6 Reasons to smile about the new accountability measures for schools and academies

First published October 2013

The government recently announced the conclusion of a consultation on new accountability measures. Ros McMullan argues here that these offer significant hope for improving the system of accountability of schools; at the end of the article, she has given her summary of the new proposals.

Accountability measures drive behaviour, schools get pilloried for that behaviour, teacher morale plummets, young people feel their achievements are undermined, school leaders get demoralised and the public lose confidence in the system.  That’s how it works, right?

Well that has certainly been an emerging pattern and the big fear was that we would get more of the same in the new measures.

For the first time in a long time, however, I am smiling.  I know it is early days, that the devil will be in the detail, that we have yet to see the effects etc etc, but I have looked at the behaviours these measures will drive and, up to now, I am smiling.  Here’s why:

1. Teaching to the middle has been a constant drag on our education system. Although not entirely removed (apparently the % at C + in English and Maths will still be reported, but not as main measure), the ridiculous cliff edge of D/C borderline removal, should remove the worst behaviours. I’ve done it myself to my shame: removed kids from other subjects for extra English and Maths.  And the worst of that is that it was never the kids who were desperate to improve from an B to an A, or an F to an E: oh no, we sacrificed everything to the precious C.  The effect this has had on the aspirations of parents, children and teachers has been appalling. The profession should be dancing in the streets about the change to all grades counting in the measure.

2.  With individualised floor standards for schools, based on students’ prior attainment, we will no longer have the disincentive to work in and lead schools in challenging areas.  This is important, because poor kids need the best leaders and teachers and it was getting to a point where it was career ending to choose to be there.

3.  Every child counts in these new measures. Ensuring that those who can move from F to D,E to C, and B to A* all count brings us back to a serious personalisation agenda.  This is something else Labour supporting teachers should be dancing in the streets about. ‘The tyranny of the C’ lowered expectations of bright poor kids and abandoned far too many because they would never get to a C.

4.  Although at first glance it looks like a way of making all schools make all children do an EBacc (an invented random collection of GCSE valued by some politicians with no supporting evidence from employers or universities), it really isn’t.  Yes, they will report on % EBacc, but it won’t be the main accountability measure and those of us who choose to ignore it will continue to ignore it. The reality is ‘the basket of 8′ need not mean everyone does a language, science or humanity. I checked and for the student who wants to specialise English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Product Design, and Business will have filled her ‘basket of 8′.  As would the student doing English, Maths, Latin, History, French, RE, Sociology and Economics.  I’m not suggesting that it is desirable for large numbers of students to specialise early on – just that they should be able to do so, if appropriate.  And they can.  Hurrah!

5.  Even better,  this measure actively encourages appropriate curriculum for students with alternative or special needs.  The matrix, which to be fair we have yet to see, will use prior attainment to project points students need to achieve at GCSE.  An SEN student with low prior attainment may be projected to get only 8 G Grades at GCSE (8 points).  In arranging an appropriate curriculum for such a student it may be decided that he does Maths, English and 3 BTecs: the basket of 8 will not be filled, but the points scored could be higher than 8 due to the appropriateness of the curriculum.  Incentivising schools to ensure appropriate personalised curriculum for all students designed to maximise their outcomes.  A big smile from me for that one!

6.  My final smile is that the progress floor standard appears to be statistically sensible.  We have been pretending for too long that ’3 levels of progress’ is an appropriate target for all.  Statistically students with high prior attainment make more than 3 levels of progress and those with very low prior attainment make less.  This will now be recognised in setting floor standards.

My early conclusion is that these new measures are challenging and fair.

Perhaps, even more importantly, they are about personalisation and every child getting the best.  I hope the smile isn’t wiped from my face as we see implementation!

Ros McMullen (@RosMcM) is an academy principal and academy trust CEO in Leeds and a member of the core group of @HeadsRoundtable. She is a Labour Party member.


Ros’s summary of the new measures

The new measures will apply from 2016, but schools can choose to ‘opt in’ from 2015.

