Measuring progress fairly: thoughts on the coasting schools measures

Stephen Anwyll

The 2016 progress measures for the new ‘coasting schools’ category were finally revealed in October in the DfE’s updated Primary Accountability publication. The thresholds are -2.5 for reading and mathematics and -3.5 for writing, and schools must be above in all three subjects. The vast majority of schools will already know that they can’t be a coasting a school this year because of results in 2014 or 2015 (a coasting school has to be below all relevant measures in all three years) but these progress thresholds will be of interest to all primary schools as they look towards 2018. By then, if the current attainment measure of 85% of pupils with a combined ‘expected standard’ is maintained, the large majority of schools will be relying on pupil progress. So, is it being measured fairly?

One aspect of the new system of ‘progress scores’ needs urgent evaluation. Recent evidence I have seen from several local authorities and groups of schools indicates that pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) tend to have negative progress scores whereas pupils with English as an additional language (EAL) generally achieve strongly positive progress scores. The reason for this apparent anomaly is not difficult to explain. Pupils with EAL are often still acquiring fluency in English at the age of 7 and their attainment at the end of KS1 is therefore relatively lower than their non-EAL peers. By the age of 11, this factor has largely disappeared and there is very little difference between the average performance of EAL pupils who have been in school since KS1 and the national average. Thus, their progress between KS1 and KS2 is ‘flattered’.

Additionally, the new system compares a pupil’s outcomes at KS2 with those of all the children nationally who had similar attainment (i.e. were in the same ‘Prior Attainment Group’) at the end of KS1. Pupils in the lower prior attainment groups will include those with SEND but also pupils with EAL whose skills in English did not allow them to demonstrate their full ability at the end of KS1. By comparing average KS2 outcomes of all these pupils combined, it is inevitable that the pupils with SEND will appear to have made poor progress and those with EAL, because they have had a further four years to improve their English, will typically achieve very positive progress scores.

Since school progress scores are calculated from aggregating the individual progress scores of all pupils in the school, it is likely that schools with a high proportion of pupils with SEND and few EAL pupils will have relatively lower progress scores and those with a high proportion of EAL pupils will have relatively higher scores. The implications are obvious; school leaders and governors could feel reluctant to accept pupils with SEND because they might depress the school’s progress scores in the longer-term. This is clearly a situation that no one would wish to see so an early review is essential. Any progress measure needs to be seen to be comparing the outcomes of pupils with similar learning characteristics if it is to give a fair indication of schools’ effectiveness.

a guide to assessmentStephen Anwyll is the co-author of ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’. The guide is for primary teachers, but will be of particular interest to Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs), including headteachers and middle leaders with responsibility for school assessment arrangements, tracking progress and accountability measures. Register free on Oxford Owl for School to read ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’ now.

You can also find more support from Stephen, including Professional Development videos, on Oxford Owl for School, where you can also try out the Assessment for Learning School Improvement Pathway for free!

Stephen Anwyll has almost 40 years’ experience in education, starting as a primary teacher and then moving into advisory work. He was appointed as a regional director for the National Literacy Strategy and later became its national director. He worked on improving teacher assessment with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority for several years and at the end of 2010 was appointed Head of the National Assessment team at Ofqual, leading the work on reviewing statutory assessment arrangements. He now works as an independent consultant.