I do my best to be fair to the Department for Education, even when I find things frustrating. (I honestly do!) I’ve given the department it’s fair share of stick, but the civil servants who work there have a difficult job and almost certainly deserve more credit than I give. And despite the complications and delays and various other issues relating to primary assessment, I think when it comes to the new progress measures for primary school, the department has got it right.
The calculations are complex, but I shall try to illustrate here why I think the new method is an improvement on the old. It is fairly closely based on the existing Value Added measure, but linked to the new scaled scores in KS2. I provide this video to illustrate my understanding of how it works… and hope that if I’ve made an error that someone at the DfE will correct me.
Importantly, the measure is based on individuals’ progress. Each child’s progress is compared to that of other children with similar starting points (if you consider their KS1 assessments to be a starting point!), so even if they don’t reach the new expected standard, their progress can be recognised.
The reason this is important is that reduction of the cliff-edge measures – something best illustrated by the extremes. Many teachers will be familiar with the child who was very close to level 3 at KS1 and just scraped a L4 at KS2 – they are counted as having achieved two levels progress, despite having barely moved more an a single level. Contrast them to the child who barely scraped a Level 2 on teacher assessment at KS1 and then misses Level 4 in KS2 by a single mark. Despite having very nearly made the full 2 levels, and more than the first pupil, they are counted as having failed to achieve the 2 levels measure.
Under the new system, the measures of progress are much finer, and so not so much rests on specific thresholds. That’s got to be an improvement. Instead of everything hanging on the luck of the thresholds for Level 4, or the poor child who misses the key point by a single mark, the progress of all pupils is counted towards the final measure for schools.
It also helps to improve one of the other issues of the system. We know that children with higher prior attainment are more likely to make rapid progress. By comparing individual pupils to peers with similar starting points, that likelihood is less problematic. All of those pupils with low attainment in KS1 will be compared to others with similar attainment; schools with high proportions of lower prior attainment won’t be battling to match the progress figures of high attaining schools in very different areas, because the measure will be based on the sum of the work they’ve done with all their children, not just the few who happen to tip over the next threshold by May.
It won’t solve everything. There are still going to be negative effects. But it’s a much better system than the one we’ve got, and the department should be proud to announce it.
(Although if you’re thinking about it, DfE: judging by how hard I’ve found it to write this post and make the accompanying video, can I suggest that you make something even better to clearly illustrate the numerical frippery?)