Last month saw the long-awaited publication of the Government’s education white paper ‘Opportunity for all‘. In this second post picking apart the white paper from the point of view of a MAT or school data leader, I look at the significant areas of academisation, accountability and performance measures.
If you missed part 1 I picked out some bits you may have missed including curriculum, attendance and intervention.
Key headlines from the paper include the wish to drive up standards, by driving up targets (there is a lot of re-hashed policy to ‘enable’ these targets to be hit, but it’s hard to see it as much more than a raising of targets).
First at Primary level:
(1) 90% of children will leave primary school having achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, up from 65% in 2019.
This is a huge leap, even without the disruption that has taken place to learning over the pandemic it seems challenging in the extreme.
On to Secondary level:
(1) Increase the national GCSE average grade in both English language and in maths from 4.5 in 2019 to 5 by 2030.
This one is intriguing, as GCSE exams are norm-referenced and previous government/Ofqual policy has been to remove grade inflation by fixing the proportion of students receiving any particular grade, particularly those in grade 4 and 5. For the average grade to improve this policy has to end. And the cynic might suggest that this particular target could be achieved at any point in time by simply sliding the normal distribution curve of grades along half a grade at any point in time.
Perhaps in order to exclude this cynical solution, a further national performance check will be introduced in Year 9 (someone has clearly been missing the old SATs!):
(69) A stronger understanding of national performance is also a critical part of understanding how the system is progressing towards our goals. We will introduce a new test of literacy and numeracy, taken by a sample of children in year 9, to estimate performance at a national level. This will consist of a short series of digital activities undertaken by a small number of children in school.
Presumably, this will work like and in tandem with the national reference tests, to attempt to fix the difficulty of GCSEs and allow true ‘progress’ to be demonstrated within the system.
After a couple of years where the focus of many has moved towards attendance, behaviour and well-being of students, it is clear that outcomes and progress measures are back and will inevitably start to drive a lot of the system. It is not the way things should be, but with league tables and Ofsted such drivers in the industry, it is inevitable.
Actions for leaders: Review your assessment and tracking systems. Ensure you have quality baseline data using national benchmarks to enable you to demonstrate progress at a group level. Take the recent focus on pastoral data and ensure your analytics systems allow you to look at all student data in one place.
A Trust Led System – Academisation
Arguably the most controversial element of the whole white paper is a doubling down on the complete academisation of the education system:
(147) We want all schools to be in or joining a strong trust by 2030.
(6) A fully trust led system with a single regulatory approach, which will drive up standards through the growth of strong trusts and the establishment of new ones, including trusts established by local authorities
(123) The system that has evolved over the past decade is messy and often confusing. Schools, trusts and local authorities have unclear – and often overlapping – roles and responsibilities
This element of the white paper seemed like a good place to focus on the inefficiencies of the current two-tier system as so well explained by Sam Freedman in the report The Gove reforms a decade on. Instead, the paper argues for an all academy system largely through some statistical gymnastics:
(117) Our best trusts achieve strong educational outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged children – if all children did as well as pupils in a trust performing at the 90th percentile, national performance at key stage 2 would be 14 percentage points higher and 19 percentage points higher for disadvantaged pupils.
This has understandably been controversial and is under investigation by the UK Statistics Authority.
Whether all schools are academies by 2030 or not, many more will academise and/or join MATs over the coming years. MATs will grow and MATs will merge.
Actions for leaders: Work on your MAT data strategy and plan for any potential growth. Is now the time to move to one MIS across your MAT? It’s certainly the time to consider one data analytics platform that pulls data in from your academy MISs. If your MAT is planning expansion, have a data plan that allows you to quickly incorporate the key data from your new academies into your overall MAT picture.
Finally for this post, we have trust accountability. This area is a mess at the moment with a mix of Ofsted, RSCs, LAs and others involved and no clear solutions in particular where a whole MAT is delivering poor education for the students in their care. Whilst the details are not finalised the overall direction of travel is clear:
(140) All trusts must be held clearly to account for high standards in order to provide the platform to achieve our ambitions in literacy and numeracy.
(141) To increase clarity in the short term, we propose to bring together both new and existing requirements on academy trusts (currently set out in legislation and funding agreements) into statutory academy trust standards. New statutory intervention powers will underpin the standards and provide a robust framework for ensuring we can tackle any trust which fails to achieve the expected outcomes by managing and governing their schools effectively.
(143) High quality and inclusive education – Has effective central leadership teams, strong school leadership and teaching, and uses evidence-based curriculum design and implementation.
(156) We will introduce a new collaborative standard – one of the new statutory academy trust standards – requiring that trusts work constructively with each other, their local authorities and the wider public and third sectors.
(154) Ofsted will inspect all schools against the current inspection framework by the end of the summer term 2025.
Paragraph (141) above is key, expect a revised version of the existing MAT Assurance Framework in conjunction with funding agreements etc to form a legislated framework for MAT performance and inspection.
The Assurance Framework is already a really useful document for use as a reference point when reviewing your impact at MAT level.
Actions for leaders: Spend some time reading the MAT Assurance Framework Guidance and then focus on Section 5 of the framework. Answer the questions. If you don’t already have a MAT data strategy then this framework works as a perfect template to produce one. Review your systems and processes against these questions, highlight your strengths and areas for development and plan around your weaknesses.
There is much more in the white paper, but hopefully these two posts have highlighted some key information for you to consider if you have a data/accountability focus in your role. If your data strategy review leads you to look for support then please do contact us and we can talk.
If you’ve missed Part 1 of this series, check it out now here.
Data Trends – News & Articles you may have missed:
- The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) is carrying out an assessment of the key stage 4 performance statistics for England that are published by the Department for Education.
- Sam Freedman says the white paper is a missed opportunity.
- The pandemic outside the school gates: Mental health epidemic and the cost of living crisis – Sutton Trust.
- Joshua Perry explains the changes to Progress 8 calculations this summer with regards early entry grades.