives are more selective than some grammar schools.

This is again borne out by the 2014 Performance Tables, which show that 10 selective schools have a cohort consisting entirely of high attainers, the same as in 2013. Eighty-nine selective schools have a high attainer population of 90% or more.

However, five are at 70% or below, with the lowest – Dover Grammar School for Boys – registering only 52% high attainers.

By comparison, comprehensives such as King’s Priory School, North Shields and Dame Alice Owen’s School, Potters Bar record 86% and 77% high attainers respectively. 

There is also huge variation in modern schools, from Coombe Girls’ in Kingston, at 45%, just seven percentage points shy of the lowest recorded in a selective school, to The Ellington and Hereson School, Ramsgate, at just 4%.

Two studio colleges say they have no high attainers at all, while 96 schools have 10% or fewer. A significant proportion of these are academies located in rural and coastal areas.

Even though results are suppressed where there are too few high attainers, it is evident that these small cohorts perform very differently in different schools.

Amongst those with a high attainer population of 10% or fewer, the proportion achieving:

  • 5+ A*-C grades including English and maths varies from 44% to100%
  • EBacc ranges from 0% to 89%
  • expected progress in English varies between 22% and 100% and expected progress in maths between 27% and 100%. 

5+ GCSEs (or equivalent) at A*-C including GCSEs in English and maths 

The Tables show that:

  • 92.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved five or more GCSEs (or equivalent) including GCSEs in English and maths. This compares with 56.6% of all learners. Allowing of course for the impact of 2014 reforms, the latter is a full four percentage points down on the 2013 outcome. By comparison, the outcome for high attainers is down 1.9 percentage points, slightly less than half the overall decline. Roughly one in every fourteen high attainers fails to achieve this benchmark.
  • 340 schools achieve 100% on this measure, significantly fewer than the 530 that did so in 2013 and the 480 managing this in 2012. In 2013, 14 schools registered 67% or fewer high attainers achieving this outcome, whereas in 2014 this number has increased substantially, to 57 schools. Five schools record 0%, including selective Bourne Grammar School, Lincolnshire, hopefully because of their choice of IGCSEs. Six more are at 25% or lower.

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A*-C grades in GCSE English and maths 

The Tables reveal that:

  • 93.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools achieved A*-C grades in GCSE English and maths, compared with 58.9% of all pupils. The latter percentage is down by 2.4 percentage points but the former has fallen by only 1.3 percentage points. Roughly one in 16 high attainers fails to achieve this measure.
  • In 2014 the number of schools with 100% of high attainers achieving this measure has fallen to some 470, 140 fewer than in 2013 and 60 fewer than in 2012. There were 38 schools recording 67% or lower, a significant increase compared with 12 in 2013 and 18 in 2012. Of these, four are listed at 0% (Bourne Grammar is at 1%) and five more are at 25% or lower.
  • Amongst the 38 schools recording 67% or lower, five return a higher success rate for their middle attainers than for their high attainers. Four of these are the same that do so on the 5+ A*-C measure above. They are joined by Tong High School. 

Entry to and achievement of the EBacc 

The Tables indicate that:

  • 68.8% of high attainers in state-funded schools were entered for all EBacc subjects and 55.0% achieved the EBacc. The entry rate is up by 3.8 percentage points compared with 2013, and the success rate is up by 2.9 percentage points. By comparison, 31.5% of middle attainers were entered (up 3.7 points) and 12.7% passed (up 0.9 points). Between 2012 and 2013 the entry rate for high attainers increased by 19 percentage points, so the rate of improvement has slowed significantly. Given the impending introduction of the Attainment 8 measure, commitment to the EBacc is presumably waning.
  • Thirty-seven schools entered no high attainers for the EBacc, compared with 55 in 2013 and 186 in 2012. Only 53 schools had no high attainers achieving the EBacc, compared with 79 in 2013 and 235 in 2012. Of these 53, 11 recorded a positive success rate for their middle attainers, though the difference was relatively small in all cases.

At least 3 Levels of Progress in English and maths

The Tables show that:

  • Across all state-funded schools 85.6% of high attainers made at least the expected progress in English while 84.7% did so in maths. The corresponding figures for middle attainers are 70.2% in English and 65.3% in maths. Compared with 2013, the percentages for high attainers are down 0.6 percentage points in English and down 3.1 percentage points in maths, presumably because the first entry only rule has had more impact in the latter. Even allowing for the depressing effect of the changes outlined above, it is unacceptable that more than one in every seven high attainers fails to make the requisite progress in each of these core subjects, especially when the progress expected is relatively undemanding for such students.
  • There were 108 schools in which every high attainer made at least the expected progress in English, exactly the same as in 2013. There were 99 schools which achieved the same outcome in maths, down significantly from 120 in 2013. In 2013 there were 36 schools which managed this in both English in maths, but only 21 did so in 2014.
  • At the other extreme, four schools recorded no high attainers making the expected progress in English, presumably because of their choice of IGCSE. Sixty-five schools were at or below 50% on this measure. In maths 67 schools were at or below 50%, but the lowest recorded outcome was 16%, at Oasis Academy, Hextable.
  • Half of the schools achieving 50% or less with their high attainers in English or maths also returned better results with middle attainers. Particularly glaring differentials in English include Red House Academy (50% middle attainers and 22% high attainers) and Wingfield Academy (73% middle attainers; 36% high attainers). In maths the worst examples are Oasis Academy Hextable (55% middle attainers and 16% high attainers), Sir John Hunt Community Sports College (45% middle attainers and 17% high attainers) and Roseberry College and Sixth Form (now closed) (49% middle attainers and 21% high attainers).

Comparing achievement of these measures by school type and admissions basis 

SFR02/2015 compares the performance of high attainers in different types of school on each of the five measures discussed above. This data is presented in Chart 2 below.

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Chart 2: Comparison of high attainers’ GCSE performance by type of school, 2014

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It shows that:

  • There is significant variation on all five measures, though these are more pronounced for achievement of the EBacc, where there is a 20 percentage point difference between the success rates in sponsored academies (39.2%) and in converter academies (59.9%).
  • Converter academies are the strongest performers across the board, while sponsored academies are consistently the weakest. LA-maintained mainstream schools out-perform free schools on four of the five measures, the only exception being expected progress in maths.
  • Free schools and converter academies achieve stronger performance on progress in maths than on progress in English, but the reverse is true in sponsored academies and LA-maintained schools.
  • Sponsored academies and free schools are both registering relatively poor performance on the EBacc measure and the two progress measures.
  • One in four high attainers in sponsored academies fails to make the requisite progress in maths while one in five fail to do so in English. Moreover, one in five high attainers in free schools fails to make the expected progress in English and one in six in maths. This is unacceptably low.

Comparisons with 2013 outcomes show a general decline, with the exception of EBacc achievement.

This is particularly pronounced in sponsored academies, where there have been falls of 5.2 percentage points on 5+ A*-Cs including English and maths, 5.7 points on A*-C in English and maths and 4.7 points on expected progress in maths. However, expected progress in English has held up well by comparison, with a fall of just 0.6 percentage points.

Progress in maths has declined more than progress in English across the board. In converter academies progress in maths is down 3.1 points, while progress in English is down 1.1 points. In LA-maintained schools, the corresponding falls are 3.4 and 0.4 points respectively.

EBacc achievement is up by 4.5 percentage points in sponsored academies, 3.1 points in LA-maintained schools and 1.8 points in converter academies.

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Comparing achievement of these measures by school admissions basis 

SFR02/2015 compares the performance of high attainers in selective, comprehensive and modern schools on these five measures. Chart 3 illustrates these comparisons.

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Chart 3: Comparison of high attainers’ GCSE performance by school admissions basis, 2014

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It is evident that:

  • High attainers in selective schools outperform those in comprehensive schools on all five measures. The biggest difference is in relation to EBacc achievement (21.6 percentage points). There is a 12.8 point advantage in relation to expected progress in maths and an 8.7 point advantage on expected progress in English.
  • Similarly, high attainers in comprehensive schools outperform those in modern schools. They enjoy a 14.7 percentage point advantage in relation to achievement of the EBacc, but, otherwise, the differences are between 1.6 and 3.5 percentage points.
  • Hence there is a smaller gap, by and large, between the performance of high attainers in modern and comprehensive schools respectively than there is between high attainers in comprehensive and selective schools respectively.
  • Only selective schools are more successful in achieving expected progress in maths than they are in English. It is a cause for some concern that, even in selective schools, 6.5% of pupils are failing to make at least three levels of progress in English.

Compared with 2013, results have typically improved in selective schools but worsened in comprehensive and modern schools. For example:

  • Achievement of the 5+ GCSE measure is up 0.5 percentage points in selective schools but down 2.3 points in comprehensives and modern schools.
  • In selective schools, the success rate for expected progress in English is up 0.5 points and in maths it is up 0.4 points. However, in comprehensive schools progress in English and maths are both down, by 0.7 points and 3.5 points respectively. In modern schools, progress in English is up 0.3 percentage points while progress in maths is down 4.1 percentage points.

When it comes to EBacc achievement, the success rate is unchanged in selective schools, up 3.1 points in comprehensives and up 5 points in modern schools.

