Two thirds of pupils from low-income backgrounds not ‘secondary ready’ by the end of primary

This morning, results from this spring’s key stage 2 assessments were published for over 16,000 primary and special schools.

These are important as they are the first school level results to be published against the new ‘without levels’ assessments. They also use the Department for Education’s new value-added measures of progress.

What leaps out immediately is that while the attainment gap has continued to slowly narrow, just 35 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals reach the new expected standard. In other words, nearly two thirds of pupils from low-income backgrounds are not ‘secondary ready’ by the end of primary school. If we are serious about social mobility we need to tackle that gap early in a child’s life.

If we are serious about social mobility we need to tackle that gap early

The national results, published in the summer, gave us an indication of what was to come. The new higher bar means that far fewer pupils overall achieve the expected standard – 80 per cent cleared the bar under the old arrangements, compared to 53 per cent now. This raised a significant concern – thousands of schools would now be below the minimum floor standard and in line for intervention.

Efforts have been made to reassure the sector – mainly by committing to keeping the number of schools below the floor at a level similar with that last year. By carefully setting the thresholds for underperformance based on progress, that is precisely what has been achieved. Indeed, in 2016, 655 schools are below the floor but, if it had been based on attainment data alone, there would have been around 9,000.

This means that progress pupils are making between ages 7 and 11 is now paramount. This is certainly a positive step, but it does mean an increased reliance on key stage 1 data. Recent reforms have been designed to improve the reliability of assessments but, at this stage, the progress measures rely on data that pre-dates that. It will be a concern to those schools that feel those assessments overestimate pupil performance and junior schools will no doubt note that DfE statistics show that the average junior school scores much lower on the progress measures than the average all-through primary school.

This means increased reliance on key stage 1 data

As well as the floor standard, the Department for Education has also set out its intention to intervene in ‘coasting schools’. Whilst the definition of coasting is still subject to parliamentary debate, there are 477 schools meeting the DfE’s proposed definition. A significant consequence of this change is highlighted by the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) recent analysis of secondary school data, which showed that schools with high levels of disadvantage are far more likely to be labelled as coasting.

And what does this mean for the department’s sponsored academy programme, often viewed as the way to tackle such underperformance? The results in this data are mixed. Pupils in sponsored academies make below average progress in reading and mathematics but above average in writing. Neither does there appear to be an improvement in results, the longer an academy is open.

In what’s been a busy week in education it is, almost, possible to forget the flurry of activity that accompanied the closing of the government’s consultation ‘Schools that work for everyone’ on Monday. Our response at the EPI highlighted the large attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers that is evident well before the age of 11. Today’s statistics show that there is still much to do if that gap is going to be closed.

Jon Andrews is Director of Education Data and Statistics at Education Policy Institute

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  1. Since we have been recording these things, children from low income families have been doing less well than children from high income families. Why does no-one suggest the way to solve this problem is by making the incomes of families less uneven?
    If you have two fields of crops and one grows for 5 years in nutrient poor soil whilst the other grows in a nutrient rich soil, will adding fertiliser to the poor soil in year 6 make up the difference in crop growth? Will blaming the farmer of the nutrient poor soil be a good solution and will such a farmer be able to make much difference if we give him a little bit of fertiliser in year 6?
    Maybe the farmer could do a better job if we gave him more nutrient rich soil to begin with.