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Access to the best secondary schools ‘hasn’t improved since 2010’



Access to high-performing secondary schools has not improved since 2010, and has become more geographically unequal, according to a report by the Education Policy Institute.

The think-tank compared the availability of places in “high-performing secondary schools” those with good value-added scores over a four-year period. It found that around a fifth of local authority areas had no such school “within reasonable travel distance of pupils” in 2015, a situation that had not changed since 2010.

There is an”acute shortage of high-quality secondary school places in areas such as the north of England”, according to Natalie Perera, the EPI’s executive director and a former government adviser.

It is shocking to see that over recent years the access to high quality secondary school places in England has become even more unequal

“No progress has been made in addressing this issue since 2010, and as a result successive cohorts of children in many parts of the country are being let down,” she said.

Conservative ministers frequently claim to have improved access to high-performing schools since they entered government in 2010, but the EPI’s latest research casts doubt on this assertion.

When discussing improvements to the school system, the government usually focuses on the number of children in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.

But as well as including many  additional pupils in the system as a result of the baby bulge, the government’s claims also do not take into account large regional variations.

In fact, access to the best secondary schools has become “more geographically unequal” since 2010, in spite of policies aimed at improving school performance outside higher-performing areas like London, the EPI found.

For example, areas with “consistently good access” to high-performing secondary schools saw the proportion of pupils gaining access to such schools increase from 49 per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent in 2015. Many of these areas are in London.

However, in areas with “consistently low densities” of high-performing schools, the proportion of pupils with access to these places fell from six per cent in 2010 to per per cent in 2015. These areas were all outside London and the south-east, and included Blackpool, Hartlepool, Barnsley, Redcar and Cleveland, Knowsley and Middlesbrough.

David Laws

The research also found “large areas of the country in which parents and pupils currently have no access to a high-performing secondary school”. For example, the north-east has “virtually no high-performing secondary schools” whatsoever.

Given the wide geographic variation in the density of high-performing school places, the government’s £72 million opportunity areas initiative “seems a positive step towards addressing this challenge”, the EPI said.

However, as yet there is “no evidence” on whether the policy will be effective. There are also questions about its coverage.

“If opportunity areas are the government’s answer to social mobility cold spots, then they are needed in areas such as the north-east of England, where one is yet to be allocated,” said Perera.

David Laws, the head of the EPI and a former politician who served as schools minister under both Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan between 2012 and 2015, said it was “shocking” that access to high-quality secondary school places in England had “become more unequal”.

“In one fifth of local areas, children cannot access quality secondary school places. Government rhetoric about spreading opportunity is not being matched by experience in areas such as the north, north east and parts of the Midlands,” he said.

A government spokesperson did not comment directly on the research findings, instead pointing to the government’s investment in opportunity areas, ignoring the criticism of the policy in the research.

The spokesperson also repeated the government’s regular assertion that “there are now 1.9 million more pupils in schools rated good or outstanding than in 2010”.



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9 Comments

  1. It is shocking to see that over recent years the access to high quality secondary school places in England has become even more unequal’ Is it? Really? Can increasing inequality still shock? Hurrah if so.

  2. The EPI report acknowledges that more schools are now good or better. But that appears not to be enough. They must be ‘high performing’ based on GCSE results. Presumably this is the proportion reaching the benchmark of 5+ GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English but the report doesn’t make this clear.
    Performance depends on intake – a school where there are a large number of previously low-achieving pupils is unlikely to be as high performing as a selective grammar school. But the latter could be less than good (eg Boston Grammar and Skegness Grammar).

  3. Further to above, the report does say it controlled for prior achievement. This somewhat undermines my point above. The report says:
    ‘Schools are defined as high performing if they were in the top 40 per cent of all schools in at least three out of four years (2007-2010 in the baseline year and 2012-15 as the latest’year). At each time point this captures about 30 percent of secondary schools.’
    I understand this to mean that just 30% of secondary school are defined as high performing. But over 70% of secondary schools are good or better.
    That said, Blackpool also has only one good secondary school but that’s RC and would favour RC pupils. Five are RI and one has no current judgement (predecessor school inadequate).
    Hartlepool does better. Of its five secondary schools, two are good, two RI and one without a current judgement (predecessor school inadequate).
    In Barnsley, another EPI low performing hot spots, three secondaries are good, two RI, one inadequate and four have no current judgement (three predecessor schools were RI, one was good).

  4. “The think-tank compared the availability of places in “high-performing secondary schools” – those with good value-added scores over a four-year period. It found that around a fifth of local authority areas had no such school “within reasonable travel distance of pupils” in 2015, a situation that had not changed since 2010.

    There is an ”acute shortage of high-quality secondary school places in areas such as the north of England”, according to Natalie Perera, the EPI’s executive director and a former government adviser.

    It is shocking to see that over recent years the access to high quality secondary school places in England has become even more unequal

    “No progress has been made in addressing this issue since 2010, and as a result successive cohorts of children in many parts of the country are being let down,” she said.”

    This is a flawed conclusion based on flawed and misunderstood data.

    It is not possible to to validly assess ‘value added’ from tests like KS2 SATs and GCSE, which are so high stakes for the schools in terms of DfE floor targets and the misuse of the data by OfSTED. The Chief Inspector herself has drawn attention to the negative consequences for deep learning that result from the corrupted teaching methods that schools feel forced to adopt as a result of ‘The Tyranny of Testing’ (excellent book by Warwick Mansell).

    Results are inflated at both KS2 and GCSE. The inflation at KS2 makes the ‘value added’ worse for the secondary school that takes in these children, forcing said schools to adopt the same behaviourist approaches at GCSE, which do indeed boost results. But the consequence is shallow learning leading to very poor outcomes at A Level and the reason for the crisis in take up of STEM subjects.