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Other measures

The Secondary Performance Tables also provide information about the performance of high attainers on several other measures, including:

  • Average Points Score (APS): Annex B of the Statement of Intent says that, as in 2013, the Tables will include APS (best 8) for ‘all qualifications’ and ‘GCSEs only’. At the time of writing, only the former appears in the 2014 Tables. For high attainers, the APS (best 8) all qualifications across all state-funded schools is 386.2, which compares unfavourably with 396.1 in 2013. Four selective schools managed to exceed 450 points: Pate’s Grammar School (455.1); The Tiffin Girls’ School (452.1); Reading School (451.4); and Colyton Grammar School (450.6). The best result in 2013 was 459.5, again at Colyton Grammar School. At the other end of the table, only one school returns a score of under 250 for their high attainers, Pent Valley Technology College (248.1). The lowest recorded score in 2013 was significantly higher at 277.3.
  • Value Added (best 8) prior attainment: The VA score for all state-funded schools in 2014 is 1000.3, compared with 1001.5 in 2013. Five schools returned a result over 1050, whereas four did so in 2013. The 2014 leaders are: Tauheedul Islam Girls School (1070.7); Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School (1057.8); The City Academy Hackney (1051.4); The Skinner’s School (1051.2); and Hasmonean High School (1050.9). At the other extreme, 12 schools were at 900 or below, compared with just three in 2013. The lowest performer on this measure is Hull Studio School (851.2). 
  • Average grade: As in the case of APS, the average grade per pupil per GCSE has not yet materialised. The average grade per pupil per qualification is supplied. Five selective schools return A*-, including Henrietta Barnett, Pate’s, Reading School, Tiffin Girls and Tonbridge Grammar. Only Henrietta Barnett and Pate’s managed this in 2013.
  • Number of exam entries: Yet again we only have number of entries for all qualifications and not for GCSE only. The average number of entries per high attainer across state-funded schools is 10.4, compared with 12.1 in 2013. This 1.7 reduction is smaller than for middle attainers (down 2.5 from 11.4 to 8.9) and low attainers (down 3.7 from 10.1 to 6.4). The highest number of entries per high attainer was 14.2 at Gable Hall School and the lowest was 5.9 at The Midland Studio College Hinkley.

16-18: A level outcomes

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A level grades AAB or higher in at least two facilitating subjects 

The 16-18 Tables show that 11.9% of students in state-funded schools and colleges achieved AAB+ with at least two in facilitating subjects. This is slightly lower than the 12.1% recorded in 2013.

The best-performing state-funded institution is a further education college, Cambridge Regional College, which records 83%. The only other state-funded institution above 80% is The Henrietta Barnett School. At the other end of the spectrum, some 443 institutions are at 0%.

Table 3, derived from SFR03/2015, reveals how performance on this measure has changed since 2013 for different types of institution and, for schools with different admission arrangements.

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2013 2014
LA-maintained school 11.4 11.5
Sponsored academy 5.4 5.3
Converter academy 16.4 15.7
Free school* 11.3 16.4
Sixth form college 10.4 10
Other FE college 5.8 5.7
 
Selective school 32.4 32.3
Comprehensive school 10.7 10.5
Modern school 2 3.2

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The substantive change for free schools will be affected by the inclusion of UTCs and studio schools in that line in 2013 and the addition of city technology colleges and 16-19 free schools in 2014.

Otherwise the general trend is slightly downwards but LA-maintained schools have improved very slightly and modern schools have improved significantly.

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Other measures of high A level attainment

SFR03/15 provides outcomes for three other measures of high A level attainment:

  • 3 A*/A grades or better at A level, or applied single/double award A level
  • Grades AAB or better at A level, or applied single/double award A level
  • Grades AAB or better at A level all of which are in facilitating subjects.

Chart 4, below, compares performance across all state-funded schools and colleges on all four measures, showing results separately for boys and girls.

Boys are in the ascendancy on three of the four measures, the one exception being AAB grades or higher in any subjects. The gaps are more substantial where facilitating subjects are involved.

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Chart 4: A level high attainment measures by gender, 2014

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The SFR provides a time series for the achievement of the 3+ A*/A measure, for all schools – including independent schools – and colleges. The 2014 success rate is 12.0%, down 0.5 percentage points compared with 2013.

The trend over time is shown in Chart 5 below. This shows how results for boys and girls alike are slowly declining, having reached their peak in 2010/11. Boys established a clear lead from that year onwards.

As they decline, the lines for boys and girls are steadily diverging since girls’ results are falling more rapidly. The gap between boys and girls in 2014 is 1.3 percentage points.

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Chart 5: Achievement of 3+ A*/A grades in independent and state-funded schools and in colleges, 2006-2014

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Chart 6, compares performance on the four different measures by institutional type. It shows a similar pattern across the piece.

Success rates tend to be highest in either converter academies or free schools, while sponsored academies and other FE institutions tend to bring up the rear. LA-maintained schools and sixth form colleges lie midway between.

Converter academies outscore free schools when facilitating subjects do not enter the equation, but the reverse is true when they do. There is a similar relationship between sixth form colleges and LA-maintained schools, but it does not quite hold with the final pair.

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Chart 6: Proportion of students achieving different A level high attainment measures by type of institution, 2014

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Chart 7 compares performance by admissions policy in the schools sector on the four measures. Selective schools enjoy a big advantage on all four. More than one in four selective school students achieving at least 3 A grades and almost one in 3 achieves AAB+ with at least two in facilitating subjects.

There is a broadly similar relationship across all the measures, in that comprehensive schools record roughly three times the rates achieved in modern schools and selective schools manage roughly three times the success rates in comprehensive schools. 

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Chart 7: Proportion of students achieving different A level high attainment measures by admissions basis in schools, 2014

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Other Performance Table measures 

Some of the other measures in the 16-18 Tables are relevant to high attainment:

  • Average Point Score per A level student: The APS per student across all state funded schools and colleges is 772.7, down slightly on the 782.3 recorded last year. The highest recorded APS in 2014 is 1430.1, by Colchester Royal Grammar School. This is almost 100 ahead of the next best school, Colyton Grammar, but well short of the highest score in 2013, which was 1650. The lowest APS for a state-funded school in 2014 is 288.4 at Hartsdown Academy, which also returned the lowest score in 2013. 
  • Average Point Score per A level entry: The APS per A level entry for all state-funded institutions is 211.2, almost identical to the 211.3 recorded in 2013. The highest score attributable to a state-funded institution is 271.1 at The Henrietta Barnett School. This is very slightly slower than the 271.4 achieved by Queen Elizabeth’s Barnet in 2013. The lowest is 108.6, again at Hartsdown Academy, which exceeds the 2013 low of 97.7 at Appleton Academy. 
  • Average grade per A level entry: The average grade across state-funded schools and colleges is C. The highest average grade returned in the state-funded sector is A at The Henrietta Barnett School, Pate’s Grammar School, Queen Elizabeth’s Barnet and Tiffin Girls School. In 2013 only the two Barnet schools achieved the same outcome. At the other extreme, an average U grade is returned by Hartsdown Academy, Irlam and Cadishead College and Swadelands School. 

SFR06/2015 also supplies the percentage of A* and A*/A grades by type of institution and schools’ admissions arrangements. The former is shown in Chart 8 and the latter in Chart 9 below.

The free school comparisons are affected by the changes to this category described above.

Elsewhere the pattern is rather inconsistent. Success rates at A* exceed those set in 2012 and 2013 in LA-maintained schools, sponsored academies, sixth form colleges and other FE institutions. Meanwhile, A*/A grades combined are lower than both 2012 and 2013 in converter academies and sixth form colleges.

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Chart 8: A level A* and A*/A performance by institutional type, 2012 to 2014

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Chart 9 shows A* performance exceeding the success rates for 2012 and 2013 in all three sectors.

When both grades are included, success rates in selective schools have returned almost to 2012 levels following a dip in 2013, while there has been little change across the three years in comprehensive schools and a clear improvement in modern schools, which also experienced a dip last year.

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Chart 9: A level A* and A*/A performance in schools by admissions basis, 2012 to 2014.

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Disadvantaged high attainers 

There is nothing in either of the Performance Tables or the supporting SFRs to enable us to detect changes in the performance of disadvantaged high attainers relative to their more advantaged peers.

I dedicated a previous post to the very few published statistics available to quantify the size of these excellence gaps and establish if they are closing, stable or widening.

There is continuing uncertainty whether this will be addressed under the new assessment and accountability arrangements to be introduced from 2016.

Although results for all high attainers appear to be holding up better than those for middle and lower attainers, the evidence suggests that FSM and disadvantaged gaps at lower attainment levels are proving stubbornly resistant to closure.

Data from SFR06/2015 is presented in Charts 10-12 below.

Chart 10 shows that, when the 2014 methodology is applied, three of the gaps on the five headline measures increased in 2014 compared with 2013.

That might have been expected given the impact of the changes discussed above but, if the 2013 methodology is applied, so stripping out much (but not all) of the impact of these reforms, four of the five headline gaps worsened and the original three are even wider.

