Category Archives: quality assurance


Some limited progress but troubling regional variations remain


There is ,as we know, and are often reminded,  a large gap in educational attainment between children from richer homes and those from poorer homes, as measured by eligibility for free school meals.(not always regarded, by the way, as the most reliable measure of deprivation). Significantly, narrowing this gap is seen as the Holy Grail in education and has largely defeated successive governments. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wishaw   accepts too that this is a major challenge and that there are huge   and unacceptable variations in the attainment gap between pupils   in different local authorities. He said as much   when he described our school system as “a tale of two nations.”He added  that the system is “divided into lucky and unlucky children.”  But the lot of disadvantaged children is not predetermined.

Although most acknowledge that teaching is now attracting some very bright graduates concerns remain over the quality of teaching overall but particularly the quality of teaching and teachers in disadvantaged areas.

A Sutton Trust report, in 2011, highlighted just how important the quality of teaching is in closing this gap. It stated:“The effects of high-quality teaching are especially significant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds: over a school year, these pupils gain 1.5 years’ worth of learning with very effective teachers, compared with 0.5 years with poorly performing teachers. In other words, for poor pupils the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is a whole year’s learning.” That shows the significance of raising teaching standards and ensuring that they stay high.

The government’s policy on raising attainment and closing this gap has several threads.

Firstly, the Pupil Premium, worth around £2.5 billion. The PP means a yearly uplift, for each disadvantaged young person who receives it, of £1,300 in primary education and £935 in secondary education In some schools, 80% or 90% of the young people are entitled to the pupil premium.

The government points out that the performance of disadvantaged pupils has improved across the country, since the coalition Government came to power in 2010, and it improved before that. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals who achieve the expected standard in maths at the end of primary school has risen from 66% to 74% since 2010, and the gap between those children and their peers has narrowed by 4 percentage points. The picture is similar at key stage 4. The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals achieving at least five A* to C grade GCSEs, including English and maths, has risen from 31% in 2010 to 38% in 2013. Disadvantaged young people in London are now more than 10 percentage points more likely to achieve five A* to C grades including English and maths than those in the next highest-performing region.(thanks largely, but not exclusively, to the London Challenge). The gap between disadvantaged young people and their peers is narrowest in London. However, there is a variable picture throughout England and something of a post code lottery. In  14 local authorities, the attainment of free school meal pupils, at key stage 4 is more than 10 percentage points below the national average for such pupils.  In 12 local authorities, attainment at the end of key stage 4 for pupils eligible for free school meals was actually  lower in 2013 than in 2010. And as the Shadow Schools  Minister Kevin Brennan, recently pointed out in a debate (25 February) in  England last year, the GCSE attainment gap widened in 72 out of 152 local authority areas. In 66 areas, it was larger than it was two years previously. In England as a whole, the gap was 26.7% last year, up from 26.4% in 2011-12. So the challenge very much remains in place.

The government sees the Teach First programme as important in narrowing the attainment gap. Bright, motivated graduates are placed in schools after brief training and on-going mentorship , mainly in disadvantaged areas and the scheme is being extended. Indeed, the scheme  is now one of the top graduate recruiters.

Ofsted is addressing regional under performance through its regional inspection arrangements, with focused inspections of local authorities and groups of schools. It is carrying out inspections, not only of schools, but of the school improvement function.  Schools that are not narrowing the gap will in future  not be able to achieve an‘ outstanding’ Ofsted rating. The chief inspector plans to ask challenging questions of local authorities and others about their contribution to school improvement although local authorities complain that much of their previous resource has been diverted to support the academies expansion. Wilshaw wants to  to inspect  chains of schools but so far this is being resisted by ministers, though it is clear that some chains are more effective than others at raising attainment.

David Laws, the schools Minister, is targeting schools and local authorities where the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is unacceptably low. He recently wrote to 214 schools—115 primary and 99 secondary—with the poorest value-added progress among disadvantaged pupils.Value added measures are thought to flush out coasting schools.

