Practical steps for accountability

Stephen Anwyll

In a previous blog post, I summarised the criteria of the two school accountability measures that will be used in 2016 – for floor standards and for ‘coasting schools’. For most schools, the main implication of the new measures will be to place a greater emphasis on progress – the progress which every pupil makes during the primary phase across all of reading, writing and mathematics. Given that the Government’s definition of ‘sufficient progress’ will not be known until next Autumn, after the new test standards have been set and the new Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks have been used for the first time, what can schools be doing now to prepare for the changing accountability context?

Although many schools will have used one of the new Early Reception Baseline assessments this term, it won’t be until 2022, when current Reception pupils reach the end of Key Stage 2, that these start to be used to calculate school progress scores across the whole of the primary phase. Until then, progress from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2 will be continue to be used as the basis for one of the two accountability measures for primary schools. Incidentally, if you’re in a separate infant school, the DfE has stated that accountability will be based on progress between Reception Baseline and end of Key Stage 1, but there will be no floor standard.

What can you start doing now?

The Government will calculate school progress scores differently starting from 2016 (I’ve described the methodology in my earlier blog post). Essentially, they will work out how the progress made by pupils at the end of KS2 in your school compares to the average progress of all pupils nationally who had the same prior attainment at the end of KS1. For pupils in Key Stage 2, schools will be starting to use their chosen approach to judging attainment and tracking progress under the new National Curriculum. Whatever system you use, you can begin to monitor and compare the performance of your pupils who had the same prior attainment at the end of KS1.

We’ve got used to analysing the attainment and performance of different groups of pupils (boys, girls, Pupil Premium, EAL, etc.) but, from now, one of the key groupings of pupils will be ‘those with similar prior attainment’ – in other words, with the same aggregate APS score at the end of Key Stage 1. So, if you have a group of pupils in your current Year 5 (or Year 6 or Year 4 or Year 3) who were all assessed as Level 2b in their reading, writing and mathematics when they reached the end of KS1, are they all performing broadly in line with age-related expectations now or are some doing better than others and therefore have made more progress? Is there anything you can do to accelerate the learning of the pupil/s who have made the least progress? Remember that, in the new method of calculating progress scores, the more progress you can make with every child, whatever their starting point, the higher the school’s progress score will be.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the new accountability measures will be based on progress in all three areas of reading, writing and mathematics, whereas, in the past, a school could be above floor standards if progress in any one area was above the national median. So, are pupils with same prior attainment making similar progress across all of reading, writing and mathematics? If there’s a pattern of less progress in one subject compared to the other two, is there anything you can do to address this?

Making progress more visible

As well as the national measures for floor standards and coasting schools, Ofsted is the key body which holds schools to account. Inspection has come to rely heavily on the school-level analysis of assessment data contained in RAISEonline reports. Of course, 2016 will see the start of a completely new set of data based on national assessment. Previous experience in this country and across the world suggests that it takes several years for everyone to settle down with a new curriculum, new tests, new teacher assessment criteria and new expected standards. Data will be less reliable during this period and Ofsted has recognised that inspectors will need to verify the school’s tracking judgements by looking for evidence of progress through work scrutiny, discussions with pupils and during time spent in classrooms.

The continuous scale of level descriptions provided schools with a ‘shorthand’ system of characterising and recording pupil attainment and progress. Recognising and describing significant learning and improvement without levels is both the challenge and the opportunity offered by the new curriculum. It’s a challenge because it takes time to build up familiarity and confidence with new content and expectations, but it’s also an opportunity to ensure that assessment is built on evidence of what pupils really can do and encourages us to describe what they do well and where they have improved, and to identify the key next steps in their learning. The more accurately and confidently teachers can recognise significant learning and where pupils need to go next, the better able they are to provide good feedback to pupils and their parents. It’s also more likely that the school’s pupil tracking will provide a secure base for decisions to be made about intervention and the deployment of additional support.

Five key questions

Have a look at these questions to help you see how prepared you are for the new school accountability landscape.

  1. Have you started to look at the relative attainment of pupils throughout Key Stage 2 who had the same prior attainment at the end of Key Stage 1?
  2. Do you know if pupils in Key Stage 2 are making similar progress across reading, writing and mathematics and, if not, what are you doing to address this?
  3. Have you spent time looking as a whole school at the new age-related expectations for each year group and what attainment ‘at greater depth’ would look like (i.e. are there planned opportunities across the curriculum for pupils to apply, refine and broaden the knowledge, skills and understanding that they’ve been taught in English and mathematics)?
  4. How are you building in time for progress reviews with pupils and for work scrutinies to look at evidence of progress over time (and are senior staff involved in order to give them a clear sense of new standards and to ensure consistency of expectation across classes and year groups)?
  5. When reporting to parents, how consistent are you in talking about both progress (where there’s been improvement since the last parents’ evening, what is now secure and what are key next steps) and attainment (overall performance in relation to the year-group expectations of the National Curriculum)?


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.

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