This seems to support the hypothesis that the reforms themselves are not driving this negative trend, athough Teach First has suggested otherwise.

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Chart 10: FSM gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2013-2014

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Chart 11 shows how FSM gaps have changed on each of these five measures since 2011. Both sets of 2014 figures are included.

Compared with 2011, there has been improvement on two of the five measures, while two or three have deteriorated, depending which methodology is applied for 2014.

Since 2012, only one measure has improved (expected progress in English) and that by slightly more or less than 1%, according to which 2014 methodology is selected.

Deteriorations have been small however, suggesting that FSM gaps have been relatively stable over this period, despite their closure being a top priority for the Government, backed up by extensive pupil premium funding.

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Chart 11: FSM/other gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2011 to 2014.

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Chart 12 shows a slightly more positive pattern for the gaps between disadvantaged learners (essentially ‘ever 6 FSM’ and looked after children) and their peers.

There have been improvements on four of the five headline measures since 2011. But since 2012, only one or two of the measures has improved, according to which 2014 methodology is selected. Compared with 2013, either three or four of the 2014 headline measures are down.

The application of the 2013 methodology in 2014, rather than the 2014 methodology, causes all five of the gaps to increase, so reinforcing the point in bold above.

It is unlikely that this pattern will be any different at higher attainment levels, but evidence to prove or disprove this remains disturbingly elusive.

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Chart 12: Disadvantaged/other gaps for headline GCSE measures, 2011 to 2014

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Taken together, this evidence does not provide a ringing endorsement of the Government’s strategy for closing these gaps.

There are various reasons why this might be the case:

  • It is too soon to see a significant effect from the pupil premium or other Government reforms: This is the most likely defensive line, although it begs the question why more urgent action was/is discounted.
  • Pupil premium is insufficiently targeted at the students/school that need it most: This is presumably what underlies the Fair Education Alliance’s misguided recommendation that pupil premium funding should be diverted away from high attaining disadvantaged learners towards their lower attaining peers.
  • Schools enjoy too much flexibility over how they use the pupil premium and too many are using it unwisely: This might point towards more rigorous evaluation, tighter accountability mechanisms and stronger guidance.
  • Pupil premium funding is too low to make a real difference: This might be advanced by institutions concerned at the impact of cuts elsewhere in their budgets.
  • Money isn’t the answer: This might suggest that the pupil premium concept is fundamentally misguided and that the system as a whole needs to take a different or more holistic approach.

I have proposed a more targeted method of tackling secondary excellence gaps and simultaneously strengthening fair access, where funding topsliced from the pupil premium is fed into personal budgets for disadvantaged high attainers.

These would meet the cost of coherent, long-term personalised support programmes, co-ordinated by their schools and colleges, which would access suitable services from a ‘managed market’ of suppliers.

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Conclusion

This analysis suggests that high attainers, particularly those in selective schools, have been relatively less affected by the reforms that have depressed GCSE results in 2014.

While we should be thankful for small mercies, three issues are of particular concern:

  • There is a stubborn and serious problem with the achievement of expected progress in both English and maths. It cannot be acceptable that approximately one in seven high attainers fails to make three levels of progress in each core subject when this is a relatively undemanding expectation for those with high prior attainment. This issue is particularly acute in sponsored academies where one in four or five high attainers are undershooting their progress targets.
  • Underachievement amongst high attainers is prevalent in far too many state-funded schools and colleges. At KS4 there are huge variations in the performance of high-attaining students depending on which schools they attend. A handful of schools achieve better outcomes with their middle attainers than with their high attainers. This ought to be a strong signal, to the schools as well as to Ofsted, that something serious is amiss.
  • Progress in closing KS4 FSM gaps continues to be elusive, despite this being a national priority, backed up by a pupil premium budget of £2.5bn a year. In the absence of data about the performance of disadvantaged high attainers, we can only assume that this is equally true of excellence gaps.

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GP

February 2015

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A Summer of Love for English Gifted Education? Episode 2: Ofsted’s ‘The Most Able Students’

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This post provides a close analysis of Ofsted’s Report: ‘The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools?’ (June 2013)

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summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

This is the second post in a short series, predicated on the assumption that we are currently enjoying a domestic ‘summer of love’ for gifted education.

According to this conceit, the ‘summer of love’ is built around three official publications, all of them linked in some way with the education of gifted learners, and various associated developments.

Part One in the series introduced the three documents:

  • An Ofsted Survey of how schools educate their most able pupils (still unpublished at that point); and
  • A planned ‘Investigation of school and college level strategies to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education’, this report programmed for publication in September 2013.

It provided a full analysis of the KS2 L6 Investigation and drew on the contractual specification for the Investigation of aspiration-raising strategies to set out what we know about its likely content and coverage.

It also explored the pre-publicity surrounding Ofsted’s Survey, which has been discussed exclusively by HMCI Wilshaw in the media. (There was no official announcement on Ofsted’s own website, though it did at least feature in their schedule of forthcoming publications.)

Part One also introduced a benchmark for the ‘The most able students’, in the shape of a review of Ofsted’s last foray into this territory – a December 2009 Survey called ‘Gifted and talented pupils in schools’.

I will try my best not to repeat too much material from Part One in this second Episode so, if you feel a little at sea without this background detail, I strongly recommend that you start with the middle section of that first post before reading this one.

I will also refer you, at least once, to various earlier posts of mine, including three I wrote on the day ‘The most able students’ was published:

  • My Twitter Feed – A reproduction of the real time Tweets I published immediately the Report was made available online, summarising its key points and recommendations and conveying my initial reactions and those of several influential commentators and respondents. (If you don’t like long posts, go there for the potted version!);

Part Two is dedicated almost exclusively to analysis of ‘The most able students’ and the reaction to its publication to date.

It runs a fine tooth comb over the content of the Report, comparing its findings with those set out in Ofsted’s 2009 publication and offering some judgement as to whether it possesses the ‘landmark’ qualities boasted of it by HMCI in media interviews and/or whether it justifies the criticism heaped on it in some quarters.

It also matches Ofsted’s findings against the Institutional Quality Standards (IQS) for Gifted Education – the planning and improvement tool last refreshed in 2010 – to explore what that reveals about the coverage of each document.

For part of my argument is that, if schools are to address the issues exposed by Ofsted, they will need help and support to do so – not only a collaborative mechanism such as that proposed in ‘Driving Gifted Education Forward – but also some succinct, practical guidance that builds on the experience developed during the lifetime of the late National Gifted and Talented Programme.

For – if you’d like a single succinct take-away from this analysis – I firmly believe that it is now timely for the IQS to be reviewed and updated to better reflect current policy and the new evidence base created in part by Ofsted and the other two publications I am ‘celebrating’ as part of the Summer of Love.

Oh, and if you want to find out more about my ‘big picture’ vision, may I refer you finally to the Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education.

But now it’s high time I began to engage you directly with what has proved to be a rather controversial text.

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Ofsted’s Definition of ‘Most Able’

The first thing to point out is that Ofsted’s Report is focused very broadly in one sense, but rather narrowly in another.

The logic-defying definition of ‘most able students’ Ofsted adopts – for the survey that informs the Report – is tucked away in a footnote divided between the bottom of pages 6 and 7 of the Report.

This says:

For the purpose of this survey ‘most able’ is defined 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. Some pupils who are new to the country and are learning English as an additional language, for example, might not have attained Level 5 or beyond at the end of Key Stage 2 but have the potential to achieve it.

It is hard to reconcile this definition with the emphasis in the title of the Report on ‘the most able students’, which suggests a much narrower population at one extreme of an ability distribution (not an attainment distribution, although most of the Report is actually about high attaining students, something quite different).

In fact, Ofsted’s sample includes:

  • All pupils achieving Level 5 and above in English – 38% of all pupils taking end KS2 tests in 2012 achieved this.
  • All pupils achieving Level 5 and above in maths – 39% of all pupils achieved this in 2012.
  • We also know that 27% of pupils achieved Level 5 or above in both English and maths in 2012. This enables us to deduce that approximately 11% of pupils managed Level 5 only in English and approximately 12% only in maths.
  • So adding these three together we get 27% + 11% + 12% = 50%. In other words, we have already included exactly half of the entire pupil population and have so far counted only ‘high attaining’ pupils.
  • But we also need to include a further proportion of pupils who ‘have the potential’ to achieve Level 5 in one or other of these subject but do not do so. This sub-population is unquantifiable, since Ofsted gives only the example of EAL pupils, rather than the full range of qualifying circumstances it has included. A range of different special needs might also cause a learner to be categorised thus. So might a particularly disadvantaged background (although that rather cuts across other messages within the Report). In practice, individual learners are typically affected by the complex interaction of a whole range of different factors, including gender, ethnic and socio-economic background, special needs, month of birth – and so on. Ofsted fails to explain which factors it has decided are within scope and which outside, or to provide any number or percentage for this group that we can tack on to the 50% already deemed high attainers.

Some might regard this lack of precision as unwarranted in a publication by our national Inspectorate, finding reason therein to ignore the important findings that Ofsted presents later in the Report. That would be unfortunate.