Teaching School Alliances are now seen as vital to drive improvement, along with   peer support networks. Currently, 345 teaching schools cover around 4,800 other schools. In September, the Secretary of State announced an expansion to reach a total of 600 alliances by 2016.

And leadership is also seen as vital, although getting the best Heads and Deputies into the most disadvantaged areas can be a big challenge. (one distinct  advantage that London has  always had is that it is  easier to attract good teachers and heads to the capital, than many other areas . Teachers’ partners and spouses of teachers are also more likely generally to find jobs in  London than elsewhere, adding to its appeal ).

From September 2015, the talented leaders programme announced by the Deputy Prime Minister will start by matching 100 head teachers with underperforming schools in areas that struggle to attract and develop outstanding school leaders.

However, the challenge remains and the wide gap in performances between different local authorities in this area remains troubling.



What will they do and what is the timescale?


The Government has been attacked over the perceived lack of accountability in the schools system. With a majority of secondary schools now ‘autonomous’ academies  and directly accountable to the Secretary of State, critics have suggested that some form of middle tier is needed to ensure that struggling schools are spotted early on and given support.  Most academies are singletons, and not part of a chain. Chains  are thought  to be more accountable and more likely to drive up standards. The government has responded to these concerns by announcing that   eight full-time Regional Schools Commissioners will be appointed  this summer.

The RSCs will be classed as civil servants in the Department for Education, on fixed five year contracts.  They are expected to take up post in time for the 2014/15 academic year.

RSCs will undertake functions on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education. These are expected to include:

 Monitoring performance and intervening to secure improvement in underperforming academies;

Taking decisions on the creation of new academies; and

 supporting the national schools commissioner to ensure that there are sufficient sponsors to meet local need.

The RSCs will fulfil this role for all academies, including where academies and free schools offer 16-19 provision. The head teacher boards supporting RSCs will comprise of local education leaders, including headteachers from academies rated as outstanding by Ofsted.  Around six of these outstanding heads will support each RSC. According to the government ‘This will ensure that skilled academy leaders have a voice in the development of the academy system in their region. The remit of the boards will not extend to further education or sixth form colleges and, therefore, we do not anticipate automatic representation for their Principals.’

The costs of RSCs  have yet to be fully determined However, any costs will obviously have to  be met within existing departmental administration budgets, which are being cut overall by 50% in real terms by 2015.


Lord Nash letter


Successful systems invest and reinvest in their professional capital

Professional capital has three components Human, Social, and Decisional


Speaking to an audience of Teachers at the SSATs annual conference in Manchester, last week, Professors Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan focused on the need to invest in  Professional Capital. They reminded the audience that there are two types of  Capital -business and professional capital. If you don’t invest in  both types of capital you will not get, and cannot expect,  a return.

Professional Capital is, of course, about the qualities and talents of individuals.  But its actually about much more than this. You can’t accumulate much human capital by focusing just on the capital of individuals. Essentially you have three mutually reinforcing   components  that make up this Professional capital –Human, Social and Decisional. Not only do you need to have these elements in place but you need to develop and invest in them to improve, specifically your education system.  And Professional capital, and this is key, needs to be circulated and shared. No silos here.

 Human Capital is about individual talent. You need highly able and talented teachers in the profession who are highly qualified.  And you need to invest in them. But you cannot simply rely on talented individuals to drive improvements across the system. Indeed the claim that the education system cannot be better than the individual teachers in that system is at best a half-truth.

 Human capital must be complemented by Social Capital—groups working hard in focused and committed ways to bring about substantial improvements. Social Capital can raise individual human capital—a good team, school, or system lifts everyone. But, as we often see in sports, higher individual human capital—a few brilliant stars—does not necessarily improve the overall team. Working with  other good teachers in effective ways really will mean that the quality of the education system adds up to more than the quality of individual teachers.  

