Henry Stewart is to be thanked and congratulated on his work showing the dishonesty of DfE claims
that Academies outperform LA schools.
However, towards the end of his post he includes a section congratulating all improved schools and lists the six 'most improved' for special praise.
I have no intention of detracting from the hard work of pupils and teachers in these schools, but I do think that the notion that such school improvement is always of unqualified benefit to pupils is open to question. This is where my interest in educational research began. The start of my personal journey was the work carried out with Roger Davies, a professional statistician and Warwick Mansell, then on the TES staff, into claimed school improvement. This was published on the TES website and featured in the paper in January 2006.
We took the 2004 ‘100 most improved schools’ list published by the DfES and attempted to analyse the 2005 GCSE and equivalent results of all the schools on a subject by subject, grade by grade basis. A further control group of 60 ‘unimproved’ schools was also investigated in the same way. We found a direct relationship between the degree of school improvement and decreased opportunity for pupils to take high cognitive demand academic subjects.
In some of the most improved schools there was no opportunity to take GCSE science (rather than a ‘vocational equivalent’) at all. The curriculum areas that were being degraded in the most improved schools were the very ones later identified by Michael Gove as being so important as to require a special place in league tables.
These constitute the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc).
We found that it was the ‘unimproved’, ‘coasting’ schools that were providing the best and most enabling curriculum opportunities for their pupils.
This research is described in the first part of my paper, Titcombe R, How Academies Threaten the Comprehensive Curriculum
, Forum, Vol 50, No 1, 2008 that can be accessed from the Forum website here
This was the beginning of the eventual recognition of what has since become accepted as the 'vocational equivalent driven inflation' that became the essential facilitator of 'school improvement in the New Labour era.
Henry Steward's post prompted me to a have a look at some of the characteristics of the six 'improved' schools he mentions. This is a much easier task now because of the breadth of school based data now available on the DfE website that Henry has been using to such good effect. However, the 2013 Performance Tables
now provide data of even greater relevance and interest. I have focussed on the section that provides the 'average capped score per pupil' for GCSEs only and for GCSEs and equivalents. Also provided are the 'average grades per GCSE for low, middle and high attaining pupils, presumably based on KS2 scores.
These are the data for the six improved schools in Henry's post. LSN mangles tables so I have given the name of the school followed by the data in the following order.
2013 5+A*-C including English and Maths including equivalents,
The percentage point increase,
The average capped score per pupil GCSEs only,
The average capped score per pupil including equivalents,
The percentage contribution of equivalents,
The average grade per GCSE (not including equivalents) of low/middle/high attainers
Dyke House School, Hartlepool, 75%, +38%, 276.0, 357.6, 23%, E/D+/B
Rushden Com College, Rushden, 40%, +34%, 217.9, 333.2, 35%, F/D-/C+
Sir John Talbot's Sch, Whitchurch, 58%, +32%, 273.0, 314.2, 13%, F+/C-/B
North Shore Academy, Stockton, 53%, +31%, 202.5, 339.7, 40%, G+/E+/C-
Ilkeston Academy, Ilkeston, 44%, +31%, 220.3, 310.8, 29%, F/D/C+
St Thomas the Apostle, London, 73%, +31%, 297.9, 334.2, 11%, D-/C/B
For comparison I include two of my local schools, one which has improved and one which has 'got worse'.
Furness Academy, Barrow, 46%, +11%, 206.9, 307.2, 33%, F/D/C+
Ulverston Victoria HS, Ulverston, 62%, -3%, 324.1, 357.4, 9%, E+/C-/A-
Given the vast amount of data now provided in the Performance Tables, which provide the best guide to the effectiveness of the school in enhancing the life chances through schooling of pupils of all abilities?
It seems to me that the most significant measure is the pattern of the average grade per GCSE for low, middle and high attaining pupils. In a good school this should to a considerable degree be independent of mean intake attainment. There appears to be a negative relationship between the contribution of 'equivalents' in the curriculum and the average GCSE grade per pupil, and this appears to be true for the whole attainment range. I can't see an obvious explanation for this.
There does not appear to be much validity in the huge amount of emphasis the DfE and OfSTED place on school improvement based on %5+A*-C including English and maths.