Outstanding Schools

Roger Titcombe's picture
What parent would not want their child's school to be judged 'outstanding' by OfSTED?

I would urge caution.

The DfE school Performance tables now contain some interesting extra data.

'Average entries per pupil' is one example. This is given for pupils designated Low, Middle and High attainment on entry in Y7 based on KS2 SATs levels. Low = less than L4, Middle = L4, High = L5 and above.

The following are the data for a real school.

Counting all subjects including equivalents, the data are as follows.

Low - 15.2
Middle - 17.6
High - 19.2

But if only GCSE entries are counted the figures are rather different.

Low - 3.2
Middle - 6.0
High - 8.6

So if your child entered the school in Y7 with SATs L3, they were likely to have been entered for about 15 GCSE or equivalent subjects, but only 3 of these were GCSEs, of which 2 presumably were English and maths.

SATs high attainers were likely to have been entered for 19 subjects but only 8/9 are likely to have been GCSEs. This is surely enough, but then what were they doing the rest of the week to result in a further 10 subject entries? And was this time spent in the best interests of the pupils or of the school?

The school prospectus states that KS3 is taught in years 7 and 8 only, with KS4 courses starting in Y9. Why would that be?

The OfSTED report gives an answer, but no details.

"Students sit some GCSE examinations before the end of Y11. The way this is managed by the academy ensures that these students are not held back in their attainment. The academy seeks rather to use early entry as a motivator to higher achievement."

So that's all right then.

I wrote about early GCSE entry here.

Back in October 2013, Michael Gove and Ofqual made various comments about early and multiple GCSE entries. They weren't keen.

So what did OfSTED make of this school?

Outstanding in every category.

I am not going to name the school. It is out there somewhere. Presumably it is indeed outstanding.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Andy V's picture
Thu, 08/05/2014 - 07:27


In passing the "average entries per pupil" strand has been in the data sets for a wee while now, as has the reporting by attainment categories: Low, Middle and High.

The suggestions regarding the number of GCSE (including equivalents) and GCSE entries per pupils appears out of kilter with the snapshot of performance table data sets I viewed on a random basis (e.g. schools located in SE, Midlands, NW and NE indicate entries ranging from 8/9 for Low attainers through to 13/14 for High attainers).

I recall attending an LEA meeting in 2005 introducing the option of reducing KS3 to a 2 year programme and also that quite a few schools started innovative ways of taking advantage of this. Thus by the time KS3 SATs were formally withdrawn in 2008 significantly more schools either switched wholesale to a 2 year KS3 or turned Y9 into a transition year wherein some subjects introduced GCSE modules.

The issue of early GCSE entry aroused controversy because of the accusation of 'gaming' and assertion that it damaged a pupil's chances of attaining their estimated grade/making the appropriate level of progression from KS2 (e.g. predicted A* and achieving a B or C and worse still predicted an B and getting a D or E):


Viewed though this lens the OFSTED quote you cite is saying that early entry does not harm/damage pupils progress and attainment i.e. they reach their predicted grades with the appropriate level of progress being made. This scenario is made possible because KS4 starts in Y9 and thus the 2 year programme of study is fully concluded in Y10 (and leaves scope for resits in Y11 althougn from Sep 13 these won't count in the league tables).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:02

Andy - Why not start KS4 in Y7 or Y8? The reason is that pupils are not developmentally ready at that age. KS3 is or should be about developing general conceptual understanding to the levels where the more abstract and counter intuitive challenges of KS4 can be tackled. When would a pupil resit a GCSE exam? Presumably if first time round the result was less than C. But if a pupil gets a C in Y10 or Y9 even, then they are surely able enough to target A*. Surely they should be doing resits until they get that A*. Except of course the A* would have been far more likely if the pupil had benefitted from high quality developmental teaching in KS3 and in Y10 of KS4 without the diversion and distraction of rote learning for successive high stakes (for the school) exams.

What about the SATs L3 child not being allowed to take GCSEs in KS4 and the L5+ pupils taking 10 GCSEs worth of non-GCSE subjects? You might think that if these were educationally desirable approaches the Ofsted inspector might have investigated further and provided more details in the report for the benefit of other schools, instead of barely noticing what was taking place.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:39

Roger, I acknowledge your personal opinion on this matters. My contribution was intended to be purely factual.

It was recognised many years ago that there were substantial overlaps between KS2 subject coverage and KS3 (principally Y6 & 7) and those secondary schools that worked closely with their feeder schools gained substantial benefit from identifying and eradicating this issue. For example, reduced duplication and wasted lesson time led to improved progress. Reduced repetition also improved pupil focus and in turn reduced disengagement in lessons, and of course a reduction in behavioural issues also creates higher levels of focus and concentration.

In 2008 I was a DHT with responsibility for KS3 at a large school (1750 on roll) with an ability range from P scale to L7 (and subsequently 8). In reviewing the impact of Ed Balls' decision to scrap KS3 SATs I had to come up with proposals/recommendations for the way ahead. This revealed/confirmed the level of unnecessary subject content in KS3: chiefly in the foundation subjects but also in the core, and led to a range of choices e.g. reduce KS3 to Y7&8, use Y9 as a transitional year wherein subjects could elect to start KS4 within Y9, maintain the status quo with an internal significant end of KS3 assessment, adopt a policy of progress to KS4 by evidence merit not the traditional age constraint.

The traditional KS3 to 4 age basis constraint was also a well known and documented difficulty because of the negative impact of pupils who were held back in their learning journey simply because of the age barrier.

To the best of my knowledge the rubric requiring a broad and balanced curriculum and changes to GNVQs etc effectively put a stop to the Thomas Telford approach to 'gaming' the system through cramming pupils through hollow exam syllabi with multiple GCSE equivalence. All schools are then restricted in range and number of the GCSE equivalents they can offer.

Education is and always has been beset with difficulties and their are no one-size fits all or magic bullet answers. Thus if a pupil is formally predicted to get a particular grade - whether through CATS, or the outgoing 3 levels of progression across KS2 - 4 or other robust and reliable methodology - if they achieve in Y10 or 11 they have achieved it. However, if they are arbitrarily entered earlier than Y11 and don't attain their grade then the system presumes that the school is doing the pupil a disservice and is playing/gaming the league tables as opposed supporting the pupil in achieving to their best.

Like your piece above, this contribution is based on my understanding of the situation and how I feel about it. It is not to say anyone should/ought agree with me.

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.