Not only is Ofsted’s definition very broad, it is also idiosyncratic, even in Government terms, because it is not the same as the slightly less generous version in the Secondary School Performance Tables, which is based on achievement of Level 5 in Key Stage 2 tests of English, maths and science.

So, according to this metric, Ofsted is concerned with the majority of pupils in our secondary schools – several million in fact.

But ‘The Most Able Students’ is focused exclusively on the segment of this population that attends non-selective 11-16 and 11-18 state schools.

We are told that only 160,000 students from a total of 3.235m in state-funded secondary schools attend selective institutions.

Another footnote adds that, in 2012, of 116,000 students meeting Ofsted’s ‘high attainers’ definition in state-funded schools who took GCSEs in English and maths, around 100,000 attended non-selective schools, compared with 16,000 in selective schools (so some 86%).

This imbalance is used to justify the exclusion of selective schools from the evidence base, even though some further direct comparison of the two sectors might have been instructive – possibly even supportive of the claim that there is a particular problem in comprehensive schools that is not found in selective institutions. Instead, we are asked to take this claim largely on trust.

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Exeter1 by Gifted Phoenix

Exeter1 by Gifted Phoenix

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The Data-Driven Headlines

The Report includes several snippets of data-based evidence to illustrate its argument, most of which relate to subsets of the population it has rather loosely defined, rather than that population as a whole. This creates a problematic disconnect between the definition and the data.

One can group the data into three categories: material relating to progression between Key Stages 2 and 4, material relating to achievement of AAB+ grades at A level in the so-called ‘facilitating subjects’ and material drawn from international comparisons studies. The former predominates.

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Data About Progression from KS2 to KS4

Ofsted does not explain up front the current expectation that pupils should make at least three full levels of progress between the end of Key Stage 2 and the end of Key Stage 4, or explore the fact that this assumption must disappear when National Curriculum levels go in 2016.

The conversion tables say that pupils achieving Level 5 at the end of Key Stage 2 should manage at least a Grade B at GCSE. Incidentally – and rather confusingly – that also includes pupils who are successful in the new Level 6 tests.

Hence the expectation does not apply to some of the very highest attainers who, rather than facing extra challenge, need only make two levels of progress in (what is typically) five years of schooling.

I have argued consistently that three levels of progress is insufficiently challenging for many high attainers. Ofsted makes that assumption too – even celebrates schools that push beyond it – but fails to challenge the source or substance of that advice.

We are supplied with the following pieces of data, all relating to 2012:

  • 65% of ‘high attainers’ in non-selective secondary schools – not according to Ofsted’s definition above, but the narrower one of those achieving  Key Stage 2 Level 5 in both English and maths – did not achieve GCSEs at A/A* in both those subjects. (So this is equivalent to 4 or 5 levels of progress in the two subjects combined.) This group includes over 65,000 students (see pages 4, 6, 8, 12).
  • Within the same population, 27% of students did not achieve GCSEs at B or above in both English and maths. (So this is the expected 3+ levels of progress.) This accounts for just over 27,000 students.) (see pages 4, 6 and 12).
  • On the basis of this measure, 42% of FSM-eligible students did not achieve GCSEs at B or above in both English and maths, whereas the comparable figure for non-FSM students was 25%, giving a gap between FSM and non-FSM (rather than between FSM and all students) of 17%. We are not told what the gap was at A*/A, or for the ‘survey population’ as a whole  (page 14)
  • Of those who achieved Level 5 in English (only) at Key Stage 2, 62% of those attending non-selective state schools did not achieve an A* or A Grade at GCSE (so making 4 or 5 levels of progress) and 25% did not achieve a GCSE B grade or higher (so making 3+ levels of progress) (page 12)
  • Of those who achieved Level 5 in maths (only) at Key Stage 2, 53% did not achieve A*/A at GCSE (4 or 5 levels of progress) and 22% did not achieve B or higher (3+ levels of progress) (page 12)
  • We are also given the differentials between boys and girls on several of these measures, but not the percentages for each gender. In English, for A*/A and for B and above, the gap is 11% in favour of girls. In maths, the gap is 6% in favour of girls at A*/A and 5% at B and above. In English and maths combined, the gap is 10% in favour of girls for A*/A and B and above alike (page 15).
  • As for ethnic background, we learn that non-White British students outperformed White British students by 2% in maths and 1% in English and maths together, but the two groups performed equally in English at Grades B and above. The comparable data for Grades A*/A show non-White British outperforming White British by 3% in maths and again 1% in English and maths together, while the two groups again performed equally in English (page 16)

What can we deduce from this? Well, not to labour the obvious, but what is the point of setting out a definition, however exaggeratedly inclusive, only to move to a different definition in the data analysis?

Why bother to spell out a definition based on achievement in English or maths, only to rely so heavily on data relating to achievement in English and maths?

There are also no comparators. We cannot see how the proportion of high attainers making expected progress compares with the proportion of middle and low attainers doing so, so there is no way of knowing whether there is a particular problem at the upper end of the spectrum. We can’t see the comparable pattern in selective schools either.

There is no information about the trend over time – whether the underperformance of high attainers is improving, static or deteriorating compared with previous years – and how that pattern differs from the trend for middle and low attainers.

The same applies to the information about the FSM gap, which is confined solely to English and maths, and solely to Grade B and above, so we can’t see how their performance compares between the two subjects and for the top A*/A grades, even though that data is supplied for boys versus girls and white versus non-white British.

The gender, ethnic and socio-economic data is presented separately so we cannot see how these different factors impact on each other. This despite HMI’s known concern about the underperformance of disadvantaged white boys in particular. It would have been helpful to see that concern linked across to this one.

Overall, the findings do not seem particularly surprising. The large gaps between the percentages of students achieving four and three levels of progress respectively is to be expected, given the orthodoxy that students need only make a minimum of three levels of progress rather than the maximum progress of which they are capable.

The FSM gap of 17% at Grade B and above is actually substantively lower than the gap at Grade C and above which stood at 26.2% in 2011/12. Whether the A*/A gap demonstrates a further widening at the top end remains shrouded in mystery.

Although it is far too soon to have progression data, the report almost entirely ignores the impact of Level 6 on the emerging picture. And it forbears to mention the implications for any future data analysis – including trend analysis – of the decision to dispense with National Curriculum levels entirely with effect from 2016.

Clearly additional data of this kind might have overloaded the main body of the Report, but a data Annex could and should have been appended.

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Why Ignore the Transition Matrices?

There is a host of information available about the performance of high attaining learners at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 respectively, much of which I drew on for this post back in January 2013.

This applies to all state-funded schools and makes the point about high attainers’ underachievement in spades.

It reveals that, to some extent at least, there is a problem in selective schools too:

‘Not surprisingly (albeit rather oddly), 89.8% of students in selective schools are classified as ‘above Level 4’, whereas the percentage for comprehensive schools is 31.7%. Selective schools do substantially better on all the measures, especially the EBacc where the percentage of ‘above Level 4’ students achieving this benchmark is double the comprehensive school figure (70.7% against 35.0%). More worryingly, 6.6% of these high-attaining pupils in selective schools are not making the expected progress in English and 4.1% are not doing so in maths. In comprehensive school there is even more cause for concern, with 17.7% falling short of three levels of progress in English and 15.3% doing so in maths.’

It is unsurprising that selective schools tend to perform relatively better than comprehensive schools in maximising the achievement of high attainers, because they are specialists in that field.

But, by concentrating exclusively on comprehensive schools, Ofsted gives the false impression that there is no problem in selective schools when there clearly is, albeit not quite so pronounced.

More recently, I have drawn attention to the enormous contribution that can be added to this evidence base by the Key Stage 2 to 4 Transition Matrices available in the Raise Online library.

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Transition  Matrices and student numbers English (top) and maths (bottom)

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TM English CaptureTransition matrices numbers English captureTM Maths CaptureTransition matrices maths numbers Capture.

These have the merit of analysing progress to GCSE on the basis of National Curriculum sub-levels, and illustrate the very different performance of learners who achieve 5C, 5B and 5A respectively.

This means we are able to differentiate within the hugely wide Ofsted sample and begin to see how GCSE outcomes are affected by the strength of learners’ KS2 level 5 performance some five years previously.

The tables above show the percentages for English and maths respectively, for those completing GCSEs in 2012. I have also included the tables giving the pupil numbers in each category.

We can see from the percentages that:

  • Of those achieving 5A in English, 47% go on to achieve an A* in the subject, whereas for 5B the percentage is 20% and for 5C as low as 4%.
  • Similarly, of those achieving 5A in Maths, 50% manage an A*, compared with 20% for those with 5B and only 6% for those with 5C.
  • Of those achieving 5A in English, 40% achieve Grade A, so there is a fairly even split between the top two grades. Some 11% achieve a Grade B and just 1% a Grade C.
  • In maths, 34% of those with 5A at KS2 go on to secure a Grade A, so there is a relatively heavier bias in favour of A* grades. A slightly higher 13% progress to a B and 3% to a Grade C.
  • The matrices show that, when it comes to the overall group of learners achieving Level 5, in English 10% get A*, 31% get A and 36% a B. Meanwhile, in maths, 20% get an A*, 31% an A and 29% a B. This illustrates perfectly the very significant advantage enjoyed by those with a high Level 5 compared with Level 5 as a whole.
  • More worryingly, the progression made by learners who achieve upper Level 4s at Key Stage 2 tends to outweigh the progression of those with 5Cs. In English, 70% of those with 5C made 3 levels of progress and 29% made 4 levels of progress. For those with 4A, the comparable percentages were 85% and 41% respectively. For those with 4B they were 70% (so equal to the 5Cs) and 21% respectively.
  • Turning to maths, the percentages of those with Level 5C achieving three and four levels of progress were 67% and 30% respectively, while for those with 4A they were 89% and 39% respectively and for 4B, 76% (so higher) and 19% (lower) respectively.

