5 Things primary governors should know about data. Part 5: pupil groups

This is the 5th and final part in a series of blog posts on data for primary governors. Part 1 covered statutory data collection, part 2 was on sources of data, part 3 explained progress measures, and part 4 dealt with headline measures. In this post we’re going to discuss those all-important pupil groups.

When we look at school performance data in the performance tables, Analyse School Performance (ASP) system, the Ofsted Inspection Data Summary Report (IDSR), and FFT Aspire, we can see that all those headline figures are broken down by pupil characteristics. Keeping tabs on the performance of key groups is evidently vital; and senior leaders and governors have an important role to play in monitoring the progress of these groups and the attainment gaps between them. Broadly speaking we are dealing with four key types of data: threshold measures (percentages achieving expected or higher standards), average scores, progress scores, and absence figures. Officially, we only have average scores and progress scores at KS2, although your school’s internal data may have other measures you can track, including data from standardised tests. Also note that Ofsted, in the IDSR, have a pseudo-progress measure for KS1 whereby attainment is broken down by start point based on Early Years (EYFSP) outcome. More on that later.

Before we push on to look at the main pupil groups and what the various sources of data show us, it is important to note that it is easy to read too much into analysis of data by group. If we take any two groups of pupils – eg those with last names beginning A-M vs those beginning N-Z – there will be an attainment gap between the two groups. What can we infer from this? Nothing.

The main pupil groups are: gender, disadvantaged, SEN (special educational needs), EAL (English additional language), mobile pupils, term of birth, and prior attainment. Some of these require more explanation.

This group includes pupils that have been eligible for free school meals (FSM) in the last 6 years, have been in care at any point, or have been adopted from care. It does not include Forces children. Previously this group was referred to as pupil premium (and still is in FFT reports). When we look at reports we may see reference to FSM6 (or Ever 6 FSM). These are pupils that have been eligible for FSM in last 6 years and usually this is the same as the disadvantaged group although numbers may differ in some cases. We may also have data for the FSM group, which usually refers to those that are currently eligible for free school meals; and numbers will therefore be smaller than the disadvantaged/FSM6 groups. 24% of primary pupils nationally are classified as disadvantaged.

SEN is split into two categories: SEN Support and EHCP (Education, health and care plan). Note that EHCP replaced statements of SEN, but your school may still have pupils with statements. Nationally, 12.2% of primary pupils have SEN Support whilst 1.3% have an EHCP/statement.

Mobile pupils
The DfE and FFT have quite a strict definition here: it relates to those that joined the school during years 5 or 6. If they joined before year 5 they are not counted in this mobile group. Your school’s tracking may have other groupings (eg on roll since reception).

Term of birth
Quite simply, this refers to the term in which the pupil was born. Research shows that summer born pupils tend to do less well than their older autumn or spring-born peers but that the gap narrows over time. ASP and IDSR does not contain any data on these groups, but FFT reports do.

Prior attainment
This could be a blog post all on its own. Here we are talking about pupils categorised on the basis of prior attainment at the previous statutory assessment point (i.e. EYFS for KS1, or KS1 for KS2). Whilst there are 24 prior attainment groups used in the KS1-2 progress measure, for the purposes of reporting we are just dealing with three groups: low, middle and high. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it seems.

At KS1, pupils’ prior attainment is based on their level of development in the specific subject (reading, writing or maths) at foundation stage (EYFSP). The prior attainment groups are not referred to as low, middle and high; they are referred to as emerging, expected or exceeding (terms used for assessment in the reception year). The percentages achieving expected standards and greater depth at KS1 are then compared to the national figures for the same prior attainment group. This data is only shown in IDSR.

At KS2, pupils’ prior attainment is based on their results at KS1, and the main method involves taking an average of KS1 results in reading, writing and maths, rather than just looking at prior attainment in the specific subject. Broadly speaking, if the pupil averaged a Level 1 or below at KS1, they go into the low group; if they averaged a Level 2 then they slot into the middle group, and if they are Level 3 average then they fall into the high group. However, please note that a pupil with two 2As and a L3 at KS1 will also be categorised as high prior attaining; they don’t need L3 in all subjects. This is the main method used in ASP and IDSR.

This means that at KS1, prior attainment relates to the specific subject at EYFS, whilst at KS2 it depends on an average across three subjects, known as overall prior attainment. But it doesn’t end there. ASP, as well as offering us data for those overall prior attainment bands for KS2, also offers us subject specific prior attainments bands as well. Therefore, a pupil that was L1 in reading and writing and L3 in maths at KS1, who is categorised as ‘middle’ based on the main method, will be low or high depending on subject using the second method.

And then there’s FFT who take a different approach again (and it’s important we know the difference because it can cause problems). FFT use average prior attainment across subjects at EYFS (for KS1), or KS1 (for KS2), rank all pupils nationally by prior attainment score, and split the national pile into thirds. Pupils falling into the bottom third are referred to as lower, those in the middle are middle, and those in the top third are higher. Schools will have more lower and higher prior attainers in an FFT report than they will in ASP or IDSR.

