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Interactive tool will compare and forecast performance

An early-warning system that predicts how schools will perform in GCSEs and compares their performance to similar institutions is to be launched next term.

The Families of Schools interactive database, developed by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), places schools into groups of 50 based on factors such as prior attainment, numbers of pupils receiving free school meals and the proportion of children in the highest and lowest deprivation bands.

The tool highlights how schools have performed in raising the attainment of their lowest-achieving students over the previous three years and is also designed to forecast how the school will perform in future.

This is the first attempt at a national system to predict future performance and to partner schools with a similar intake so they can learn from each other. It is hoped that better-performing schools will pass on advice about ways to improve.

Learning how the best schools are tackling the attainment gap will help others to make adjustments and improve their performance, according to Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF.

"Schools will have their family that will be like them and will enable them to get more support," he said. "We are moving towards a much more school-led system, which is a good thing. But we need to engage and support schools to use this opportunity and work with each other more if we are to narrow the attainment gap."

The EEF said the attainment gap between the poorest pupils and their more affluent peers had narrowed over the past three years, but the data showed it would take 30 years to close at the current rate.

The database has been tested by a handful of schools, including Hasland Hall Community School in Chesterfield. Headteacher Heather Boulton said it had already signalled that the attainment gap was at risk of widening among the school's current Year 9.

"The tool has warned that we will have a bigger gap in 2017, which is interesting. We already know that we have potential problems with Year 9 and we are working with them on closing the gap, but it is interesting that this has shown it as well. It is more evidence to draw from," Ms Boulton said.

"But the benefit for me is to be able to look at what other schools are doing, and to learn from them."

Currently, the Department for Education publishes information about school performance and intake, but it does not partner schools or forecast future performance.

The database was welcomed by headteachers, with the Association of School and College Leaders saying that collaboration between schools would be "extremely useful". But general secretary Brian Lightman warned that government reforms to exams could limit the tool's potential.

"This is exactly what is meant by a self-improving schools system," Mr Lightman said. "It will mean schools providing mutual support and learning from one another. The biggest challenge at the moment, however, is the changes to qualifications, which will make it impossible for schools to make year-on-year comparisons.

"We urgently need a period of stability so that schools cannot only use a valuable tool such as this, but also look at results over time."

The database will be publicly available on the EEF's website for anyone to access, allowing parents and governors to tap in their school's name and see how it compares with other schools and predict how their children's year group will fare in their GCSEs. It is hoped that a primary school version will be released some time next year.

Jemima Reilly, headteacher of Morpeth School in East London, said the ability to predict how each cohort would perform was the most powerful component of the tool.

"It does really focus our thinking on closing the attainment gap. Historically, we've been very good at closing the gap but we will need to look at our cohorts," Ms Reilly said. "This tool is identifying that our current Year 8 will have a bigger gap, so we will start to think about identifying pupils much more closely and make sure the necessary interactions are happening.

"It also means we can look across the schools and see if one is doing something really impressive with students similar to ours, and hear what they are doing."

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