Consider axing EBacc and pupil SATs grades, says IPPR report

5 key proposals from think tank known to be influential in shaping Labour policy

5 key proposals from think tank known to be influential in shaping Labour policy

Introducing multi-year performance tables, scrapping pupil-level SATs data and reviewing the English Baccalaureate are among proposals in a new report by a think tank known to be influential in shaping Labour policy.

The Institute for Public Policy Research has published a new report on “navigating the tensions” in England’s school system today.

The policies are aim at “dialling down the stakes” on school accountability and cover key areas targeted for reform by Labour, including the curriculum and assessment.

The report is authored by Loic Menzies, Will Yates and Billy Huband-Thompson. The Centre for Education and Youth also contributed.

Here are five key findings …

1. Multi-year league table measures to ‘release pressure valve’

The think-tank said it “it is time to move away” from single-year measures in performance tables which can “make or break” a school and incentivise “quick fixes”. 

Instead, using “multi-year, rolling averages” in headline performance measures could “release the pressure valve” but without undermining the government’s ability to hold schools to account.

It’s an idea that has been suggested before, including a research paper by Menzies and John Jerrim in 2020. 

The NAHT Accountability Commission in 2018 also proposed using comparative performance data – based on a three-year average – as it was the “most reliable data indicator”.

2. School-only SATs grade ‘could lighten testing burden’

IPPR said the government could review whether pupil-level grading is needed in key stage 2 SATs, and instead just provide a school-level measure. 

Children would still take a test, but they wouldn’t be given individual grades. Instead the school would have an overall measure. 

The think-tank added that pupil-level results are not needed for school accountability, system monitoring or setting a school-level baseline for progress 8.

If pupil-level reliability were not needed, it means the primary school exams could be shortened. This would lighten the “testing burden” and reduce the predictability of exam content, the think tank said.

3. Make curriculum space for ‘wider enrichment offer’

There is a “strong case” for reviewing what is considered core in the curriculum, IPPR said.

Any future curriculum should “guarantee all pupils an entitlement to a common body of knowledge and skills” informed by “ongoing, subject-based debate”. Schools should be allowed to shape a “context-informed” curriculum, too. 

But it should create space for a “wider enrichment offer”. For instance, more opportunities beyond the school gates. 

Schools should focus on pupils achieving “competency” in a small number of core subjects, but then given more opportunities to learn in independent ways, such as “real-world projects”. 

Labour has committed to a full review of curriculum and assessment, including looking at a a broader curriculum, “so that children do not miss out on subjects such as music, art, sport and drama”.

4. Review to consider scrapping EBacc or subject shake-up

IPPR said it is time for a review of the Conservative’s five subject English Baccalaureate – including its components, but also whether it should continue to exist. 

They added the EBacc has “significant influence” over curriculum at key stage 4 and 5 and there is “no transparent rationale for which subjects are included”. 

The review should reconsider which subjects are included – such as whether this is a place for arts and technology, something the Labour party has also proposed.

IPPR also wants to increase “the breadth of subjects” taken by A-level students.

5. Schools as hubs for specialist support

Schools should be given funding to act as “hubs” for specialist provision and enrichment, IPPR argues.

The think-tank said schools are “ideally placed” to improve access in these areas.

But gaps in evidence around “full service extended schools” need to be filled in, they added. 

The wellbeing and mental health of pupils also needed to be assessed in a “more granular and comprehensive manner”. 

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