Yesterday the BBC confirmed that pupil progress will be used as part of the system used to hold primary schools accountable.
In 2008 one of the last senior management meetings I attended in the United Kingdom was about increasing uptake of free school dinners. The headteacher, deputy headteacher, key stage 2 coordinator, key stage 1 coordinator and foundation stage coordinator/AST sat around a table for close on two hours trying to devise ways of engaging with parents and encouraging them to complete the necessary paperwork. The reason was simple. The schools contextual value added (CVA) statistic, a key measure at the time for indicating whether an emergency inspection should be called, had dipped below 100. There was about a 4% positive boost to CVA if all eligible children were registered for free school meals. In other words, one of the key measures as to how the school was performing was affected by the uptake of free school meals as opposed to the eligibility for free school meals.
I think at the time of the meeting if pupil progress measures had been looming we would have been delighted. The actual headline regarding pupil progress measures though raises other issues.
Let’s just consider for a moment the current curriculum changes. All this exciting talk about ‘life after levels’ that initially had schools feeling a burden may be about to lift has become muddied by the system that now stands to replace levels. In the current system the target is for pupils to be at least a secure level four by the end of primary. Now that is to be replaced with a measure whereby the goal is to achieve 100. Marks above or below 100 will indicate how far above or below expectation a pupil is and therefore there will be no need for an extension paper for gifted pupils. How is that different from levels?’ Level 4’ has now been called ‘100’ but the system itself hasn’t actually changed.
Many schools have for the time being held on to levels. We have a database in place that tracks all pupil progress so it is helpful to track performance in a way that can be compared to previous years. In a conflict with this however, especially for literacy and numeracy, schools are adapting the levels to match the new curriculum. The effect is that what a child needs to accomplish in order to achieve a secure Level 4 (or ‘100’ in newspeak) is now more challenging.
Centre Forum supported by Pearson Education have produced a report that supports the principle of pupil progress being the most significant key indicator of primary school performance. The report can be read in full at:
In the report they looked at pupils receiving free school meals and compared their progress and their attainment. They demonstrated that there is a correlation between pupils in free school meals and attainment at the end of primary. However, when analyzing pupils on free school meals against progress from baseline that the relationship was much weaker. In short, most schools with a disproportionate number of disadvantaged children (in terms of level on entry to school) do help those pupils to make good progress but do not necessarily help them reach the expected level at the end of primary school.
Is this news to anybody in education? I think it is the message that teachers and their unions have been putting forward for years. I do see though two problems emerging over time.
Firstly, if the new standards at Key Stage 2 are not supported by a raised baseline expectation what we ask of primary schools is even greater progress in order to meet the performance expectations.
Secondly, if schools are judged on attainment or pupil progress then sufficient pupil progress is sufficient to grade school performance. Sadly, nothing will have changed and there will still be a significant number of primary pupils not leaving school with the required level of attainment.
Whilst I welcome this focus on pupil progress the reality is it doesn’t change anything for pupils. Committees have met, focus groups have been established and reports have been written, all with money put aside for the education of our young people. What has been achieved is a different way to prove we are doing our job but the output in terms of pupil attainment will not have moved. I would far rather that money went into looking at how baseline attainment for target pupil groups can be improved so primary schools are better able to actually move pupils to the right attainment levels.