 The third component—Decisional Capital—involves making decisions in complex situations on innumerable occasions with different problems challenges and cases- the ability and capacity to make discretional judgments . Good teachers use their professional judgement.  It is what professionalism is all about, especially when well-qualified professionals do this together. Like judges, after many years of practice and analyzing that practice and lots of case examples (Common Law) with others, teachers and other professionals know how to assess situations effectively. The evidence helps, but it’s never incontrovertible. In teaching as in  law, it’s the capacity to judge that makes the difference in the end.  Experienced well trained teachers and better placed than others to have decisional capital.  And Hargreaves reminded the audience  there is no book to tell you what to do in innumerable cases.  Professionals have to decide informed by their experience.

 When the vast majority of teachers possess the power of professional capital, they become smart and talented, committed and collegial, thoughtful and wise. Their moral purpose is expressed in their relentless, expert-driven pursuit of serving their students and their communities and always learning how to do better. Those few colleagues who persistently fall short of the mark eventually will not be tolerated by peers who see them as letting down their profession and students.

 High-performing countries use professional capital in their approach to the teaching profession. They don’t pick on, praise, or punish a few individuals. Instead, they get better and better by using a strategy that develops and retains all of their high-quality teachers and moves them all forward together.

 There were a number of  key messages being delivered here by Professor Hargreaves and Fullan. Here are just some:   

 First, of all the factors inside a school that affect children’s learning and achievement the most important is the teacher-not standards, assessments, resources or even the schools leadership but the quality of the teacher.

 Secondly, teachers and administrators must break down the classroom isolation and convert teaching into a more collaborative, and collegial profession.  Good collegiality—social capital—is supportive and also demanding. Peer-driven change should be about pulling people into exciting changes and sometimes also pushing and nudging them beyond what they perceive as their limits, for their own and their students’ benefit. And in this respect they need to know what works best and evaluate their collaborative activity, to ensure it is adding value and improving student outcomes.

 Thirdly, Social capital is more important than individual human capital because it generates human capital faster, among all teachers and for every child. Leaders have immense power with social capital to strengthen their school communities, develop greater trust, and build more effective professional collaboration—to raise the social capital in the school that develops their students’ human capital in the future.

 Fourthly we need to concentrate on moving the entire profession forward instead of obsessing about the extremes in the field by celebrating the stars and dismissing the duds.

 Finally ,mid-career (from about eight-years-plus) is where teachers are considered to be at their peak in commitment and enthusiasm, but where they tend to be most overlooked. We need to use pay accelerators (steps up in pay), professional learning incentives, high quality CPD,and multiple career paths to invest in keeping most of our teachers in classrooms for four to eight years at least and to take better advantage of their growing decisional capital and expertise.

 But what about the role of  Governments?  Their message is clear,  on this.  Politicians need to demonstrate courage and faith in investing in long-term professional capital among all teachers for everyone’s achievement, rather than pursuing short-term  ‘business-capital’ interests that reduce the cost and tenure of teachers, pit them against one another, and replace them with online alternatives in order to get a quick financial return. You do not improve professional capital by diminishing teachers judgment and professionalism, nor by employing less qualified people to teach.   Some Government policies , they claim, are driven by the imperatives of  ‘business’ rather than ‘ professional’ capital which  takes a shorter term view and is more interested in quick returns. 

 Countries that have invested in the professional capital of their teachers, and their students are reaping the benefits.  (ie implicitly  not so much  the US and UK, more Finland, South Korea , Singapore). So think about teaching in terms of the creation and circulation and the investment and reinvestment of professional capital. Governments can create good or bad climates, or enabling environments (and they have a heavy responsibility here),  to advance investment in professional capital. But it is something that must be acquired, spread and reinvested mainly  by teachers themselves, individually and together.   


Michael Fullan is a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Andy Hargreaves holds the Thomas More Brennan chair in education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. They are the co-authors of Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School (Teachers College Press, Routledge  2012).


Stagnating but some encouragement in science

But many worry about the Pisa league tables while admiring the data generated


Governments around the world waited – some eagerly, but most rather anxiously – for the latest results of the PISA survey, on 3rd December.

PISA represents an ambitious and expensive, large-scale attempt to measure and compare literacy in reading, mathematics and science in a large number of countries. The first PISA survey was launched in 2000, and it has since been followed up with surveys in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012.

