The start of the September term is traditionally one of the many times that teachers make a plan to do something better this year. The joy of the academic year, of course, is that we are provided with more than one occasion for such resolutions, but September offers a real opportunity for a blank slate. It is the one time of year where we can all resolve to stay on top of our marking, to be just that bit more consistent with behaviour management, and to eat fewer biscuits when somebody’s birthday leads to a feast in the staffroom.
The new year is no different for school leaders, save perhaps for their inevitable focus on the data. While in our own classrooms, our ambitions might be small and manageable (I will actually finish that display I started last year on writing purposes), for those at the head of our schools, there will be a bigger prize in sight: the chance, nay need, to reach the top of the league tables.
There’s a new twist to that fun game this year, which will be based around the progress measure. Up until now, in our primary schools at least, progress has been an easy and predictable game to play: “children who got a 2c in key stage 1 need to make lots, those who got a 2a are a walk in the park.” But something of a spanner has now been thrown into the works with the new “sufficient progress” measure, which is both difficult to calculate and impossible to predict. Not that that will stop headteachers trying, of course.
The new progress measure is actually, to my mind at least, a Good Thing. It is crazy that, in the past, the “two levels of progress” saw a child moving from 2a to 4c as doing well, but the poor soul who barely scraped a 2c in key stage 1 and only just missed out on the level 4 in key stage 2 was deemed to have failed. The problem was multiplied for those schools who had cohorts filled with such children, watching neighbouring schools with leafier catchments managing to cross the thresholds with the minimum of effort.
The new progress measure is actually, to my mind at least, a Good Thing
So, for all its complexity, the new progress figures released this week should be fairer overall. Instead of an arbitrary threshold, pupils progress will now be judged by comparing them to other children with the same starting point. It is still a fairly broad strokes approach – after all, not all children who achieved an APS score of 15 at the age of 7 are the same, but they are at least more likely to be similar than other pupils of the same age.
The problem with such shifts is that there are always winners and losers when these changes occur. If yours is a school that has previously carried out fantastic work with low-attaining intakes, but never quite managed to hit those key targets, then the new progress measures may turn out to be quite positive for your school – literally.
Any positive score in the new progress measures means that your children – on average – have done better than others with similar starting points. A zero score will mark you out as distinctly average, which should be enough to keep the wolves away from the door.
However, in some school offices this week, headteachers will be reeling from the revelation that their previously good progress measures (helped by high attaining intakes, and a firm grip on those Level 3s in Year 2) have somehow resulted in negative progress scores. Inset days will begin with the grave news that “something must be done”.
There are bound to be a few upsets this week as headteachers log on and access the progress data. Here’s hoping that yours remains cool, calm and collected.
Michael Tidd is deputy head at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire