Pupils’ academic progress should be the main measure used by the government to gauge whether England’s primary schools are performing well, a report argues.
The liberal policy group CentreForum says measuring progress represents all pupils and helps close the gap between the disadvantaged ones and the rest.
It says this is fairer and reflects the “good work” schools do for all pupils.
Currently, schools are measured by pupils’ attainment – how many make the grade in writing, reading and maths.
However, under proposals announced by the government last year, England’s primary schools will be judged on two new measures from 2016.
They will be considered to be performing well if 85% or more pupils meet a new set standard in reading, writing and maths at the end of primary school, or if pupils make good enough progress between starting school at age four and finishing at age 11.
In its report, CentreForum argues that pupil progress, rather than pupil attainment, should become the principal benchmark for school accountability.
The study argues that a progress measure would push schools to focus on how well all of its pupils are doing, because each individual performance counts equally towards the school’s overall rating.
The pupil attainment measure, it says, can encourage schools to “focus more narrowly on pupils near the expected standard”, meaning pupils far below the expected standard risk being left behind and those far above may not be adequately stretched.
It says its analysis suggests just one in 10 primaries currently meets the 85% attainment measure, meaning the progress measure is likely to be used more often from 2016 anyway.
CentreForum stresses that if pupil progress does become the main measure for school accountability, assessments for children at the start of their primary school journey must be “valid, fair and reliable”.
‘Closing the gap’
The report – Progress matters in primary too – says: “This report shows that it is the progress measure to be the one that will drive performance while aligning better with the government’s two core goals of securing the best outcomes for all, not just some, pupils and closing the gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and the rest.
“This is because it is both fairer and reflects and encourages the good work that schools do for all their pupils.
“Conversely, the attainment measure, which has been the traditional way of holding schools to account, risks driving school behaviours that are at odds with the government’s goals.”
James Kempton, the reports’s co-author, said: “Attainment thresholds always mean that some pupils’ success is more important to the school’s league table position than others.
“That is not fair and at odds with the government’s own aims for the education system.”
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Our plan for education is to raise standards across the board so all children leave school with a good standard of English and maths.
“This work begins at primary level and that is why we are introducing ambitious new accountability measures and introducing a proper measure of progress so there is no hiding place for under-performing schools.
“By introducing a progress measure, we will ensure schools are fairly judged on the performance of all their pupils rather than focusing entirely on attainment, which created a perverse incentive for schools to focus on some children at the expense of others.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “You have to measure schools on progress if you want to incentivise the right behaviour.
“You have to pay serious attention to pupil mobility. And the benefits of a baseline in reception do outweigh the costs – if you design it well.”