Many concerns have been raised concerning the comparability of educational test results from different countries in general and in particular with the difficulties in producing items that are culturally and linguistically neutral.

According to the latest PISA report, (3 December) England’s performance in mathematics, science and reading has remained stable since PISA 2006. In each survey, pupils in England have performed similarly to the OECD average in mathematics and reading and significantly better than the OECD average in science. This is in contrast to a number of other countries which have seen gains and losses. For example, Singapore, Macao-China, Estonia, Poland, the Republic of Ireland and Romania have shown significant improvements in mathematics, science and reading since 2009, whereas Finland, New  Zealand, Iceland, the Slovak Republic and Sweden have shown significant declines in all three  subjects during the same period. However, average scores give only part of the picture. In all three subjects, England has a relatively large difference in the performance of lowest and highest achievers; this is greater than the OECD average.

Pisa reports generate a wealth of data which is undeniably useful and important. Although most of the publicity surrounding Pisa results focuses on the league tables that seeks to rate countries education systems, based on the tests covering literacy numeracy and science. Those who fare badly in the tables suffer what’s termed ‘ Pisa shock’ . Roughly half of the governments affected  change their policies  in response to the PISA results. In short, its very influential.

Andreas Schleicher, of the OECD, claims that world economy will not pay you for what you know, but rather for what you do with that knowledge and how you apply it. And that is what is behind data and the whole Pisa testing regime.  But  some  academics  challenge the methodology used by the OECD , claiming that the league tables are too crude to be of much use, though most  concede that much of the data generated in this process  can be very  useful.

Professor Stephen Heppell, in this country, has been a long term critic of its methodology. Prais (2003), Goldstein (2004), Brown (2007), and Hopmann, Brinek & Retzl (2007) have also raised very specific concerns over the methodology.  Svend Kreiner and Hugh Morrison have raised concerns too. Kreiners view is that PISA officials claim either that they know about the problems, that the problems have been solved or that their analyses show that the rankings provided by PISA are robust to the model  errors.  But he counters ‘The truths of such claims are not supported by evidence in the technical reports and our results suggest that the ranking is far from robust. If they want to restore the credibility of their results, it is PISA’s obligation to produce the evidence supporting their claims.’ Morrison says ‘the OECD’s claims in  respect of its PISA project have scant validity given the central dependence of these claims on  the clear separability of ability from the items designed to measure that ability.’

PISA’s comparison of countries relies on plausible student scores derived from the so called Rasch model. In short, pupils are not given identical questions but this is ironed out by the model which seeks to remove  ‘contextual’ features. This begs the question whether or not this   scaling model is reliable and consistent. In layman’s terms is PISA comparing like with like?  However Some significant doubts have been raised, in this  sensitive area, with the Rasch model criticised, or at least the way the OECD uses the Rasch model.

We already know that the ranking system can be misleading, as more and more countries join the rating system and some high performers dip in, and out. Some countries don’t take part at all. Also, statistically insignificant differences between countries performances  have often been exaggerated in order to generate a headline .Even Schleicher has urged politicians to be cautious in using the evidence to justify policies (they tend to cherry pick and miss important nuances in order to get their basic message  across – ie we are failing by international standards)

John Jerrim of the IOE ,who has himself raised concerns over PISA,  says that criticisms that imply its useless as a benchmark  are  a  ‘gross exaggeration’.  While conceding  that a  number of valid points have been raised, and point to various ways in which PISA may be improved (the need for PISA to become a panel dataset – following children throughout school – raised by Harvey Goldstein is a particularly important point, according to Jerrim).  And he accepts that no data or test is perfect, particularly when it is tackling a notoriously difficult task such as cross-country comparisons, and that includes PISA. But he says ‘to suggest it cannot tell us anything important or useful is very far wide of the mark. For instance, if one were to believe that PISA did not tell us anything about children’s academic ability, then it should not correlate very highly with our own national test measures. But this is not the case.’

