Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes in education in England

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David Bowie sang “And every time I thought I’d got it made, It seemed the taste was not so sweet” (Changes, 1971). He could have been thinking about the changes which will happen over the next few years in government accountability systems – scaled scores at Key Stage 2 in 2016 and reformed GCSEs from 2017 onwards at Key Stage 4.

It’s very unlikely that any schools think that they have ‘got it made’ but I do wonder if they are aware of the changes and challenges which will come over the next few years. In particular, the new ‘expected standard’ will be far more challenging:

  • Broadly equivalent to level 4B or above in reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2
  • Grade 5 or higher at Key Stage 4.

The impact of changing from C+ to 5+ in English and mathematics at Key Stage 4 has already been discussed here.

There will also be challenges in how we assess progress towards closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others. At the moment attention in this area tends to focus upon threshold measures alone (e.g. 5 A*-C including English and mathematics). Whilst this is important it can also be misleading.

Here at Education Datalab we have been working on a range of analyses which aim to:

  • Model how outcomes might look under new assessment arrangements.
  • Analyse trends over recent years and, using the new modelling calculations, project forward to 2020 and beyond.
  • Develop a measure of the ‘Pupil Premium’ gap which will provide a better indication of improvement across all levels of attainment and which will also enable us to continue to monitor longer-term trends.

The initial outcomes of this work have been used to inform a report, published by CentreForum, which can be found here. The report:

  • Looks at progress made in English schools over the last decade in raising attainment and closing the gaps between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.
  • Sets provisional goals for attainment and gaps for the period up to 2030. These goals have been set in order to consider what a World Class Education system would look like, and how far England may be away from this. CentreForum intend to consult on these goals over the next year.

Key points from the CentreForum / Education Datalab Report are:

  • Attainment at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 2 has risen over the last decade, but there are still around 43-44% of all children who do not meet currently agreed standards of success (5 A*-C GCSES, including English and Maths, and 4b in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary.)
  • The gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has fallen over the last decade, with progress at Key Stage 2 being particularly good – the KS2 gap has reduced by 30% since 2006.
  • However, the disadvantaged gap has reduced much more slowly at Key Stage 4, and we still have an Education system where gaps widen over a child’s time in education. The gap particularly widens in secondary education, and by the end of Key Stage 4 it is equivalent to around one GCSE grade per subject on average.
  • The existing C Grade benchmark for a “good pass” is not set at a World Class standard. New GCSEs, being taken in 2017, will have a new grading scale from 1-9 (1 lowest and 9 highest). The new “good pass” will then be considered to be a Grade 5 – which is between the current GCSE C and B grades.
  • When the new Grade 5 standard is introduced in place of the current “C” grade standard, we calculate that the percentage of children who secure this “good pass” level in English and Maths will initially fall by around 23%, from 58% to 35%.
  • CentreForum recommends that the Government should consider a new benchmark standard in which pupils should be measured against achieving 50 plus points in their new “Attainment 8” collection of eight GCSEs – this would mean securing an average grade of 5 or better in these specified eight subjects. We judge that this would be close to a “World Class Standard”. We calculate that in 2016 only around 46% of pupils will reach that level – set against 56% who currently achieve the lower 5 A*-C GCSE standard.

We plan to take this work further and look, for example, at whether the changes impact consistently on schools with differing intakes and to examine in detail the gap between disadvantaged pupils and others.

By | 2017-03-03T09:49:29+00:00 January 18th, 2016|Exams and assessment, School accountability|

About the Author:

Mike Treadaway is Associate Research Fellow at Education Datalab, and was previously FFT’s Director of Research. A former teacher, lecturer and LA adviser, Mike has over 20 years of experience in working with education data in the context of school improvement. Since founding the FFT Data Analysis Project he has developed models for analysing pupil progress, has led the processing, matching and data analysis for the National Pupil Database, and has provided advice to the Department for Education to support the development of new school accountability indicators and analysis of national trends in school performance.

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