This suggests that, while there is undeniably an urgent and important issue at the very top, with half or fewer of 5As being translated into A* Grades, the bulk of the problem seems to be at the lower end of Level 5, where there is a conspicuous dip compared with both comparatively higher and comparatively lower attainers.

I realise that there are health warnings attached to the transition matrices, but one can immediately see how this information significantly enriches Ofsted’s relatively simplistic analysis.

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Data About A Level Achievement and International Comparisons

The data supplied to illustrate progression to A level and international comparisons is comparatively limited.

For A Level:

  • In 2012, 334 (so 20%) of a total of 1,649 non-selective 11-18 schools had no students achieving AAB+ Grades at A Level including at least two of the facilitating subjects.  A footnote tells us that this applies only to 11-18 schools entering at least five pupils at A level. There is nothing about the controversy surrounding the validity of the ‘two facilitating subjects’ proviso (pages 4, 6, 14)
  • Sutton Trust data is quoted from a 2008 publication suggesting that some 60,000 learners who were in the top quintile (20%) of performers in state schools at ages 11, 14 and 16 had not entered higher education by the age of 18; also that those known to have been eligible for FSM were 19% less likely than others to enter higher education by age 19. The most significant explanatory factor was ‘the level and nature of the qualifications’ obtained by those who had been FSM-eligible (page 15).
  • A second Sutton Trust report is referenced showing that, from 2007-2009, students from independent schools were over twice as likely to gain admission to ‘one of the 30 most highly selective universities’ as students from non-selective state schools (48.2% compared with 18 %). However, this ‘could not be attributed solely to the schools’ average A level or equivalent results’ since 58% of applicants from the 30 strongest-performing comprehensive schools on this measure were admitted to these universities, compared with 87.1% from the highest-performing independent schools and 74.1% from the highest-performing grammar schools (pages 16-17)
  • The only international comparisons data is drawn from PISA 2009. The Report uses performance against the highest level in the tests of reading, maths and science respectively. It notes that, in reading, England ranked 15th on this measure though above the OECD average, in maths England ranked 33rd and somewhat below the OECD average and in science England was a strong performer somewhat above the OECD average (page 17)

Apart from the first item, all this material is now at least four years old.

There is no attempt to link KS2 progression to KS5 achievement, which would have materially strengthened the argument (and which is the focus of one of the Report’s central recommendations).

Nor is there any effort to link the PISA assessment to GCSE data, by explaining the key similarities and differences between the two instruments and exploring what that tells us about particular areas of strength and weakness for high attainers in these subjects.

There is again, a wealth of pertinent data available, much of it presented in previous posts on this blog:

Given the relatively scant use of data in the Report, and the significant question marks about the manner in which it has been applied to support the argument, it is hardly surprising that much of the criticism levelled at Ofsted can be traced back to this issue.

All the material I have presented on this blog is freely available online and was curated by someone with no statistical expertise.

While I cannot claim my analysis is error-free, it seems to me that Ofsted’s coverage of the issue is impoverished by comparison. Not only is there too little data, there is too little of the right data to exemplify the issues under discussion.

But, as I have already stated, that is not sufficient reason to condemn the entire Report out of hand.

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Exeter2 by Gifted Phoenix

Exeter2 by Gifted Phoenix

 

The Qualitative Dimension of the Report

The Evidence Base

If you read some of the social media criticism heaped upon ‘The most able students’ you would be forgiven for thinking that the evidence base consisted entirely of a few dodgy statistics.

But Ofsted also drew on:

  • Field visits to 41 non-selective secondary schools across England, undertaken in March 2013. The sample (which is reproduced as an Annex to the Report) was drawn from each of Ofsted’s eight regions and included schools of different sizes and ‘type’ and ‘different geographical contexts’. Twenty-seven were 11-18 schools, two are described as 11-19 schools, 11 were 11-16 schools and one admitted pupils at 14. Eighteen were academy converters. Inspectors spent a day in each school, discussing issues with school leaders, staff and pupils (asking similar questions to check sources against each other) and they ‘investigated analyses of the school’s [sic] current data’. We know that:

‘Nearly all of the schools visited had a broadly average intake in terms of their students’ prior attainment at the end of Key Stage 2, although this varied from year group to year group.’

Three selective schools were also visited ‘to provide comparison’ but – rather strangely – that comparative evidence was not used in the Report.

  • A sample of 2,327 lesson observation forms collected from Section 5 inspections of a second sample of 109 non-selective secondary schools undertaken in academic year 2012/13. We are not told anything about the selection of this sample, so we have no idea how representative it was.
  • A survey of 93 responses made by parents and carers to a questionnaire Ofsted placed on the website of the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE)’. Ofsted also ‘sought the views of some key external organisations and individuals’ but these are not named. I have been able to identify just one organisation and one individual who were approached, which perhaps betrays a rather thin sample.

I have no great problem with the sample of schools selected for the survey. Some have suggested that 41 is too few. It falls short of the 50 mentioned in HMCI’s pre-publicity but it is enough, especially since Ofsted’s last Report in December 2009 drew on evidence from just 26 primary and secondary schools.

The second sample of lesson observations is more suspect, in that no information is supplied about how it was drawn. So it is entirely possible that it included all observations from those schools whose inspections were critical of provision for high attainers, or that all the schools were rated as underperforming overall, or against one of Ofsted’s key measures. There is a sin of omission here.

The parental survey is very small and, since it was filtered through a single organisation that focuses predominantly on teacher support, is likely to have generated a biased sample. The failure to engage a proper cross-section of organisations and individuals is regrettable: in these circumstances one should either consult many or none at all.

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Survey Questions

Ofsted is comparatively generous with information about its Survey instrument.

There were two fundamental questions, each supported by a handful of supplementary questions:

‘Are the most able students in non-selective state secondary schools achieving as well as they should?’ (with ‘most able’ defined as set out above). This was supported by four supplementary questions:

  • Are comprehensive schools challenging bright students in the way that the independent sector and selective system do?
  • Do schools track progression effectively enough? Do they know how their most able students are doing? What enrichment programme is offered to the most able students and what is its impact?
  • What is the effect of mixed ability classes on the most able students?
  • What is the impact of early entry at GCSE on the most able students?

Why is there such disparity in admissions to the most prestigious universities between a small number of independent and selective schools and the great majority of state-maintained non-selective schools and academies?’

  • What is the quality of careers advice and its impact on A level students, particularly in terms of their successful application to top universities? Are students receiving good advice and support on how to complete their UCAS forms/personal statements?
  • Are the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds as likely as the most able students from more affluent families to progress to top universities, and if not why?
  • What are successful state schools doing to increase application success rates and what lessons can be learnt?

Evidence from the 41 non-selective schools was collected under six broad themes:

  • ‘the leadership of the school
  • the achievement of the most able students throughout the school
  • the transfer and transition of these students from their primary schools and their induction into secondary school
  • the quality of teaching, learning and assessment of the most able students
  • the curriculum and extension activities offered to the most able student
  • the support and guidance provided for the most able students, particularly when they were choosing subjects and preparing for university.’

But  the survey also ‘focused on five key elements’ (page 32) which are virtually identical to the last five themes above.

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Analysis of Key Findings

 

Top Level Conclusions

Before engaging in detail with the qualitative analysis from these sources, it is worth pausing to highlight two significant quantitative findings which are far more telling than those generated by the data analysis foregrounded in the Report.

Had I the good fortune to have reviewed the Report’s key findings prior to publication, I would have urged far greater prominence for:

  • ‘The 2,327 lesson observation evidence forms… showed that the most able students in only a fifth of these lessons were supported well or better.’
  • ‘In around 40% of the schools visited in the survey, the most able students were not making the progress of which they were capable. In a few of the schools visited, teachers did not even know who the most able students were.’

So, in a nutshell, one source of evidence suggests that, in 80% of lessons, support for the most able students is either inadequate or requires improvement.

Another source suggests that, in 40% of schools, the most able students are underachieving in terms of progress while, in a few schools, their identity is unknown.

And these findings apply not to a narrow group of the very highest attaining learners but, on the basis of Ofsted’s own definition, to over 50% of pupils!

Subject to the methodological concerns above, the samples appear sufficiently robust to be extrapolated to all English secondary schools – or the non-selective majority at least.

We do not need to apportion blame, or make schools feel that this is entirely their fault. But this is scandalous – indeed so problematic that it surely requires a concerted national effort to tackle it.

We will consider below whether the recommendations set out in the Report match that description, but first we need to engage with some of the qualitative detail.

