Today's media are focussing on primary schools' failure to hit KS2 SATs targets. The Guardian headline is typical.
'More than 4% of primary schools fail to meet basic maths and English levels'
The clear implication is that these schools are failing their pupils. Here is a thought experiment.
Consider an 'outstanding' primary (School A) that has achieved 80 percent of its Y6 pupils attaining Level 4 or better. Compare this with a 'failing' primary (School B) where only 50 percent of pupils have met the target. Gove's rhetoric sends a clear message. School A is serving its pupils well and School B is failing them. The proposed remedy is for School B to be taken over by an Academy Chain (ie privatised).
But now consider the 20 percent of pupils in School A that have 'failed' to meet the target of L4. Is this the fault of the school, the children or their parents. It can't be the fault of the school can it? The school has been designated as 'outstanding' largely on the basis of its KS2 results.
So what about the 50 percent of pupils in School B that have failed to meet the target of Level 4? Whose fault is that? Clearly it is the school's fault for being a 'failing' school. How do you know it is a failing school? Because 50 percent of its pupils have failed to meet the government's target.
Why is it that absolutely nobody in the government, the media, teacher unions and the Labour opposition can spot the obvious fallacy of this argument?
Now take the thought experiment further. Consider the list of all the Y6 pupils in England in SATs results order. The DfE could in principle create such a list. Now retrospectively allocate pupils from the list to 'virtual schools' that each have 100 pupils in their Y6 yeargroups. For school Y allocate 80 pupils with a SATs score of L4 or more and 20 pupils with a score of L3 or less. For School Z allocate 50 pupils with a score of L4 or more and 50 with a score of L3 or less. We have created two virtual schools, one is outstanding by definition and one is failing by definition.
This is obvious nonsense, but why? Is it impossible to find pupils in a real school like school B where the distribution of pupils is like those in virtual school Z? Of course not: assume a uniform high standard of teaching of children across England and consider those pupils likely to achieve L4 in their Y6 SATs on the basis of this uniform high standard of teaching. Such children are not evenly distributed across the intakes of every primary school in England. The unevenness is actually so gross that the chances of schools getting 50 percent of such sub L4 pupils in their intake likely to be higher than is actually shown by this year's SATs results.
So what do we conclude from that? It is clear. The schools only achieving 50 percent with L4+ must be better schools than those achieving 80 percent, otherwise there should be more of them.
This is clearly an Alice in Wonderland world where nothing makes sense. Staying in this world for a little longer, how should the problem be best addressed? The obvious answer would be to make the intakes of all the schools in the virtual list of pupils more uniform. This would require a uniform state controlled and administered system with only a single sort of school and only a single national admissions policy. This would be like the schools that actually exist in most countries in the real world.
So why is the government of Wonderland doing the exact opposite even in the weird world of its own creation?
The reason is that the government of Wonderland has another solution. Make the SATs tests so high stakes for schools that they are forced to spend the whole of Y6 cramming their children for tests for which mountains of past papers are available to keep the children so focussed on drilling and cramming that lots of L3 children actually get L4.
Time to head for the rabbit hole that leads us back to sanity.