Sources of data and national comparators
Once we have results for our various groups, we need something to compare them to so we can ascertain how well they are doing. And again, this is not as straightforward as you might think. FFT simply compare the attainment of the group in the school against the result of the same group nationally. Seems fair enough. But what if we are comparing an underperforming group to an underperforming group? Is this going to give a false impression of performance, result in lowering of expectations and possibly a widening of the gap? This is why the DfE (in the ASP system) and Ofsted (in the IDSR) take different approaches.

In ASP, by clicking on an ‘explore data in more detail’ link, we can access a table that summarises data for numerous key groups and compares the results to national figures. If we look at the national benchmark column we will notice that it is not a fixed figure; it keeps changing. That’s because the DfE use different benchmarks depending on the group. These benchmarks can be split into three different types: all, same, and other.

  • All: The group is compared to overall national average (i.e. the result for all pupils nationally. This applies to school’s overall results and to EAL, non-EAL, and SEN groups. The comparison of SEN group’s results to overall national figures is particularly problematic and it is worth seeking out national figures for SEN pupils as a more suitable comparator. These can be found in DfE statistical releases, and in FFT. 
  • Same: The group is compared to national figures for the same group. This applies to boys, girls, non-SEN, and prior attainment groups. The key issue here is that girls do better than boys in reading and maths at KS2, which means that girls are compared to a higher benchmark than boys. This is not likely to solve the gap problem.
  • Other: The group is compared to the national figure for the opposite group. This applies to disadvantaged/FSM pupils and to looked after children. The aim is to focus schools on closing the gap between low attaining groups and their peers. Note that the data compares the results of these groups in school to the results of other pupils nationally; it does not measure the ‘in-school’ gap. 
The problem with ASP, despite all the pupil group data on offer for EYFS, phonics, KS1 or KS2, is that the presentation is a bit bland. It provides no visual clues as to whether results are significantly above or below average or significantly improving or declining. It’s just a load of numbers in a table. FFT’s pupil groups’ report is clearer. 
Unlike ASP, which contains data for numerous groups, IDSR just has four: disadvantaged, and low, middle and high prior attainers. Whilst schools certainly need to be able to talk about the performance of other groups, Ofsted have chosen not to provide data for them. Clearly tracking progress of disadvantaged pupils and the gaps between those pupils and others is essential. It is also important that schools are tracking the progress of pupils from start points, and it is recommended that tracking systems are set up for that purpose to enable quick identification of pupils in these key groups.
As in ASP, IDSR compares the results of low, middle and high prior attainers to the national figures for the same groups. There is however a difference in IDSR when it comes to disadvantaged pupils: they are not only compared to the national figures for ‘other’ (i.e. non-disadvantaged) pupils, but also to the overall national figure. The former is no doubt the more important benchmark.
FFT, like ASP, have numerous key groups but tend to do a better job of presenting the data. Bearing in mind the difference between FFT prior attainment groups, comparators and terminology (FFT use the term ‘pupil premium’ rather than disadvantaged) explained above, FFT reports are undeniably clearer and easier to understand. They provide three year trends, and indicators to show if results are significantly above or below average (green/red dots), and/or significantly improving or declining (up/down arrows). The report ranks groups in order of progress scores so it is quick to identify the lower and higher performing groups; and can show three year averages for each group, which is useful where numbers are small. In addition, the overview page of the FFT dashboard, lists up to three lower and higher performing groups overall and in each subject. This is done for both KS1 and KS2. FFT also have a useful report on disadvantaged pupils; and, as mentioned above, provide data on pupils by term of birth.   
A word about FFT and progress measures
The default setting in FFT is VA (value added). This means that progress is measured in the same way as it is in ASP and IDSR. It is simply comparing each pupil’s result to the national average result for pupils with the same start point, and scores should match other sources. When we look at group level progress data in FFT and focus on say, disadvantaged pupils, the scores are VA scores and will be same as those calculated by the DfE. Using the VA measure in FFT, disadvantaged pupils’ progress is not compared to disadvantaged pupils nationally; it is compared to any pupil nationally with the same prior attainment. A like-for-like comparison will only happen if you click the CVA button (which takes numerous factors into account to compare pupils with similar pupils in similar schools). Some people may be dismissive of FFT data because they mistakenly believe it to be contextualised. Progress data is only contextualised if the CVA button is clicked, otherwise it is no different to progress data found elsewhere. The difference – as explained above – is in the attainment comparisons, where results are compared to those of the same group nationally.
I hope this series has been useful. Feel free to print, share and copy. Just ask that you credit the source when doing so. 
Many thanks. 

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2 thoughts on “5 Things primary governors should know about data. Part 5: pupil groups

  1. Anonymous
    on May 14, 2018 at 3:36 pm

    Thanks so much for this amazingly useful set of blogs. I am Chair of Governors of a Kent primary school and this information will be an essential briefing for new and existing governors trying to get to grips with the data.

  2. James Pembroke
    on May 14, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks. Pleased to hear it’s useful.

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