Cambridge University statistics professor David Spiegelhalter investigated Pisa  for the BBC recently.He talked   to leading academics in the world of education including Svend Kreiner in Copenhagen, Harvey Goldstein at Bristol  Oxford’s Jenny Ozga and Professor Alan Smithers of  Buckingham University  . His conclusion? The  League tables are essentially misleading and unreliable  although the data produced by the PISA  exercise is useful.

Professor Alan Smithers, looking at the maths questions says  all the  questions  have a picture or graph attached to them  but  don’t  really cover mathematical understanding in any depth . And he made the important point   that the OECD cannot possibly  know,  for sure, that if pupils do well in a certain test then   that is due to their  schools system. It could  in fact be due in Japans ,Singapores and South Koreas cases, for example , to  the extra tuition pupils receive  outside the school  classroom. Pisa doesnt control for this private tuition.

The NFER plays down the rankings. It doesn’t like to report on rank because it  says it has  some issues with the data .

Indeed, even Andreas Schleicher believes that both the 2000 and 20003 results should not be used for comparison purposes,  because of data shortcomings although this hasn’t stopped our media and politicians from doing so.

England’s latest Pisa results show we have stagnated.. The education secretary  was quick to argue  that the results are a “judgment on the past not the present” because the 15-year-olds who sat the most recent tests had been educated for nine years of their schooling under a Labour government and only two years under the coalition. He seemed to be backed in this by Schleicher  who says that we will have to wait until 2015 results to take a view on the effects of the reforms.

Meanwhile, Sir John Rowling, of the Performance in Excellence (PiXL) Club, says PISA tests are so politically important that pupils should specifically prepare for them. He argues that if we regard the PISA rating as serious, then we should take the tests  seriously, and prepare pupils properly for them .The PiXL club is a group of some 800 schools dedicated to boosting pupils’ exam performance at A-level and GCSE. Sir John suggests that England may be losing out because other countries take the tests much more seriously and do more to ensure that pupils perform well. The former headteacher says one solution would be at least to familiarise pupils with the style of the tests.

He told BBC News that because the tests are taken by a minority of pupils they are not taken seriously and “nobody bothers”.

“It all seems so far away it doesn’t seem to matter – but when politicians get hold of the results it matters a great deal.” But then there is a counter argument that preparing for PISA  tests surely rather defeats their object .And encourages teaching to the (PISA) test. Indeed, Sam Freedman, who championed PISA as an adviser to Gove, thinks that any country specifically preparing their children for tests, should be banned from participating in PISA.   But, then again, if you think that PISA tests are assessing things that are worthwhile assessing and it has such political consequences, it makes sense to prepare your pupils for it.

But there is no hiding official’s disappointment in the latest results.   And Professor Alison Wolf  said “We did badly last time and statistically we have done no better this time. She continued “It is not just about better teachers, it is also about the home environment.“If you are growing up in Seoul or Shanghai, you go home from school to a family that cares desperately about education, no matter what its social standing is. British parents are simply not as aware of how important education is.”

Labour hailed a strong performance in 2000 as a triumphant vindication of its education policies, including the multi-billion pound literacy and numeracy strategies.(which ended in 2010). But this perceived success was  short lived, despite impressive levels of investment.

Britain’s position has worsened.  This governments reforms have, in this first phase, concentrated on structural reforms which, by themselves, were never going to improve Pisa ratings ,even over the longer term. Reforms to the curriculum, assessment and raising the quality of teaching (through, for example better selection, training and CPD) when combined with structural reforms, could have an impact. But it will take several more years for us to see the effects.

We probably can’t very accurately (the language and cultural issues alone raises big challenges),rank students across countries, as if all have sat identical  questions at the same time, in an identical context. Because they haven’t. And the Rasch model is not unchallenged

And its odd that the media simply ignore the alternative TIMMS study, and its results, which seek to measure ‘factual’ knowledge among students in different systems. Both the UK and the US  consistently   do better in TIMMS  than PISA. (the US stagnated in PISA too)

There are no grounds for complacency on our PISA performance. Stagnation is not good and raises many questions on the policy front. But there are no reasons to panic either Its worth noting that  that some of those  whom we have most admired in the past including Finland ,  are actually in long term  decline, according to Pisa. We might be in a better place come 2015 but there are a number of countries new to Pisa  that are improving rapidly ,who could overtake us.




