Infant schools are almost three times more likely to have received an “outstanding” grade from Ofsted than junior schools, a TES analysis shows.
The stark divide has raised questions about perverse incentives for schools to inflate or suppress the test results of different age groups.
Some headteachers believe that overly generous teacher assessments for seven-year-olds help infant schools to get better Ofsted grades, at the expense of junior schools who then find it harder to show that pupils have made enough progress.
One junior school head, who wished to remain anonymous, told TES: “It becomes almost impossible for a junior school to show [the required] level of progress, because of the high level of attainment that children are coming in with.”
A TES analysis of the underlying data for Ofsted verdicts up to the end of September showed that 37 per cent of infant schools were judged “outstanding”, compared with just 13 per cent of junior schools.
Infant schools and tests
Pam Sammons, professor of education at the University of Oxford, pointed out that the key stage 1 tests, which play such an important part in infant school Ofsted verdicts, are assessed by classroom teachers, but reading and maths tests at the end of KS2 were marked externally.
“There’s always a halo effect with teacher judgement, and they tend to judge to the best of a child’s ability,” she told TES.
Professor Sammons also noted that primary schools that combined infant and junior phases had an incentive to “push down” the grades in KS1, so that their results in KS2 looked better.
Academics from Education Datalab have suggested this phenomenon, rather than the inflation of scores by infant schools, could be doing the most damage to junior schools.
An Ofsted spokesman said: “The quality of infant schools in this country is very high and their response to important issues like the need to teach systematic synthetic phonics effectively has been strong.
“Such work has been reflected in generally high achievement in the KS1 Sats.
“However, just as we have reported on the difficulties we have seen in some schools when pupils transition from primary to secondary school, the transition from infants to juniors can be equally challenging to get right. This can lead to some lag in pupils’ learning when they join KS2 in a new school.”
This is an edited article from the 25 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here