The analysis below looks in turn at each of the six themes, in the order that they appear in the main body of the Report.

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Theme 1 – Achievement of the Most Able Students

 Key finding: ‘The most able students in non-selective secondary schools are not achieving as well as they should. In many schools, expectations of what the most able students should achieve are too low.’

 Additional points:

  • [Too] many of the students in the problematic 40% of surveyed schools ‘failed to attain the highest levels at GCSE and A level’.
  • Academic progress in KS3 required improvement in 17 of the 41 schools. Data was neither accurate nor robust in seven of the 41. Progress differed widely by subject.
  • At KS4, the most able were making less progress than other students in 19 of the 41 schools.
  • At KS5, the most able were making ‘less than expected progress’ in one or more subjects at 17 of the 41 schools.

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Theme 2 – Leadership and Management

Key Finding: ‘Leaders in our secondary schools have not done enough to create a culture of scholastic excellence, where the highest achievement in academic work is recognised as vitally important. Schools do not routinely give the same attention to the most able as they do to low-attaining students or those who struggle at school.’

Additional points:

  • Nearly all school leaders claimed to be ambitious for their most able students, but this was not realised in practice in over 40% of the sample.
  • In less effective schools initiatives were usually new or rudimentary and had not been evaluated.
  • Students were taught mainly in mixed ability groups in about a third of the schools visited. Setting was typically restricted to core subjects and often introduced for English and science relatively late in KS3.
  • This had no detrimental effect in ‘the very best schools’ but, in the less effective, work was typically pitched to average attainers.
  • Seven schools had revised their policy on early GCSE entry because of a negative impact on the number of the most able achieving top grades.
  • Leaders in the best schools showed high aspirations for their most able students, providing high-quality teaching and work matched to their needs. Results were well above average and high proportions achieved A*/A grades at GCSE and A level.
  • The best leaders ensure their high aspirations are understood throughout the school community, set high expectations embodied in stretching targets, recruit strong staff and deploy them as specialists and create ‘a dynamic, innovative learning environment’.

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Theme 3 – Transfer and Transition

Key Finding: ‘Transition arrangements from primary to secondary school are not effective enough to ensure that students maintain their academic momentum into Year 7. Information is not used carefully so that teachers can plan to meet the most able students’ needs in all lessons from the beginning of their secondary school career.’

Additional points:

  • The quality of transition is much too variable. Arrangements were weak in over one quarter of schools visited. Work was repeated in KS3 or was insufficiently challenging. Opportunities were missed to extend and consolidate previous learning.
  • Simple approaches were most effective, easier to implement in schools with few primary feeders or long-established cluster arrangements.
  • In the best examples secondary schools supported the most able before transfer, through specialist teaching and enrichment/extension activities.
  • In many schools activities were typically generic rather than targeted at the most able and many leaders didn’t know how effective they were for this group.
  • In over a quarter of schools the most able ‘did not get off to a good start’ in Year 7 because expectations were too low, work was insufficiently demanding and pupils were under-challenged.
  • Overall inspectors found serious weaknesses in this practice.
  • Effective practice includes: pre-transfer liaison with primary teachers and careful discussion about the most able; gathering a wide range of data to inform setting or class groups; identifying the most able early and implementing support for them to maintain their momentum; and fully evaluating pre-transfer activities and adapting them in the light of that.

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Exeter3 by Gifted Phoenix

Exeter3 by Gifted Phoenix

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Theme 4 – The Quality of Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Key Findings:

‘Teaching is insufficiently focused on the most able at KS3. In over two-fifths of the schools visited for the survey, students did not make the progress that they should, or that they were capable of, between the ages of 11 and 14. Students said that too much work was repetitive and undemanding in KS3. As a result, their progress faltered and their interest in school waned.

Many students became used to performing at a lower level than they are capable of. Parents or carers and teachers accepted this too readily. Students did not do the hard work and develop the resilience needed to perform at a higher level because more challenging tasks were not regularly demanded of them. The work was pitched at the middle and did not extend the most able. School leaders did not evaluate how well mixed-ability group teaching was challenging the most able students.’

Additional points:

  • The reasons for slow progress varied between schools and subjects but included: failure to recognise and challenge the most able; variability in approaches across subjects and year groups; inconsistent application of school policy; and lack of focus by senior and middle leaders.
  • Weaker provision demonstrated: insufficient tracking of the most able, inadequate rapid intervention strategies, insufficiently differentiated homework, failure to apply Pupil Premium funding and little evaluation of the impact of teaching and support.
  • In a few schools the organisation of classes inhibited progress, as evidenced by limited knowledge of the effectiveness of differentiation in mixed ability settings and lack of challenge, particularly in KS3.
  • Eight schools had moved recently to grouping by ability, particularly in core subjects. Others indicated they were moving towards setting, streaming or banding most subjects. Schools’ data showed this beginning to have a positive impact on outcomes.

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Theme 5 – Curriculum and Extension Activities

Key Findings:

‘The curriculum and the quality of homework required improvement. The curriculum in KS3 and early entry to GCSE examination are among the key weaknesses found by inspectors. Homework and the programme of extension activities for the most able students, where they existed, were not checked routinely for their impact or quality. Students said that too much homework was insufficiently challenging; it failed to interest them, extend their thinking or develop their skills.

Inequalities between different groups of the most able students are not being tackled satisfactorily. The attainment of the most able students who are eligible for FSM, especially the most able boys, lags behind that of other groups. Few of the schools visited used the Pupil Premium funding to support the most able students from the poorest backgrounds.

Assessment, tracking and targeting are not used sufficiently well in many schools. Some of the schools visited paid scant attention to the progress of their most able students.’

Additional points:

  • In over a quarter of schools visited, aspects of the curriculum, including homework, required improvement. In two schools the curriculum failed to meet the needs of the most able.
  • In one in seven schools, leaders had made significant changes recently, including more focus on academic subjects and more setting.
  • But schools did not always listen to feedback from their most able students. Many did not ask students how well the school was meeting their needs or how to improve further.
  • In weaker schools students were rarely given extension work. Sixth form students reported insufficient opportunities to think reflectively and too few suggestions for wider, independent reading.
  • Many in less effective schools felt homework could be more challenging. Few were set wider research or extension tasks.
  • While some leaders said extra challenge was incorporated in homework, many students disagreed. Few school leaders were aware of the homework provided to these students. Many schools had limited strategies for auditing and evaluating its quality.
  • Most school leaders said a wide range of extension tasks, extra-curricular and enrichment activities was provided for the most able, but these were usually for all students. Targeted activities, when undertaken, were rarely evaluated.
  • Research suggests it is important to provide access to such activities for the most able students where parents are not doing so. Schools used Pupil Premium for this in only a few instances.
  • The Premium was ‘generally spent on providing support for all underachieving and low-attaining students rather than on the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds’.
  • Strong, effective practice was exemplified by a curriculum well-matched to the needs of most able students, a good range and quality of extra-curricular activity, effective use of the Pupil Premium to enrich students’ curriculum and educational experience and motivating and engaging homework, tailored to students’ needs, designed to develop creativity and independence.
  • In over a third of schools visited, tracking of the most able was ‘not secure, routine or robust’. Intervention was often too slow.
  • In weaker schools, leaders were focused mainly on the C/D borderline; stronger schools also focused on A*/A grades too, believing their pupils could do better than ‘the B grade that is implied by the expected progress measure’.
  • Some schools used assessment systems inconsistently, especially in some KS3 foundation subjects where there was insufficient or inaccurate data. In one in five schools, targets for the most able ‘lacked precision and challenge’.
  • In a fifth of schools, senior leaders had introduced improved monitoring systems to hold staff to account, but implementation was often at a very early stage. Only in the best schools were such systems well established.
  • The most effective included lesson observation, work scrutiny, data analysis and reviews of teacher planning. In the better schools students knew exactly what they needed to do to attain the next level/grade and received regular feedback on progress.
  • The most successful schools had in place a wide range of strategies including: ensuring staff had detailed knowledge of the most able, their strengths and interests; through comprehensive assessment, providing challenging programmes and high quality support that met students’ needs;  and rigorous tracking by year, department and key stage combined with swift intervention where needed.
  • Many leaders had not introduced professional development focused on the most able students. Their needs had not been tackled by staff in over one fifth of schools visited, so teachers had not developed the required skills to meet their needs, or up-to-date knowledge of the Year 6 curriculum and assessment arrangements. Stronger schools were learning with and from their peers and had formed links with a range of external agencies.

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Theme 6 – Support and Guidance for University Entry

Key Findings:

‘Too few of the schools worked with families to support them in overcoming the cultural and financial obstacles that stood in the way of the most able students attending university, particularly universities away from the immediate local area. Schools did not provide much information about the various benefits of attending different universities or help the most able students to understand more about the financial support available.

Most of the 11-16 schools visited were insufficiently focused on university entrance. These schools did not provide students with sufficiently detailed advice and guidance on all the post-16 options available.

Schools’ expertise in and knowledge about how to apply to the most prestigious universities was not always current and relevant. Insufficient support and guidance were provided to those most able students whose family members had not attended university.’