People have a tendency to want to avoid a loss – more so than we want to receive an equivalent gain – a tendency known as loss aversion. Behavioural scientists have known about this for some time.

Imagine that teachers   were told at the beginning of the year that in order to be awarded a bonus of say £3,000 at the year end, they will have to show continuous improvement throughout the year and meet certain clear goals in terms of their CPD. The teacher would have points docked from their assessment when his or her performance or achievement was inadequate, and so teachers would work hard to stay on track to receive their end of year bonus.  How might this affect the respective teachers effort, expectations, performance, and assessment relative to current practice? Another variant might be paying teachers in advance and then asking for a proportion of the money back if the teacher, or their pupils, perform poorly according to transparent  metrics.

Research in the States doesn’t seem to support positive effects for performance related pay on student outcomes, linked just to test scores. And, indeed, linking performance related pay to test results carries with it some perverse incentives and is not necessarily very fair. Classroom observation is also seen as an unreliable method of assessing merit. So might it be worth listening more to what  behavioural scientists are telling us?





Surprise findings, maybe


We all learn throughout our lives. But learning as part of the formal educational enterprise—takes place mainly in school classrooms, as a result of the daily, minute-to-minute interactions that take place between teachers and students and the subjects they study.

This is stating the blindingly obvious, perhaps. But surely too little attention is paid to what actually happens in the classroom and the quality of teaching. We are a lot more concerned, for instance, about what doctors do in their surgeries and medical research than we are about what teachers do in the classroom or to the research that tells what best practice in the classroom is. Yes, what doctors get up to is a matter of life and death but what happens in the classroom can determine whether a child makes a success of their lives or fails to meet their potential with all the personal  and social consequences that this entails.

It seems logical that if we are going to improve the outcomes of the educational enterprise—that is, improve learning— we have to intervene directly in daily classroom instruction. And we also have to   find out how best  to  up- scale  and share what works  if we are at all serious about improving the educational outcomes of all students, especially students now stuck in chronically low performing schools.

Professor Dylan Wiliam of the Institute of Education has found, perhaps counter-intuitively, in his research, that it  isn’t knowledge of the subject, nor for that matter the quality of initial teacher training, that really makes a good teacher. Instead it is professional development throughout a teachers career, particularly the early years, the first five to ten, that is most important and has the most significant effect on outcomes.

There is also other research that suggests that teachers only improve in the first two to three years after ITT, then their performance plateaus.

So, Teacher quality is the most important determinant of how much pupils learn in school and the effect is much greater than is commonly supposed.

Professor Wiliam has found that pupils taught by the best teachers learn four times as much as those taught by the worst.  Recent Research too by Professor Simon Burgess from the University of Bristol seems to confirm the effects of bad teaching on academic achievement. He found that children taught by the worst teachers get at least a grade lower pass mark at GCSE than those taught by the best. In addition, Peter Tymms, professor of education at Durham University, led a study, published in the journal Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability that found that  having  a bad teacher in the first year at primary school can blight a child’s entire education. The research discovered that the effect of having an exceptionally poor – or an unusually good – teacher in the reception year was still detectable six years later. The findings suggest that many pupils are being betrayed by schools that, in an effort to rise up national league tables, concentrate their best teachers on pupils about to take their Sats tests at the age of 11.

Professor Wiliam’s research found that Subject Knowledge actually accounts for just 15% of the difference in teacher quality

Where teachers receive their initial teacher training, Professor Wiliam has found, is almost irrelevant. Instead, the most important variable is teaching skill and what matters most, in this respect, is that teachers acquire a commitment to sound professional development throughout their careers.

What is clear is that the quality of good and bad teaching has a very significant effect on outcomes and the life opportunities of our children and deserves much more attention. Structural reforms, alone, were never going to deliver improvements across the system. It is clear that our politicians realise this but structural reforms amount to the low hanging fruit of education reform. The biggest challenge remains improving what happens in the classroom which is infinitely more complex and not very susceptible to the   centrally driven prescriptions of politicians.




