After “good GCSEs” we now have “good” Level 4 passes. Government seeks to raise performance by raising the bar.

Janet Downs's picture
Pupils must leave primary school “secondary ready”, says schools minister, David Laws. And Level 4 at the end of Key Stage 2 isn’t good enough – pupils should achieve “good” Level 4 passes.

The Department for Education (DfE) proposes to publish data on “good” Level 4 passes so we can look forward to headlines rubbishing primary schools where only a minority gain these “good” Level 4 results.

And schools must shove more pupils (a minimum of 65%) over the Level 4 bar.

“The floor standard will go up from 2014 – primary schools where fewer than 65 per cent of pupils achieve the expected level (Level 4) in the 3Rs, and which do not achieve above average progress in these subjects, will be below the floor,” says the DfE press release. So pupils in schools which fall below the floor must make “above average” progress while pupils in above-floor schools need only progress at an “average” rate.

This will apparently raise standards. A cynic might say the new benchmark is likely to identify more schools as “failing” and therefore ripe for academy conversion. According to Laws:

“Primary schools which fall below the new 65 per cent floor, and particularly those with a long history of underperformance, face being taken over by an Academy sponsor. The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools...”

Apart from the fact that there are very few academy sponsors with experience of primary education, we know that sponsored academy status is NOT the “best way to turn around weak schools”. Evidence on this site shows that sponsored academies generally do no better (and slightly worse) than similar non-academies. And the City Challenge was more successful than the sponsored academy programme in raising results.

Yesterday’s thread highlighted the findings of OECD data into high-performing school systems. One of the factors was a move from judging schools by “outcomes” towards “professional forms of work organisations”. As well as collaboration between schools this means that teachers should regard education as developmental. Each stage is not focused merely on the next performance measure but on pupils’ future experiences – the next teacher, the next school, life after education.

The OECD has already warned that there is an excessive emphasis on raw test results in England and this risks negative consequences. But instead of heeding this advice the Government places even more stress on performance indicators.

We’ve already had talk about “good GCSE passes” which Education Secretary Michael Gove thinks can be achieved by any ability child providing it receives a “good education” even though this contradicts his own Department’s expectations*.   And we’ve had nonsense about “facilitating” A levels.  We now have talk of “good Level 4” passes at the end of primary school. What next? “Good “passes in the phonics screening test? A fine-tuning of GCSE grade C to differentiate between “good” Cs and “weak” Cs? “Good” A level passes (ie nothing less than a B)?

This is supposed to raise standards. Raising the bar, apparently, will increase the number of pupils surmounting the bar. It’s more likely to result in more pupils and schools “failing”.

*This DfE table shows that pupils who enter secondary school at Level 3 are said to have made expected progress if they achieve GCSE Grade D. Pupils who enter at Level 2 or below make expected progress if they achieve Grade E.

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