Three-tier accountability may turn into a three-ring circus

1st June 2018 at 00:00
The Data Doctor: A decision on how we measure progress in primary schools is needed but are the current proposals swapping one set of problems for another?

The question of how best to measure progress for junior and middle schools is a pressing one, and the 2017 primary assessment consultation offered two options, both of which hinged on the introduction of a Reception baseline.

The first option was to have a Reception baseline to key stage 1 progress measure for infant and first schools, and a KS1 to KS2 progress measure for junior and middle schools. This would require maintaining statutory KS1 teacher assessments for pupils in infant and first schools.

The second was to hold all primaries to account on the basis of a Reception baseline to KS2 measure, “encouraging greater collaboration between infant, first, junior and middle schools”.

Option 1 was never going to be popular. It would mean maintaining KS1 assessment for infant and first schools only. Option 2 wasn’t going to fly either. It would mean schools being held to account for the progress of pupils they were only partially responsible for.

Unsurprisingly, the solution was missing from the consultation response in October 2017 and we had to wait until April to find out. The result was not what we were expecting.

The guidance confirms that a Reception baseline assessment will become statutory in autumn 2020 and will be administered by all schools with a Reception year: infant, first schools and all-through primary schools. It also states that KS1 assessment will be scrapped for all – most likely in 2022-23 when the Reception baseline becomes established – and says there will be no progress measures for infant and first schools. These schools will be responsible for demonstrating progress to Ofsted using their own assessment information. No change there then.

The shocking part is that junior and middle schools will have no “official” progress measure either and will also be responsible for demonstrating progress to Ofsted using their own information.

While this will not take effect until 2027 when the first cohort of “Reception baseliners” reaches the end of KS2, it is still hugely significant, and it raises a number of questions.

First, as progress measures for junior and middle schools are so problematic, why not scrap them now? Second, what is the point in infant and first schools administering a baseline if there is to be no progress data for these schools? Finally, if infant, first, middle, and junior schools can be responsible for demonstrating progress to Ofsted using their own assessment information, why not all primaries?

So, we’re heading for a three-tier accountability system: infant and first schools with no published data, junior and middle schools with attainment data only, and all-through primary schools with a full set of accountability measures. How is that sustainable?

James Pembroke founded Sig+, an independent school data consultancy, after 10 years working with the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities

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