What have we learnt from the new assessment and accountability arrangements? Practical next steps

Stephen Anwyll

The first few weeks of a new school year usually involves both looking forward and looking back. The summer of 2016 saw an almost completely new set of national assessment and accountability arrangements and schools are analysing how they’ve done and pondering the implications for the years ahead. We don’t have all the results yet but we know enough to get an idea of how things have changed.

New standards

We knew that the expectations and standards of the new National Curriculum would be higher. Under any new system, comparisons with previous years are generally unhelpful, but schools had been repeatedly assured that the new standard at the end of KS2 would be ‘broadly similar’ to a Level 4b under the previous curriculum and assessment arrangements.

Well, the statistics don’t exactly back that up. In the 2015 tests, 80% of Y6 pupils achieved a level 4b in reading and 77% in mathematics; in 2016, just 66% met the new expected standard in reading and 70% in mathematics. The big difference in the reading result also confirms feedback from many schools that pupils found this year’s reading test particularly challenging.

National results for KS1 will be published at the end of September, but initial indications suggest that the new standards are also tougher than anticipated. Again, the Government’s line was that new expectations would be similar to the old Level 2b, but this doesn’t look likely. In 2015, 82% of pupils nationally were judged to be at Level 2b or above in reading and mathematics and 72% in writing. Early feedback from authorities indicates that the percentage of pupils attaining the new standards is likely to be in the low 70s for reading and mathematics and the high 60s for writing.

Implications for accountability

We can expect attainment to rise over the next couple of years as pupils and teachers become more familiar with the curriculum and the assessment arrangements. However, these higher expectations have big implications for the revised accountability measures – both floor standards and the new ‘coasting school’ category.

Let’s start with the floor standard. The principle that there should be both an attainment measure and a progress measure has been established for many years. So, in 2015, a school was below the floor if:

  • fewer than 65% of its pupils attained a combined level 4 (i.e. in all of the reading and mathematics tests and writing teacher assessment)

and

  • if the percentage of pupils making at least two levels of progress from KS1 was lower than the national median in all three subjects.

In fact, over 90% of eligible schools achieved the attainment measure so the progress measure was only of concern to some 1,200 primary schools; about half of these also fell below the progress measure and were thus deemed to be failing.

We won’t know the exact numbers until school performance tables are published in December but we can already see from the national figures that the majority of schools will not have met the new attainment measure of 65% of pupils reaching the expected standard in the reading and mathematics tests and in writing teacher assessment. One authority I’ve spoken to, which had only two per cent of its schools fall below last year’s floor standard attainment measure, thinks that three-quarters of its schools are below the new measure this year. So pupil progress now becomes the key factor for the large majority of primary schools. This was partially the intention of the new approach; it mirrors the change in secondary schools where progress from KS2 to KS4 is now the key accountability measure.

How pupil progress is now measured is clearly set out in an updated DfE publication and the newly published thresholds for 2016 are very low (-5 in reading and mathematics and -7 in writing). There are two key reasons for this. First, because the Government had already promised that the numbers of schools below the floor standard would be roughly equivalent to recent years (no more than around 750) and second because the new measure requires schools to be above the progress threshold in all three subjects, not just in at least one, as in previous years. With the majority of schools (perhaps as many as 10,000) below the new floor standard attainment measure, the progress thresholds had to be set at a point where only about 6% of eligible schools fell below them all. In these schools, Y6 pupils would have achieved scaled scores in reading and mathematics, on average, at least seven marks lower than children nationally who had the same prior attainment four years earlier at the end of KS1.

So which schools are likely to be below the floor?

Whilst the number of schools below the floor may remain in line with recent years, the composition of the group will be rather different under the new measures. With progress now the more significant element for most schools, we’re likely to see an over-representation of large primary schools (and particularly junior and middle schools) with low proportions of EAL pupils. Why? Because we know from published data that:

  • under the previous value-added approach to measuring progress, pupils with EAL make a bigger improvement than those with English as their first language between the ages of 7 and 11 – according to RAISEonline data in 2015, average progress for EAL pupils was 100.7 compared to 99.8 for non-EAL
  • KS1 outcomes in separate infant and first schools have been consistently higher than in primary schools for many years, probably because of a combination of primary schools erring on the side of caution in their KS1 teacher assessments (conscious of the need to maximise pupil progress scores), and infant/first schools doing the opposite (that’s why high stakes accountability and accurate assessment don’t always sit comfortably together). This makes junior and middle schools particularly vulnerable to progress-based accountability.

What about the coasting school category?

It’s likely that only a small minority of schools nationally will have achieved the attainment threshold for 2016 – 85% of pupils reaching the expected standard in all three subjects. Previously, the Government has said that the progress measure would be tougher than that used for the floor standards (i.e. higher than -7 for reading and mathematics and -5 for writing). Of course, this category takes into account results over three years and most schools will already know that they cannot be classified as coasting in 2016 because of their KS2 results in 2014 and/or 2015. The problem for the Government is that, if they set a demanding threshold this year and then carry it forward into 2017 and 2018, large numbers of schools could find themselves at risk in two years’ time.

So what should schools be doing?

Given the new importance of pupil progress, here are three practical steps you could take:

  1. Make sure you understand how progress is now calculated for accountability purposes and start applying the approach to this year’s Y6 cohort. You can work out each pupil’s 2013 KS1 ‘average point score’ and, based on national 2016 outcomes for pupils in each prior attainment performance group, get an idea of how they’d need to perform in next summer’s assessments in order for the school to get at least progress scores of zero in each subject (i.e. making progress in line with the national average). Look at current assessments of pupils’ attainment in order to identify those who have furthest to go and consider how you can intervene to accelerate their progress.
  2. Compare current estimates of potential school progress scores across the three subjects and see which one is weakest. Remember that schools need to be above the thresholds in all three subjects now so, if one subject looks significantly weaker than the other two, make it a priority and develop a plan to improve provision in that area.
  3. Start to build each pupil’s KS1 average point score into your school’s progress tracking system since this is their baseline as far as the accountability measures are concerned. In this way, you can look at any significant patterns as pupils move through KS2 and intervene as early as possible.

Finally, in case you missed two announcements that were made during the summer break, the EYFS Profile will continue to be a statutory assessment in 2017 (the previous position was for it to become non-statutory after 2016) and teacher assessment at the end of KS1 and KS2 will continue to be based on the frameworks used in the summer of 2016 (although the Government had previously said that they were for use in 2016 only and would be reviewed).

Never a dull moment!


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.

Assessment GuideStephen 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.  Download ‘A Guide to Assessment: Tools and support for primary schools in England’ now.

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.

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