Additional points:

  • Support and guidance varied in quality, accuracy and depth. Around half of schools visited ‘accepted any university as an option’. Almost a quarter had much to do to convince students and their families of the benefits of higher education, and began doing so too late.
  • Data provided by 26 of the 29 11-18 schools showed just 16 students went to Oxbridge in 2011, one eligible for FSM, but almost half came from just two of the schools. Nineteen had no students accepted at Oxbridge. The 2012 figures showed some improvement with 26 admitted to Oxbridge from 28 schools, three of them FSM-eligible.
  • In 2011, 293 students went to Russell Group universities, but only six were FSM eligible. By 2012 this had increased to 352, including 30 eligible for FSM, but over a quarter of the 352 came from just two schools.
  • Factors inhibiting application to prestigious universities included pressure to stay in the locality, cost (including fees), aversion to debt and low expectations. Almost half of the schools visited tackled this through partnership with local universities.
  • Schools did not always provide early or effective careers advice or information about the costs and benefits of attending university.
  • Some schools showed a lack of up-to-date intelligence about universities and their entrance requirements, but one third of those visited provided high quality support and guidance.
  • Some schools regarded going to any university as the indicator of success, disagreeing that it was appropriate to push students towards prestigious universities, rather than the ‘right’ institution for the student.
  • Most of the 11-16 schools visited were insufficiently focused on university entrance. They did not provide sufficiently detailed advice on post-16 options and did not track students’ destinations effectively, either post-16 or post-18.
  • The best schools: provided early on a planned programme to raise students’ awareness of university education; began engaging with students and parents about this as soon as they entered the school; provided support and guidance about subject choices, entry requirements and course content; supported UCAS applications; enabled students to visit a range of universities; and used alumni as role models.

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Exeter4 by Gifted Phoenix

Exeter4 by Gifted Phoenix

 

Ofsted’s Recommendations

There are two sets of recommendations in the Report, each with an associated commentary about the key constituents of good and bad practice. The first is in HMCI’s Foreword; the second in the main body of the Report.

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HMCI’s Version

This leads with material from the data analysis, rather than some of the more convincing data from the survey, or at least a judicious blend of both sources.

He rightly describes the outcomes as unacceptable and inconsistent with the principle of comprehensive education, though his justification for omitting selective schools from the analysis is rather less convincing, especially since he is focused in part on narrowing the gap between the two as far as admission to prestigious universities is concerned.

Having pointed up deficiencies at whole school level and in lessons he argues that:

‘The term ‘special needs’ should be as relevant to the most able as it is to those who require support for their learning difficulties’

This is rather out of left field and is not repeated in the main body or the official recommendations. There are pros and cons to such a route – and it would anyway be entirely inappropriate for a population comprising over 50% of the secondary population.

HMCI poses ‘three key challenges’:

‘First, we need to make sure that our most able students do as well academically as those of our main economic competitors. This means aiming for A* and A grades and not being satisfied with less. Not enough has changed since 2009, when the PISA tests found that England’s teenagers were just over half as likely as those from other developed nations to reach the highest levels in mathematics in international tests.

The second challenge is to ensure, from early on, that students know what opportunities are open to them and develop the confidence to make the most of these. They need tutoring, guidance and encouragement, as well as a chance to meet other young people who have embraced higher education. In this respect, independent schools as well as universities have an important role to play in supporting state schools.

The third challenge is to ensure that all schools help students and families overcome cultural barriers to attending higher education. Many of our most able students come from homes where no parent or close relative has either experienced, or expects, progression to university. Schools, therefore, need to engage more effectively with the parents or carers of these students to tackle this challenge.’

This despite the fact that comparison with international competitors is almost entirely lacking from the Report, save for one brief section on PISA data.

The role of independent schools is also underplayed, while the role of universities is seen very much from the schools’ perspective – there is no effort to link together the ‘fair access’ and ‘most able’ agendas in any meaningful fashion.

Parental engagement is also arguably under-emphasised or, at least, confined almost exclusively to the issue of progression.

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Ofsted’s Version

The ‘official’ text provides a standard overarching bullet point profile of poor and strong provision respectively.

  • Poor provision is characterised by: ‘fragile’ primary/secondary transfer; placement in groups where teaching is not challenging; irregular progress checks; a focus on D/C borderline students at the expense of the more able; and failure to prepare students well for A levels.
  • Strong provision features: leadership determined to improve standards for all students; high expectations of the most able amongst students, families and teachers; effective transition to sustain the momentum of the most able; early identification to inform tailoring of teaching and the curriculum; curricular flexibility to permit challenge and extension; grouping to support stretch from the start of secondary school;  expert teaching, formative assessment and purposeful homework; effective training and capacity for teachers to learn from each other; close monitoring of progress to inform rapid intervention where necessary; and effective support for application to prestigious universities.

A series of 13 recommendations is provided, alongside three Ofsted commitments. Ten of the 13 are aimed at schools and three at central Government.

I have set out the recommendations in the table below, alongside those from the previous Report, published in 2009.

 

2009 Report 2013 Report
Central Government Central Government
Ensure planned catalogue of learning and professional development opportunities meets the needs of parents, schools and LAs DfE to ensure parents receive annual report recording whether students are on track to achieve as well as they should in national tests and exams
Ensure LAs hold schools more rigorously to account for the impact of their G&T provision DfE to develop progress measures from KS2 to KS4 and KS5
DfE to promote new destination data showing progression to (Russell Group) universities
Ofsted will focus inspections more closely on teaching and progress of most able, their curriculum and the information, advice and guidance provided to them
Ofsted will consider in more detail during inspection how well Pupil Premium is used to support disadvantaged most able
Ofsted will report inspection findings about this group more clearly in school, sixth form and college reports
Local Authorities Local Authorities
Hold schools more rigorously to account for the impact of their G&T provision
Encourage best practice by sharing with schools what works well and how to access appropriate resources and training
Help schools produce clearer indicators of achievement and progress at different ages
Schools Schools
Match teaching to pupils’ individual needs Develop culture and ethos so needs of most able are championed by school leaders
Listen to pupil feedback and act on it Help most able to leave school with best qualifications by developing skills, confidence and attitudes needed to succeed at the best universities
Inform parents and engage them more constructively Improve primary-secondary transfer so all Year 7 teachers know which students achieved highly and what aspects of the curriculum they studied in Year 6, and use this to inform KS3 teaching.
Use funding to improve provision through collaboration Ensure work remains challenging throughout KS3 so most able make rapid progress.
Ensure lead staff have strategic clout Ensure leaders evaluate mixed ability teaching so most able are sufficiently challenged and make good progress
Ensure rigorous audit and evaluation processes Evaluate homework to ensure it is sufficiently challenging
Give parents better and more frequent information about what their children should achieve and raise expectations where necessary.
Work more closely with families, especially first generation HE applicants and FSM-eligible to overcome cultural and financial obstacles to HE application
Develop more knowledge and expertise to support applications to the most prestigious universities
Publish more widely the university destinations of their students

TABLE 1: COMPARING OFSTED RECOMMENDATIONS IN 2009 AND 2013

The comparison serves to illustrate the degree of crossover between the two Reports – and to what extent the issues raised in the former remain pertinent four years on.

The emboldened Items in the left-hand column are still outstanding and are not addressed in the latest Report. There is nothing about providing support for schools from the centre; and nothing whatsoever about the role of the ‘middle tier’, however that is composed. Ofsted’s new Report might have been enriched by some cross-reference to its predecessor.

The three recommendations directed at the centre are relatively limited in scope – fundamentally restricted to elements of the status quo and probably demanding negligible extra work or resource

  • The reference to an annual report to parents could arguably be satisfied by the existing requirements, which are encapsulated in secondary legislation.
  • It is not clear whether promoting the new destination measures requires anything more than their continuing publication – the 2013 version is scheduled for release this very week.
  • The reference to development of progress measures may be slightly more significant but probably reflects work already in progress. The consultation document on Secondary School Accountability proposed a progress measure based on a new ‘APS8’ indicator, calculated through a Value Added method and using end KS2 results in English and maths as a baseline:

‘It will take the progress each pupil makes between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 and compare that with the progress that we expect to be made by pupils nationally who had the same level of attainment at Key Stage 2 (calculated by combining results at end of Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics).’

However this applies only to KS4, not KS5, and we are still waiting to discover how the KS2 baseline will be graded from 2016 when National Curriculum levels disappear.

This throws attention back on the Secretary of State’s June 2012 announcement, so far unfulfilled by any public consultation:

‘In terms of statutory assessment, however, I believe that it is critical that we both recognise the achievements of all pupils, and provide for a focus on progress. Some form of grading of pupil attainment in mathematics, science and English will therefore be required, so that we can recognise and reward the highest achievers as well as identifying those that are falling below national expectations. We will consider further the details of how this will work.’

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The Balance Between Challenge and Support

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Ofsted believe inter-school collaboration, the third sector and the market can together provide all the support that schools can  need (while the centre’s role is confined to providing commensurate challenge through a somewhat stiffened accountability regime).

After four years of school-driven gifted education, I am not entirely sure I share their confidence that schools and the third sector can rise collectively to that challenge.

