The data on level 5 conversion to GCSE grades

Henry Stewart's picture
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Ofsted told us today that schools are underperforming if students who arrive with Level 5 in Maths and English do not go on to achieve grade A or A* at GCSE. While it is clearly good to have high aspirations for our students, it is not clear why a level 5 at Key Stage 2 should be seen as equivalent to an A/A* at Key Stage 4: In 2007 34% of schoolchildren achieved a level 5 in English. In 2012, for the same cohort, 16% achieved grade A or A* In 2007 32% of schoolchildren achieved a level 5 in Maths. In 2012, for the same cohort, 19% achieved grade A or A* The DfE defines expected progress for a level 5 as a GCSE B grade. Indeed, slightly oddly, the expected progress even for a level 6 at age 11 is still only a B grade. Indeed it is less than four months since Ofsted produced a dashboard of key data, which judged schools according to the proportion of students achieving 3 levels of progress - suggesting that schools were succeeding if level 5 students achieved a B grade. I explained at the time why Ofsted was using the wrong data and expecting too little of level 5 students, but am baffled why it was fine then for level 5 students to achieve a B grade, but four months later is completely unacceptable.

Level 5a, 5b or 5c?

Level 5 actually covers a wide range, including around a third of children. The likelihood of achieving a grade A at GCSE varies widely depending on the sub-level: This post has been updated. Ofsted produces two sets of transition matrices, one based on SATs levels across English, Maths and Science and one based on SATs levels in that subject. This post originally used the former. For completeness I have now included figures for both, which are fairly similar:

Transition based on SAT levels in that subject

Maths    A/A*
5c30%
5b57%
5a84%
English    A/A*
5c29%
5b64%
5a87%

 Transition based on SAT Levels across English, Maths and Science

Maths Transition

SATs         A/A*
5c32%
5b70%
5a94%

  English Transition

SATs         A/A*
5c26%
5b57%
5a87%

  Note: Schools which have a higher proportion of students on 5a and 5b, such as many selective schools, are clearly likely to find it easier to enable their students to achieve A and A* grades than those with a large number of level 5c grades.

The problem with current targets

The key public target for schools is the % of students achieving 5 A-Cs including English and Maths, encouraging schools to focus on C/D borderline students. Schools are increasingly being judged on the % of students achieving "expected levels of progress", defined as 3 levels for all students. This is a deeply flawed measure, which should be abandoned. It goes against the data to suggest the same 3 levels of progress is appropriate whether a student has achieved a 3c (for whom 13% make the 3 levels of progress) or a 5a (for whom 96% do). Those achieving a 5b at age 11 should be targeted to make 4 levels of progress and achieve an A grade, as the majority of level 5b students do. Of children achieving a 5a in Maths, 70% went on to achieve a grade A* at GCSE and so 5 levels of progress (from 5a to A*) seems a fair expectation. However it is unclear why schools are underperforming if students with a level 5c at age 11 do not achieve a grade A, as less than a third do across all schools. Let us set a high expectation for those students but not play the blame game where schools perform in line with national averages, and in line with DfE and Ofsted definitions of expected progress.

Date Notes:

Key Stage 2 results, 1995-2012: National Tables, Table 1 Key Stage 4 results, and transition tables: Taken from Raise Online library - with thanks to Heather Leatt

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