‘We’ll shine a light on complacency’, says Morgan. Perhaps that light should focus on DfE propaganda.

Janet Downs's picture
The latest missive from the Department for Education is a masterpiece in spin. The Government will sweep our ‘One Nation’ (actually England) with a blazing torch to identify ‘coasting schools’. Coasting secondary schools are those where ‘expected progress’ is below the median and where fewer than 60% achieve 5 GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English in three consecutive years including 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The Government has moved the goalposts. The DfE floor standard for these two years for secondary schools was 40%. It appears this threshold wouldn’t have identified as many ‘underperforming’ schools as the Government wishes so it’s increased it and will use the higher threshold retrospectively.

The same chicanery is used at primary level. The DfE set the floor standard at 65% for 2013/14 and 2014/15. But now 85% must be 'secondary ready'.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan wants to make it ‘loud and clear’ that every child must be stretched ‘to unlock their potential’. This will be measured by the proportion of pupils in a school who reach the new inflated thresholds. It will have nothing to do with Ofsted reports – they’re irrelevant. The Government’s measures will target so-called underperforming schools which haven’t received ‘negative Ofsted reports’. This ignores the fact, uncovered by the Education Endowment Fund in 2011, that many ‘below-floor’ schools with a large proportion of disadvantaged pupils (described as EEF schools) were doing a good job. The EEF said:

‘…a very high proportion of EEF secondary schools received a rating of 'Outstanding' in their most recent Ofsted inspection; similarly, almost a quarter of EEF secondary schools receive a 'contextual value added' score that is significantly above the national average.’

Shortly after this report came out the Coalition abolished contextual value added (CVA) despite the OECD* saying CVA was a ‘step in the right direction’ when it warned there was already too much emphasis on raw exam results in England. Since the OECD warning the emphasis has actually increased and will do so again.

Academies are wonderful, spins the DfE. 'Sponsored primary academies improve their test results at more than double the rate of non-academies'. But, as we know, the rate of improvement in sponsored academies, which were mostly below-floor, would be calculated from a lower base. And when sponsored academies are compared with similar non-academies the results of the former increased more slowly than the latter.

It appears the DfE is banking on the ignorance of statistics in the media and the general public. It can’t say it hasn’t been told: Channel 4 FactCheck highlighted the weakness in the DfE’s ‘rate of improvement’ data as long ago as January 2012.

The DfE’s effusive press release isn’t confined to academies. It describes how the National Audit Office found the pupil premium had ‘dramatically’ improved focus on disadvantaged pupils. This is hardly surprising. When schools are given funding to be used specifically for pupils attracting the premium and told Ofsted will comment on its use, then schools are going to use it for the purpose intended although, as the NAO pointed out, it wasn't always used effectively. The NAO also found the premium hadn’t always increased school budgets because ‘other real-terms reductions’ in school funding had a negative impact. The NAO estimated ‘per-pupil funding in 16% of the most disadvantaged secondary schools fell by over 5% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15’.

Unsurprisingly, that finding didn’t appear in the press release. A Government spouting about how its pupil premium focuses on the needs of disadvantaged children wouldn’t want the inconvenient fact that 16% of the most disadvantaged secondary schools had been hit by reduced funding since the last Government came to power to be widely publicised.

The press release ends with the promise that all schools judged Inadequate will be turned into academies. But we know this is not a magic bullet. The Education Select Committee told politicians to stop exaggerating academy success. The National Audit Office found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than formal interventions such as academy conversion. The Centre for Longitudinal Studies found ' no evidence that government investment in particular school structures or types – for example, academies, free schools or faith schools – has been effective in improving the performance of pupils from poor backgrounds…’.

And four of the largest academy sponsors have been found wanting: E-Act, AET, TKAT and Oasis (although the letter of concern about the latter was conveniently delayed until after the election).

Morgan says she’s ‘unapologetic about shining a spotlight on complacency’. I am equally unapologetic about revealing cant in DfE press releases. It was misinformation about the UK plummeting down league tables that underpinned Gove’s Education Act. It is misinformation about academies which is underpinning Morgan’s Bill.

UPDATE. Further evidence published today by the Local Government Association and NFER shows academies are not 'the key to providing an “excellent education”'. (DfE spokesperson, Independent, 1 July 2015). LGA/NFER found 'on average, pupils attending maintained schools achieved the same high standard of GCSE results in 2014 as those attending academies'. The research also found 'only three out of the 20 largest academy chains are performing above the national average on an ‘added value' measure, compared to 44 out of 100 councils'. So much for the superiority of academy sponsors and chains of the much-maligned local authorities.

*OECD Economic Surveys: UK 2011,‘Reforming Education in England’ (page 101). Not available online.
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/07/2015 - 07:58

UPDATE 1 July. The press release also said 'sponsored academies are increasing the number of pupils studying the EBacc package of rigorous academic qualifications at a faster rate than non-academies'. But this, again, is explained because the calculation would be from a lower base. Sponsored academies tended to make greater use of equivalent (non GCSE) exams so have more catching up to do. This greater use was confirmed in analysis published today by the Local Government Association and the NFER.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/07/2015 - 17:06

HeadGuruTeacher has censured Morgan for her inability to understand averages. He writes:

'I know that Tough Talk is all the rage down at the DfE, but you are the Secretary of State, not the editor of the Daily Mail. You do realise that we’re reasonably intelligent folk and we expect certain standards.'

The expectation of certain standards includes hoping a SoS will have a basic grasp of statistics. Our SoS appears not to have this. Her predecessor did but misrepresented them. But it appears Morgan doesn't actually understand stats, averages etc at all.

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