The day of data: What we learned from a deluge of government statistics and announcements

Government departments and parliamentary bodies have this morning published a series of announcements, statistical datasets and reports.

Here is a round-up of what’s been released.

1. Proportion of exam papers modified for accessibility up 26%

According to data published today by the exams regulator Ofqual, there has been a dramatic 26-per-cent rise in the proportion of GCSE, AS and A-level exam papers that were adapted to make them accessible for candidates with a disability, illness or special educational needs in 2016/17.

This leap is due largely to a rise in the use of “non-interactive” electronic question papers.

2. Ofsted stats shake-up will drop ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ rate by 2%

Ofsted has announced it wants to change the way it presents statistics about school inspections, including readding the past grades of turnaround academies.

A consultation published this morning states that Ofsted wants to make the changes to its statistics in order to make its data more comprehensive and accessible.

One proposal is to include the previous ratings of schools which become an academy or are taken over by a new sponsor, wherever possible.

The change would mean a two-point decrease in the percentage of ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ primary schools, and a three-point decrease among secondary schools. Combined, the drop will be two percentage points.

3. Resits in GCSE English language rise

Ofqual has revealed that the number of students resitting the English language GCSE has risen by almost a third in the first year of the reformed exams, despite an overall drop in the number of pupils retaking exams.

Statistics released today show there was an overall drop of 19 per cent in GCSE entries for the November resits, from 84,450 to 67,985.

However, there was still a sharp rise in the number of entries for the English language exam, with resits increasing by 29 per cent from 25,610 in 2016 to 32,970 this year.

4. Government misses teacher training targets

According to new figures on teacher supply, the government has failed to train enough teachers for any Ebacc subjects except for history.

The data released today shows teacher supply model (TSM) targets were missed across the board, despite the fact that the overall number of people beginning postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) courses rose by 1,145 from 26,750 last year to 27,895 for 2017/18.

In the same period, the TSM target has increased by 1,670.

5. Nick Gibb responds to MPs on grammar schools

Nick Gibb has written the government’s response to a parliamentary committee of MPs who investigated the plans for grammar school expansion earlier this year.

In his 986-word response, the schools minister only briefly mentions selective schools and does not commit the government to any position on their future.

For more details, see our speed-read of the recommendations.

6. Reception attainment gap widens

The lowest-attaining pupils did slightly worse than their peers in reception this year, reversing a trend of improvement seen since 2013.

New data on the early-years foundation stage profile shows the attainment gap between the lowest-attaining 20 per cent of pupils and all pupils widened to 31.7 per cent this year, up from 31.4 per cent in 2016.

7. Government blames MATs for early failings

In a rare criticism of the academies sector, the government has accused multi-academy trusts that faced difficulties in the early days of the programme of failing to prepare for their own growth.

In its response to the parliamentary education committee’s inquiry last year into MATs, the DfE claimed that where trusts in the early days of the academies programme grew quickly and had difficulties, size on its own was “not the determining factor”.

Instead, those trusts “failed to put in place the robust structures, systems, and process that were necessary to be successful given their scale and stage of growth”.

This echoes comments made last year by the national schools commissioner Sir David Carter.

The response also reveals the government has plans to add MAT performance data in its new school and college performance tables.

8. DfE admits testing changes have ‘stretched’ schools

The government has also responded to the parliamentary education committee’s report on primary testing.

The DfE said it recognises that the “pace and scale of recent changes has been stretching for schools, teachers and pupils”.

Officials also accept the changes were “not always communicated as well or as quickly as they could have been”.

The government also repeated its commitment to change the day that the key stage 2 reading test is taken next summer, so that it is not the first paper that pupils sit in test week.

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    • Mark Watson

      To my mind it’s shared blame. The DfE allowed them to grow as quickly as they did, but didn’t force them to do so. Such rapid expansion was driven by the MATs themselves.
      Not every early MAT grew big and fast, and some of the MATs that did do so put in place robust structures that were appropriate for their size on an ongoing basis.

      • Mark – it is, of course, shared blame. But the DfE is offloading blame onto the MATs alone. Former SoS Michael Gove said in 2011 he would let MATs grow at the ‘fastest sustainable rate’ (see Hansard 19 July 2011).
        In 2013, the Academies Commission warned that some chains were growing too quickly.

        Also in 2013, rapidly-growing MAT TKAT said it had been ‘guided’ by the DfE to take on more schools (TKAT written evidence to Education Select Committee November 2013). In July 2014 Ofsted criticised TKAT – one of its criticisms was that TKAT had offered weak support in the early days of its development.

        E-Act, AET, CfBT, WCAT all expanded rapidly. All have given up some academies (in WCAT’s case, all of them are being rebrokered).

        In Feb 2017, schools commissioner Sir David Carter was asked by the Education Select Committee if he thought MATs had been allowed to expand too rapidly across too wide a geographical area. He said he did – it was a factor in underperformance in some cases although not all. This contradicted his claim in 2016 that fast expansion didn’t contribute to failure.

        Lucy Heller, Chief Executive of ARK, told the Committee. ‘I think the Department was certainly encouraging speedy growth’.

        Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw told MPs the attitude towards MAT expansion was ‘pile them high, sell them cheap. Let’s empire build rather than have the capacity to improve these schools.