Junior schools, the reception baseline, and a big question about the future of accountability.

Following on from this blog post, questioning the potential reliability of progress measures in 2020, when the first cohort without KS1 levels reach the end of KS2, I thought I’d write another post on something that’s bothering me.

Progress measures for junior and middle schools have always been problematic. Despite these schools having higher attainment on average than all through primary schools, they commonly have lower progress scores. Consequently they have been disproportionately represented amongst the ranks of so-called ‘coasting’ schools, and were more likely to be judged as ‘requiring improvement’ by Ofsted. Most assume that the problem results from over inflation of KS1 data and lay the blame squarely at the door of infant schools, but Junior schools are as much if not more affected by depression of KS1 data by all through primary schools, and so find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Teachers in junior and middle schools feel like they are running to stand still. 

The situation is improving however, and JUSCO (@juscollaborate) scored a significant win last year with the DfE and Ofsted’s commitment to print a note on the front page of the performance tables and IDSR, urging all to treat the data with caution.

Currently, of course, progress is measured from KS1 to KS2, but this is all set to change. The 2017 primary assessment consultation offered two options to solve the problem of how to measure progress for non-all through primary schools:

  1. A reception to key stage 1 progress measures for infant and first schools, and key stage 1 to 2 progress measures for junior and middle schools. This would require maintaining statutory key stage 1 teacher assessments for pupils in infant and first schools.
  2. Hold all schools to account on the basis of reception to key stage 2 measures, hopefully encouraging greater collaboration between infant, first, junior and middle schools.

Neither was ever going to work. Option 1 would mean maintaining the status quo for junior and middle schools and thus continuing the problem; and the retention of KS1 assessment for infant and first schools alone would unlikely be a hit with the parents. Option 2 would mean infant schools being held to account for progress made by pupils they hadn’t seen for four years, and junior and middle schools continuing to be held to account for progress from a baseline they did not administer. Also, pupils from infant schools do not all neatly transfer to a junior school next door.

What was interesting about the DfE’s response to the consultation, published in September 2017, was that it didn’t actually answer the question of how it was going to measure progress for these types of schools. Instead it issued a ‘we’ll get back to you’, and it all went quiet. Eventually, seven months later, in April 2018, the DfE issued this response, which caught us all by surprise. It stated that, whilst all-through primary schools will be held to account for progress made between the reception baseline and key stage 2 tests, other types of primary schools will be responsible for evidencing progress to Ofsted and others using their own assessment information.

This means that all-through primary schools will have the full range of accountability measures, whereas junior schools will have attainment measures alone. Meanwhile infant and first schools will continue to have no published data, and – with the removal of KS1 – will no longer have results in ASP and IDSR other than phonics.

The other interesting thing about this decision to scrap progress measures for non-all-through primary schools is that, whilst infant and first schools will have a statutory responsibility to administer the baseline, they have no stake in the accountability game. One assumes that the reason these schools will have to run the baseline assessment is a) to maximise the dataset, and b) in case any of the pupils end up in an all-through primary at some point (Yes, the progress measures will take account of mobility).

But – putting aside the fact that Ofsted will no longer be looking at school’s internal assessment data – if infant, first, junior and middle schools can be responsible for evidencing progress using their own assessment information, the big question is:

Why not all schools?

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