Thurrock Council needs a clearer vision and schools need to work better together to drive improvements


Robert Hill and Christine Gilbert were commissioned by Thurrock Council to find out how the school system, which was perceived to be under performing, could be improved and performance accelerated.

So what did they find?

First there is no overarching educational vision and strategy in Thurrock that is owned by all. Second, there is a lack of trust between head teachers and the local authority, so the relationship between the Council and heads does not provide the strong platform that is essential for working together to improve schools. Third, there are tensions between some head teachers which affect how schools work with and trust each other. The report says ‘ there is already considerable evidence that suggests that outcomes improve fastest and children and  young people benefit most, when schools work together to lead improvement  and where they share concern  and responsibility for all children and young people in their area , not just their own school’. Fourth, they found that although there have been considerable improvements there are ‘weaknesses to be tackled in the school improvement system. In short ’Their system is not rooted in school leading schools’.   They need to develop networks of support rather than parachuting in expertise and resources’. Fifth, it must recruit high quality teaching staff, so better branding and marketing is needed. Finally they need to lift their aspirations   across the community and among teachers so that they can achieve more and make more of their opportunities. The report makes six recommendations including the need to redefine the role of the local authority and the need to build a compelling case for change across the community and  to  develop a powerful vision for education.

Thurrock Education Commission Report –September 2013- Robert Hill and Christine Gilbert



Just 2% of schools rated ‘inadequate’

The proportion of schools that have been judged ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted (judged at their most recent inspection) is 20% (4,286). Those rated ‘good -‘58% (12,346). ‘Satisfactory’/ ‘Requires improvement’-19% (4057); Inadequate 2% (497)

As at 31 August 2013-Ofsted- HOC -Deposited Paper-30 October 2O13


The accountability framework and gaming

Focus on C grade distorts the system


League tables measure what proportion of pupils are awarded at least a C grade in English, maths and three other subjects at GCSE level. The resulting dividing line separates what the FT describes in a Leader as ‘ the pedagogical sheep from the goats’. Schools therefore have an incentive to focus teaching time and resources on pupils  who are judged by their school to be on the borderline C/D grade at GCSE. This has long been the case. Ofqual (not Ofsted) has discovered, unsurprisingly perhaps,  that thousands of teenagers are being put in for multiple GCSE maths exams in the hope they will get crucial C grade passes in at least one of them. As much as 15 per cent of candidates sitting GCSEs  – around 90,000 candidates – were last year submitted for maths exams with more than one board. Ofqual officials believe there will be a repeat this year because the pressures that drove schools to do it – including boosting performances in league tables – are still there.

This distorts teaching incentives with real consequences for what children learn. Schools self-evidently have few incentives to push more able and gifted students to achieve high grades – or indeed  to help weaker pupils who  are rated  as having a slender chance of reaching a C grade. Too much of the effort goes into heaving borderline candidates over the dividing line . This serves to work against the interests of a majority of pupils.

Ironically, given successive governments very public commitments to increasing social mobility, the pupils most likely to have the  potential to be  socially mobile are the most able, who are not being given the support they deserve to realise their potential  under the current accountability regime. It is also clearly the case that raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils (on Free School Meals)  and closing the achievement gap between them and their peers is going to be made infinitely harder if the focus remains on the C/D boundary as FSM pupils   tend to be at the bottom of the attainment spectrum.

Professor Chris Husbands, of London university’s Institute of Education  got straight to the point when he said “Multiple entries have generally been driven by the impact of the school accountability framework rather than the best interests of young people.”The interests of  young people should always be paramount.

There is also a rather fundamental question that needs to be answered in these austere times. Exams cost  the taxpayer a lot of money. Is  entering  a  pupil  for two exams in the same subject,   with  different boards,  a responsible  use  of taxpayers money ?

The good news is that the government appears to be moving away from the C to D borderline. A consultation is under way about switching to a points-based measure that would address some of the problems associated with the current system.


