As announcements go, it could be argued to be both momentous and unsurprising. When Nicky Morgan announced at the NAHT conference that the number of schools falling below the floor standard would rise by no more than 1%, it was the first time that it was officially confirmed that ministers will set the floor standards at a level that allows them to manipulate the numbers to suit their needs.
First, let me just clear up some confusion about how this can work. Many people are now concerned that test thresholds for the mythical 100 score will be manipulated. But there is no need for ministers to do this. The test thresholds can still be set using the performance descriptors set out in the test frameworks – a perfectly legitimate process which will probably also lead to test outcomes roughly equating to the old Level 4b standard.
The behind-the-scenes frippery can then happen with the progress measure. While the attainment outcomes are fixed against a common benchmark, the progress measure is based each year on the performance of children compared to others with similar starting points. For those unfamiliar with the calculations, the process is explain in this video:
You’ll notice towards the end of the video that it hasn’t been decided yet what score will count as “sufficient progress”. Saturday’s announcement confirms that it will be set, presumably on ministerial instruction, to ensure that approximately 680 schools end up below the floor standard.
It’s worth noting that this won’t necessarily be the 680 schools with the worst progress scores: any school that has a high-attaining intake and so makes poor progress but still meets the 65% attainment standard will be off the hook.
More detail about the floor and coasting standards is explained here:
The fact that the power is in the Secretary of State’s hands is no real surprise, but it’s a worry. It’s all very well us welcoming the news that numbers of schools below floor won’t soar this year, but what about next year? And the next?
If it is for the minister to decide how many schools are deemed to be failing each year, then can we look forward to an inexorable rise in success just before the next general election? And doubtless plummeting rates every time a new government needs to prove its mettle?
It seems there’s no pretence about educational reasons any more. Just ministerial need.