Every school’s floor target will be different  as it will be based on progress across 8 subjects, known as ‘the basket’

The basket’ contains English (which will double count unless not doing Lit in which case stays as a single count), Maths and any 3 of – core science, additional science, biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, geography, history, any classical or modern language. The additional  3 may be BTeC or GCSE

It will be possible to fill ‘the basket’ without doing a science at all, or a humanity or a language and ‘the basket’ clearly gives plenty of room for specialisation.  Eg. A student could do Bio, Chem, Phy, Engineering, Product Design and Business.  Another could do Geog, His, Latin, Art, RE, and Sociology.  ’The basket’ does not need to be filled, but unfilled spaces will score nil.

Exams will still be graded, but the progress measure will use points with A*=8 and G=1.

A school’s floor standard will be the average expectation of progress minus 0.5 of a grade across 8 subjects.  Eg  if a student should get 8xA* (64), the actual floor target would be 4xA* and 4xA (60). This is averaged across all the cohort and becomes the  school’s floor target.

When the cohort is in Y9 the matrix of the floor standard will be issued, based on the exams last summer and how students did then compared with their KS2 results. So we are due this during this academic year.  (We are assured that government realise there will be an effect of exams ‘becoming harder’ and so they are working to factor this in.)

More than 8 in ‘the basket’ will not be counted, but less than 8 will.  This means that if a student is expected on prior attainment to get 8×1 from ‘the basket’, in order for the school to a) ensure the student gets qualifications with a better currency b) ensure that the student is not a ‘drag’ on achieving the floor target, and c) provide an appropriate curriculum diet, they could only  5 within the 8 but get more than the 8 points. Eg Maths, English and 3 BTecs. (We see this as very positive news for SEN and likely to raise aspirations and achievement)

The DfE intend to put ‘a widget’ on every school’s website which gives the following information:

  • Your average VA per grade (eg 0.5 or -0.5 etc)
  • Your average grade in ‘the basket’ of 8 (C+, D- etc)
  • Your %C+ in En and M
  • Your % EBacc

3 thoughts on “6 Reasons to smile about the new accountability measures for schools and academies

  1. Whilst I agree with pretty much everything in this blog (and certainly the general drift of policy in this area) – point 5 is not, yet, so clear cut.

    There are two models on the table (officially – decisions may have been made and not publicised yet) – model 1 works as described with the total ‘points score’ target calculated based on the KS2 results of each individual in your cohort – this is not dissimilar to the current Capped Average Points Score (CAPS) measure except there are a few more restrictions on what can count in the best 8 in the new Attainment8 and Progress8 model. The subjects taken to reach that target score makes no difference.

    The second model on table is actually more complex but takes into account that not all qualifications and all subjects are equally ‘difficult’ (or more accurately the progression matrix from KS2-KS4 is more generous for some subjects/qualifications than others). If this approach is taken then the ‘target’ score for each student would not be based on their KS2 results but also which subjects they had chosen to take at KS4 (if they took lots of BTECs their target score would be higher as progression from KS2-KS4 is more generous for these courses currently).

    Whilst the second approach is more complex I favour it as it protects subjects that are ‘harder’. For example the national KS2-KS4 progression matrix for GCSE French suggests that it is half a grade harder than the average of other GCSE subjects.

    If schools were wanting to artificially ‘game’ the system Ros described then they would steer students away from these ‘harder’ qualifications and onto ones with more generous KS2-4 progression matrices. The 2nd of the proposed models removes this incentive and therefore student and school interests align.

  2. What if you haven’t got any prior attainment?

    Typically, pupils with SEN, don’t have prior attainment or pupils from Independent Schools.

    About 3% of our cohort!!!!

    To be ignored? What about Primaries that manage to over inflate their KS2 results? Are pupils then destined to underachieve their whole school life?

  3. All students have to study some science up to the age of 16. The KS4 science curriculum is compulsory in maintained schools and academies are required to provide a broad and balanced curriculum (including English, mathematics and science up to the age of 16.)
    Double science will count as two slots, and core and additional science GCSE will take up one slot each in the Progress 8 measure. Core science GCSE alone will only count as one slot. Separate GCSEs in biology, chemistry, physics and computer science each count as one slot. All these qualifications will count in the EBacc slots in this measure. Students who are capable of achieving good grades should be encouraged to sit individual science subjects.

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