EPI: The DfE must ditch 'flawed' school performance statistic

Ministers must “ditch their favourite line” that there are now 1.9 million more children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools than there were in 2010, according to the EPI, which warns the figure is “flawed in several ways”.

The EPI’s new report wants this often repeated statistic to “gracefully depart” as it does not take into account population growth, changes to the nature and frequency of Ofsted inspections, or changes in school governance after academisation.

The claim is ubiquitous in government statements about the quality of education, and official records show it has been used in Parliament 22 times in the last seven months alone.

Report author Jon Andrews, the EPI’s director for school system and performance and a former DfE statistician, said there are “several factors” that “undermine” the statistic’s “status as a fair comparison”.

He warned reforms such as expanding the academies programme and introducing free schools “have so far resulted in little or no impact in overall attainment”.

“The department frequently claims that the increase is due to the reforms put in place since 2010. It is difficult to see what reforms they are attributing to them to – given that it would mean improvements for a quarter of the school population,” he said.

“Given what we know about the impact of reforms so far, ministers and the department should ask themselves ‘is this scale of improvement plausible?’ If the answer is no, it is time to ditch their favourite line.”

Population growth means the overall number of pupils in state-funded schools in England increased by 560,000 between 2010 and 2017, with the overall pupil population growing 7.5 per cent. In the same period, the report found schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted had grown in pupil numbers more quickly than the overall population, suggesting more pupils chose to attend them.

Population increases and shifts in the schools attended accounted for 578,000 pupils of the increase in the number of pupils attending ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools – over a quarter of the total 1.9 million cited by the government.

The report also warned “there are a number of schools that have not been inspected for a significant length of time”, with 4.5 million pupils in schools that were last inspected in 2013-14.

There are 579,000 pupils in schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ but uninspected by Ofsted since at least 2010, and 124,000 pupils in schools that have not been inspected in the last 10 years.

This means many schools were inspected under a different inspection framework, and many have seen changes in school governance.

Of the 1,407 schools not been inspected since 2010, 518 are converter academies which will are not routinely inspected if they were previously rated ‘outstanding’. In total, 309,000 pupils are in converter academies that have not been inspected since at least 2010 and have not been inspected since they became academies.

The EPI report also suggested a change in Ofsted’s grading system – from ‘satisfactory’ to ‘requires improvement’ in 2012 – may have affected overall ratings, as the new rating is viewed as “more punitive…. making inspectors less likely to give it”.

Following this change, in 2012/13 there was a “large increase” in the proportion of primary schools that improved their grade at inspection, jumping from 48 per cent to 57 per cent in one year, although there was no clear relationship for secondary schools.

A spokesperson for the DfE said “academic standards continue to rise”.

“The facts are clear – the vast majority of pupils are in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools across the country, 1.9 million more than in 2010, and an increase from 66 per cent to 86 per cent over that time.”