The Progress Horizon

Following the release of further details on the proposed reception baseline and future progress measures this week, and the inevitable battle for the soul of primary education already in full swing, I find myself distracted by the possible mechanics of these measures, specifically what will happen to those pupils that change schools.

The issue of measuring the progress of ‘mobile’ pupils is a murky and complex one. Currently, it is straightforward in design and yet deemed by many to be extremely unfair. When a pupil moves schools they take their baseline – their KS1 or KS2 results – with them (if they have KS1 or KS2 results of course), and they are included in the new school’s progress measures. The new school is solely responsible for the progress that pupil makes, even if they arrive late in Year 6 or Year 11. Of course, in some cases a school may benefit by admitting a pupil that does very well in relation to their specific start point, but often pupils that change schools do less well than their more rooted peers.

But what of this new reception baseline to KS2 progress measure? How will it deal with mobile pupils? Will it include them or not? Over the last year or so a number of people have told me that the new progress measure would be ‘a cohort-level measure’; that it would not involve progress of individual pupils and would not take account of movement of pupils in and out of the school. If this were true then it would be a radical departure from the current measure which does just that. I assumed that this resulted from a misinterpretation of information in the primary assessment consultation, which states that reception baseline data will be used ‘to calculate their school’s cohort-level progress measures.’; that it would not be used to evaluate the progress of individual pupils.

This is no different to the guidance on the current progress measure, which is ‘a school-level accountability measure. Progress is calculated for individual pupils solely in order to calculate the school’s overall progress scores. There is no need for schools to share individual pupil progress scores with their pupils or parents.’

On the subject of whether or not so-called mobile pupils will be included in future progress measures, we are getting mixed messages even from the experts. In the TES (16th March 2018, p14), Greg Watson, chief executive of GL Assessment, lists ‘three key challenges: matching the pupil data accurately in the first place, keeping track of the data as pupils move between schools, and, in the cases where pupils have moved, deciding how much credit each school gets for progress.’ This suggests that the issue of mobility is high on the agenda, and the last point – apportioning credit for progress between schools in the case where a pupil moves – is an interesting and new development that deserves some serious consideration.

And yet Professor Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University, is quoted in the same article as saying “Does it make sense to wait seven years from the time children start school to make a punitive judgement about the school based on the performance of whatever proportion of that small number of children are still at the same school? Not remotely

Putting aside the main point – which I agree with – this implies that the measure will only involve those pupils retained since the start of reception. I assumed that the current methodology would continue, whereby individual pupil’s progress scores are calculated and aggregated to generate the school’s progress score; and that any pupil that changes school will be matched back to their baseline score and included in the new school’s measures – no matter how unfair that seems.

But there is an interesting sentence in the primary assessment consultation response* which is maybe the source of much of the confusion:

In addition, we will work with analytical experts to develop the rules around the new progress measures, for example the minimum cohort size required and the minimum proportion of pupils that need to have been in the same school between reception and key stage 2.

But this can be interpreted in two ways:

  1. Mobile pupils ARE included in the progress measures. The DfE calculate the percentage of pupils retained since reception and do not publish progress data if retention falls below a certain threshold.
  2. Mobile pupils are NOT included in the progress measures. The DfE calculate the percentage of pupils retained since reception and do not publish progress data if retention falls below a certain threshold. 
A measure of retention would certainly provide useful contextual information, and perhaps progress measures should be withheld for those schools with high mobility, but I’m not sure I want to see mobile pupils omitted from measures full stop. What percentage of pupils actually remain in a school from reception to KS2 anyway? We could see a lot of pupils excluded from progress measures. 

The way I see it, we have four choices:
  1. Simply compare average attainment at the start of reception to the average attainment at the end of KS2, and ignore any movement in between. This would be a crude and meaningless measure. You only need look at the difference between the KS1 prior attainment of the current year 6 in a school and the KS1 results four year ago to see that such an approach would not work. This measure takes no account of movement in and out of the school.
  2. Measure only the progress for those pupils retained since reception, and not include any new arrivals. Many schools will therefore have small numbers of matched pupils, and, according to statement above, could end up having no published progress measures if retention falls below a certain threshold. This measure removes those that leave but does not add those that arrive.
  3. Carry on as now, including all pupils with a baseline in the school’s progress measure, regardless of where that baseline was administered and how long the pupil has been in the school. This measure takes account of those that leave and arrive.
  4. As above but apportioning progress between schools in the cases where pupils have moved. This measure takes account of those that leave and arrive but is proportional (but no doubt complicated).
I know all of this is years away – the first cohort of reception baseliners reach the end of KS2 in 2027 – but I dwell on these things and some clarity, or at least some vague proposals, would be welcome. Otherwise we’ll all continue to speculate and worry. I have tweeted the DfE for an answer.

I eagerly await their  response.

*Many thanks to Kate Barker (@K8ebarker) for bringing this to my attention.

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