Minister praises LA with few academies but thinks 74% of pupils passing phonics tests means more than 86% will reach expected standard in reading at end of KS2

Janet Downs's picture
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‘Under this Government’s reforms, we have seen the number of students in Brighton and Hove achieving five or more GCSEs or equivalent at A* to C, including English and mathematics, rise from 49.1% in 2010 to 62.6% in 2013.’

Schools minister, Nick Gibb, House of Commons, 14 October 2014*

There are nine state secondary schools in Brighton and Hove: one is Voluntary Aided (VA), six are Community Schools and only two are sponsored academies.

While it’s true to say results in Brighton and Hove have risen while the Coalition’s been in power, it appears this hasn’t been because of the academies programme. Brighton and Hove LA, like Islington, has not embraced academy conversion and the recent attempt to convert Hove Park School into an academy has been seen off following local opposition.

So how far did the two sponsored academies contribute towards Brighton and Hove’s success? Results at Portslade Aldridge Community Academy rose from 38% reaching the benchmark A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including Maths and English in 2012 to 60% in 2013. Results at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy rose from 40% to 46% in the same period. When equivalent exams are removed, however, the academies’ results drop to 50% and 12% respectively.

It is, of course, unfair to judge schools by results alone. Both academies exceeded the national average (70.4%) for the proportion of pupils making expected progress in English (78% and 81% respectively). In maths, however, the proportion making expected progress (66% and 44% respectively) was less than the national average of 70.8%.

So how did Ofsted judge these two academies? Nick Gibb was quick to give examples of Brighton and Hove schools which were judged Good. Unfortunately, he couldn’t include the two academies, both sponsored by the Aldridge Foundation, because they Require Improvement. However, a monitoring report for Portslade found the academy is ‘well supported’ by the Aldridge Foundation, the University of Sussex and the local authority. So any future improvement in the quality of education at Portslade will partly be due to local authority assistance - something to remember if politicians claim the Foundation alone is responsible for any future success. At the moment, however, Portslade’s Governing Body is investigating alleged irregularities in pupil registration at the academy. This is likely to divert governors’ attention from improving the school.

What else did Gibb say?

Performance-related pay will drive up standards and 60% of governors thought it would raise pupils’ attainment, he said. But an LSE report (July 2014) found 60% of teachers opposed linking pay to performance, 60% thought it didn’t provide a proper reward to good teaching and 80% of teachers thought it would not result in a fairer allocation of pay within schools.

In 2012, 58% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading. That has risen to 74% this year.

Gibb is referring to the proportion of Key Stage 1 pupils who passed the phonics screening test. He claimed in a press release these results showed more children were on target to succeed in reading. But if the 74% figure carries through to Key Stage 2 than this would show a fall in the number of pupils reaching the 'expected standard' of Level 4. In 2013, 86% of pupils in state primary schools reached Level 4 in reading at the end of Key Stage 2.

It’s encouraging that Nick Gibb should praise a local authority where the majority of schools are the much-derided ‘council’ schools. However, his dogged support for performance-related pay, found by the Sutton Trust to have ‘low or no impact’, is misguided and he needs to think about how 74% passing the phonics test by the end of Key Stage 1 translates into 86% or more reaching the expected standard in reading at the end of Key Stage 2.

 

*The debate on Brighton and Hove is at the bottom of this Hansard page.

 
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