 Worries over funding deprived pupils

And what about the so-called  ‘soft’ skills?


Stephen Twigg , the shadow education secretary, says that we  can all agree that raising standards during primary education increases the life chances for young people in later life. The disagreement comes in what we mean by ‘standards’ and how we achieve system wide improvements.

Responding to the 17 July announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister on primary school assessment and accountability, Stephen  Twigg said in the Commons that  he “  wanted assurances that the Government’s changes to the accountability system will promote breadth and depth of learning, as well as literacy and numeracy The new floor target of 85%, is for an assessment that the Government have yet to define.” Surely, Twigg argued,  “that is putting the cart before the horse.”  “Would it not make for better policy to define the learning outcomes first? My worry is that this is another classic case of policy making on the hoof.”

“Similarly,” he continued, “ the plan for ranking 11-year-olds has all the hallmarks of such an approach. To rank 11-year-olds runs the risk of removing year-on-year consistency, because children will be benchmarked against their peers in their current year, rather than against a common standard.”

The Government, according to Twigg, have sent out confused signals about attainment and progress. “On the one hand they are scrapping level descriptors, which heads and teachers tell me are crucial for monitoring progress between assessments, yet on the other hand, the Minister is rightly emphasising progress measures today. That is very confusing.”

“On the baseline measure for five-year-olds, there is sense in developing policy about how best to establish prior attainment to provide both teachers and parents with a clear indicator at the start of primary school. The devil will be in the detail, so it is vital that there is full consultation on that.”

Finally, on the pupil premium, he said that  additional funding to support the progress of disadvantaged children is welcome. ” I have seen many schools that have made excellent use of the pupil premium. In his statement, though, the Minister said, “Early intervention is crucial”, and I agree with him. However, how does that sit with the fact that the biggest cuts in spending in his Department have been in early intervention funding? Can the Minister assure the House that additional funding really does mean additional funding?”

Twigg continued “I worry that the Minister may—to coin a phrase—be robbing Paul to pay Paul. The Chancellor announced in the spending review that the Government are moving to a national funding formula. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that this move could hit schools with large deprived intakes. Can he reassure the House that this really is new money and not simply giving money to schools with a lot of disadvantaged kids today, which is welcome, but taking it away in a couple of years when the national funding formula comes in?”

 In an article on the Spectators blog (18 July) Twigg, interestingly, sided with Anthony Seldons view that the curriculum proposals don’t offer much scope for a rounded education and what has been termed the ‘soft skills’ and too much by rote learning for tests. Twigg is concerned about what this government means by standards. He writes ’‘theirs is a backward looking vision, premised on rote-learning and a failure to value the importance of the skills and aptitudes that young people need to succeed. They portray these skills- such as speaking and listening skills, leadership, citizenship and resilience- as ‘soft’. Try telling that to Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College where the curriculum is tailored to equip young people with a rounded, rigorous education. On standards, Labour’s approach is guided by what I call the ‘rigour of the future’. Rigour in core knowledge and subjects yes. But rigour and emphasis too on what Anthony Seldon calls ‘character education’ and a broad and balanced subject range and content.’Twigg doesn’t believe that this rounded education,  offered by the likes of Wellington College, should be the preserve of private schools.


Twigg suggests muddled thinking at the heart of the reforms. He says ‘David Laws argued for schools to have progress measures between Key Stage assessments so teachers and parents can monitor progress and attainment. This only a week after Michael Gove told MPs that Key Stage level descriptors- used by teachers to monitor performance- will go’… ‘ There might be a case to look at reforming level descriptors to ensure sufficient challenge but scrapping them outright is completely misguided and will undermine standards in primary schools’.


Twigg  also claims that ‘ranking pupils at 11 against others in their cohort will do nothing to raise standards, quite the opposite in fact. This is a classic policy red herring. By ranking pupils against others in their year- rather than against set, year-on-year standards- this will lead to distortions from one year to another. ‘


In short, Twigg believes that this is policy made  on the hoof,  is confused and lacking  in rigour.