They seem relatively hamstrung at present by insufficient central investment in capacity-building and an unwillingness on the part of key players to work together collaboratively to update existing guidance and provide support. The infrastructure is limited and fragmented and leadership is lacking.

As I see it, there are two immediate priorities:

  • To provide and maintain the catalogue of learning opportunities and professional support mentioned in Ofsted’s 2009 report; and
  • To update and disseminate national guidance on what constitutes effective whole school gifted and talented education.

The latter should in my view be built around an updated version of the Quality Standards for gifted education, last refreshed in 2010. It should be adopted once more as the single authoritative statement of effective practice which more sophisticated tools – some, such as the Challenge Award, with fairly hefty price tags attached – can adapt and apply as necessary.

The Table appended to this post maps the main findings in both the 2009 and 2013 Ofsted Reports against the Standards. I have also inserted a cross in those sections of the Standards which are addressed by the main text of the more recent Report.

One can see from this how relevant the Standards remain to discussion of what constitutes effective whole school practice.

But one can also identify one or two significant gaps in Ofsted’s coverage, including:

  • identification – and the issues it raises about the relationship between ability and attainment
  • the critical importance of a coherent, thorough, living policy document incorporating an annually updated action plan for improvement
  • the relevance of new technology (such as social media)
  • the significance of support for affective issues, including bullying, and
  • the allocation of sufficient resources – human and financial –  to undertake the work.

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Exeter5 by Gifted Phoenix

Exeter5 by Gifted Phoenix

 

Reaction to the Report

I will not trouble to reproduce some of the more vituperative comment from certain sources, since I strongly suspect much of it to be inspired by personal hostility to HMCI and to gifted education alike.

  • To date there has been no formal written response from the Government although David Laws recorded one or two interviews such as this which simply reflects existing reforms to accountability and qualifications. At the time of writing, the DfE page on Academically More Able Pupils has not been updated to reflect the Report.
  •  The Opposition criticised the Government for having ‘no plan for gifted and talented children’ but did not offer any specific plan of their own.
  • The Sutton Trust called the Report ‘A wake-up call to Ministers’ adding:

‘Schools must improve their provision, as Ofsted recommends. But the Government should play its part too by providing funding to trial the most effective ways to enable our brightest young people to fulfil their potential. Enabling able students to fulfil their potential goes right to the heart of social mobility, basic fairness and economic efficiency.’

Contrary to my expectations, there was no announcement arising from the call for proposals the Trust itself issued back in July 2012 (see word attachment at bottom). A subsequent blog post called for:

‘A voluntary scheme which gives head teachers an incentive – perhaps through a top-up to their pupil premium or some other matched-funding provided centrally – to engage with evidence based programmes which have been shown to have an impact on the achievement of the most able students.’

‘We warned the Government in 2010 when it scrapped the gifted and talented programme that this would be the result. Many schools are doing a fantastic job in supporting these children. However we know from experience that busy schools will often only have time to focus on the latest priorities. The needs of the most able children have fallen to the bottom of the political and social agenda and it’s time to put it right to the top again.’

‘It is imperative that Ofsted, schools and organisations such as NACE work in partnership to examine in detail the issues surrounding this report. We need to disseminate more effectively what works. There are schools that are outstanding in how they provide for the brightest students. However there has not been enough rigorous research into this.’

  • Within the wider blogosphere, Geoff Barton was first out of the traps, criticising Ofsted for lack of rigour, interference in matters properly left to schools, ‘fatuous comparisons’ and ‘easy soundbites’.
  • The same day Tom Bennett was much more supportive of the Report and dispensed some commonsense advice based firmly on his experience as a G&T co-ordinator.
  • Then Learning Spy misunderstood Tom’s suggestions about identification asking ‘how does corralling the boffins and treating them differently’ serve the aim of high expectations for all? He far preferred Headguruteacher’s advocacy for a ‘teach to the top’ curriculum, which is eminently sensible.
  • Accordingly, Headguruteacher contributed The Anatomy of High Expectations which drew out the value of the Report for self-evaluation purposes (so not too different to my call for a revised IQS).
  • Finally Chris Husbands offered a contribution on the IoE Blog which also linked Ofsted’s Report to the abolition of National Curriculum levels, reminding us of some of the original design features built in by TGAT but never realised in practice.

Apologies to any I have missed!

As for yours truly, I included the reactions of all the main teachers’ associations in the collection of Tweets I posted on the day of publication.

I published Driving Gifted Education Forward, a single page proposal for the kind of collaborative mechanism that could bring about system-wide improvement, built on school-to-school collaboration. It proposes a network of Learning Schools, complementing Teaching Schools, established as centres of excellence with a determinedly outward-looking focus.

And I produced a short piece about transition matrices which I have partly integrated into this post.

Having all but completed this extended analysis, have I changed the initial views I Tweeted on the day of publication?

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Well, not really. My overall impression is of a curate’s egg, whose better parts have been largely overlooked because of the opprobrium heaped on the bad bits.

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Curate's Egg 370px-True_humility

Bishop: ‘I’m afraid you’ve got a bad egg Mr Jones’, Curate: ‘Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!’

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The Report might have had a better reception had the data analysis been stronger, had the most significant messages been given comparatively greater prominence and had the tone been somewhat more emollient towards the professionals it addresses, with some sort of undertaking to underwrite support – as well as challenge – from the centre.

The commitments to toughen up the inspection regime are welcome but we need more explicit details of exactly how this will be managed, including any amendments to the framework for inspection and supporting guidance. Such adjustments must be prominent and permanent rather than tacked on as an afterthought.

We – all of us with an interest – need to fillet the key messages from the text and integrate them into a succinct piece of guidance as I have suggested, but carefully so that it applies to every setting and has built-in progression for even the best-performing schools. That’s what the Quality Standards did – and why they are still needed. Perhaps Ofsted should lead the revision exercise and incorporate them wholesale into the inspection framework.

As we draw down a veil over the second of these three ‘Summer of Love’ publications, what are the immediate prospects for a brighter future for English gifted education?

Well, hardly incandescent sunshine, but rather more promising than before. Ofsted’s Report isn’t quite the ‘landmark’ HMCI Wilshaw promised and it won’t be the game changer some of us had hoped for, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with the proverbial blunt stick.

Yet the sticking point remains the capacity of schools, organisations and individuals to set aside their differences and secure the necessary collateral to work collectively together to bring about the improvements called for in the Report.

Without such commitment too many schools will fail to change their ways.

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GP

June 2013

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ANNEX: MAPPING KEY FINDINGS FROM THE 2009 AND 2013 REPORTS AGAINST THE IQS

IQS Element IQS Sub-element Ofsted 2009 Ofsted 2013
Standards and progress Attainment levels high and progress strong Schools need more support and advice about standards and expectations Most able aren’t achieving as well as they should. Expectations are too low.65% who achieved KS2 L5 in English and maths failed to attain GCSE A*/A gradesTeaching is insufficiently focused on the most able at KS3Inequalities between different groups aren’t being tackled satisfactorily
SMART targets set for other outcomes x
Effective classroom provision Effective pedagogical strategies Pupil experienced inconsistent level of challenge x
Differentiated lessons x
Effective application of new technologies
Identification Effective identification strategies x
Register is maintained
Population is broadly representative of intake
Assessment Data informs planning and progression Assessment, tracking and targeting not used sufficiently well in many schools
Effective target-setting and feedback x
Strong peer and self-assessment
Transfer and transition Effective information transfer between classes, years and institutions Transition doesn’t ensure students maintain academic momentum into Year 7
Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice Curriculum matched to learners’ needs Pupils’ views not reflected in curriculum planning The KS3 curriculum is a key weakness, as is early GCSE entry
Choice and accessibility to flexible pathways
Leadership Effective support by SLT, governors and staff Insufficient commitment in poorer performing schools School leaders haven’t done enough to create a culture of scholastic excellence.Schools don’t routinely give the same attention to most able as low-attaining or struggling students.
Monitoring and evaluation Performance regularly reviewed against challenging targets Little evaluation of progression by different groups x
Evaluation of provision for learners to inform development x
Policy Policy is integral to school planning, reflects best practice and is reviewed regularly Many policies generic versions from other schools or the LA;Too much inconsistency and incoherence between subjects
School ethos and pastoral care Setting high expectations and celebrating achievement Many students become used to performing at a lower level than they are capable of. Parents and teachers accept this too readily.
Support for underachievers and socio-emotional needs
Support for bullying and academic pressure/opportunities to benefit the wider community
Staff development Effective induction and professional development x
Professional development for managers and whole staff x
Resources Appropriate budget and resources applied effectively
Engaging with the community, families and beyond Parents informed, involved and engaged Less than full parental engagement Too few schools supporting families in overcoming cultural and financial obstacles to attending university
Effective networking and collaboration with other schools and organisations Schools need more support to source best resources and trainingLimited collaboration in some schools; little local scrutiny/accountability Most 11-16 schools insufficiently focused on university entranceSchools’ expertise and knowledge of prestigious universities not always current and relevant
Learning beyond the classroom Participation in a coherent programme of out-of-hours learning Link with school provision not always clear; limited evaluation of impact Homework and extension activities were not checked routinely for impact and quality