    The key missing data is cognitive ability, which is the real driver of genuine attainment based on deep learning. Back in the 1990s the Cumbria LEA used cognitive ability tests (CATs) data to evaluate the effectiveness of its schools. The results were so controversial they were never made public, because they revealed the true scale of the variation in mean intake cognitive ability between affluent and socially deprived postcodes. Of course cognitive ability is not the only driver of student and school attainment, but it is by far the main one. I argue elsewhere that this statistical approach is the only sound way to evaluate school effectiveness, as it takes the main driver of attainment, cognitive ability, into account. The further above the regression line, the more effective the school and the further below the regression line, the less effective the school. When you carry out an analysis on this basis a completely different pattern emerges than that published in DfE school performance tables.

    See this chart.

    https://rogertitcombelearningmatters.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/graph21.jpg

    Although I recognise the discomfort caused by the link between relative affluence and cognitive ability, this is not a matter of dispute. It is a fact. It became clear to me during my headship through my work on Cognitive Ability Testing (CATs) with the Cumbria LEA at the time when all Cumbria pupils took CATs tests in Year 7. The LEA produced statistical analyses of the results that clearly showed this pattern. My school was in the poorest inner-urban part of Barrow-in-Furness, closest to the docks. Zones of comparative affluence spread out from there in concentric circles, exactly matched by the mean intake CATs scores of the secondary schools located in those zones. The differences are extreme, from 85 (16th percentile) in my school in the innermost zone, up to 92 (30th percentile) in the eastern (most inland) suburbs. The school in the next town, four miles away had a score of 95 (37th percentile) and the school in the prosperous town of Ulverston, eight miles away had a score of 100 (50th percentile). The GCSE results in terms of %5+ A-C matched this pattern.

    After my retirement I carried out some research into the admissions arrangements of Hackney schools, where CATs driven ‘Fair Banding’ is used in nearly all of the schools. The LA provided me with (anonymised) CATs results, which I used for my study of Mossbourne Academy, which appears as Part 4 in my book, ‘Learning Matters’. This is an extract.

    “Mossbourne selects on cognitive ability regardless of social deprivation. Mossbourne attempted to admit 60 percent of its pupils from within 1000m of the school, an area of severe social deprivation, but it selected only a small proportion of the pupils that live there. Large numbers of those with lower CAT scores are rejected. In other words the socially deprived surroundings of Mossbourne Academy produce children with a much lower than average cognitive ability (but still covering the full range) from which Mossbourne selects an intake whose cognitive ability (but not social or economic profile) matches the national profile.”

    It is important to point out that the rejected lower CATs score pupils find places in nearby schools that also achieve balanced intakes through fair banding.

    The vital point that is missed is the huge significance of the potential of ‘plastic intelligence’ to enable cognitive ability to be raised, but only if the right kind of teaching is used. The marketised education systems of England and the US generate powerful perverse incentives that favour the wrong sort of behaviourist teaching methods that actually inhibit cognitive development and so make the ‘attainment gap’ greater, while national GCSE results appear to improve. This is what my book, Learning Matters’ is largely about.

    So why do schools in socially deprived parts of London buck this trend?

    This is because working class areas of northern England lack the cultural and ethnic diversity of London. Analysis by the DfE and data collected by ‘GL Assessment’, the marketer of CATs tests show large and clear links ethic groups, CATs scores and school attainment. ‘White working class’ come near the bottom of the hierarchy, whereas other non-white groups, and mixed race pupils score much more highly.

    The second factor that explains the comparative high performance on London schools is the widespread use of CATs driven ‘fair banding’ admissions policies, especially in Hackney, where there is a uniform system administered by the LA. This prevents schools being swamped by low cognitive ability pupils, which is what drives such schools adopt ‘quick fix’ cramming based teaching methods.

    Is there hope for the allegedly failing schools of northern England. Yes, but not within the results-basedmarketisation paradigm that is corrupting the English education system.

    See my other post.

    • Although I recognise the discomfort caused by the link between relative affluence and cognitive ability, this is not a matter of dispute. It is a fact

      Affluence = cognitive ability! Long live the ruling classes and the divine right of kings. Measurements are dependent on what is measured. Poverty, relative affluence and, wealth is not synonymous with cognitive deprivation, adequacy and excellence.This is a about what is valued and measured and celebrated. Your statement quoted above is a millstone around this nation’s neck. I look up to him but down on him. The Two Ronnies had your number decades ago!

      • Please don’t be silly. Of course affluence does not ‘equal’ cognitive ability. I am trying to make three points. The first is that ignoring the mean cognitive ability of school admission cohorts makes it impossible to judge the effectiveness of the educational experience provided by schools.(And that SATs are not reliable proxies.)

        The second is that more affluent postcodes are associated with higher higher mean cognitive ability. This is simply a consequence of the well established pattern that the children of better educated parents tend to be higher achievers at school.

        The third, which is by far the most important, is that children from less affluent households suffer a double whammy. Not only are they likely to have a cognitive ability development deficit on entering secondary school, but the gaming, cramming and high pressure revision approaches such schools are forced to apply in order to survive in the marketised system will increase rather than decrease that cognitive ability developmental deficit.

  5. It is just not possible to validly judge any school without reference to its intake cognitive ability profile.

    1. You can’t judge any school by its aggregated GCSE results without regard to the intake ability profile.

    2. Although schools have a much easier job with a balanced ability intake, individual students can still be well served in any comprehensive school that prioritises the individual development of its students over the DfE’s and OfSTED’s flawed performance measures. See this real life example.

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2017/12/what-are-schools-for