At first the following statement by David Laws in October 2013 seemed reasonable: “The current situation is unfair due to focus on C/D borderline, not rewarding progress from E to D or C to B or B to A. A pupil’s key stage 2 results, achieved at the end of primary school, will be used to set a reasonable expectation of what they should achieve at GCSE. Schools will get credit where pupils outperform these expectations. A child who gets an A when they are expected to get a B, or a D when they were expected to get an E, will score points for their school. This approach will ensure that all pupils matter, and will matter equally.”
The immediate question to spring to mind was, “Can achievements made by the end of primary school accurately predict achievements in a GCSE examination five years later?” I wasn’t sure so I asked Professor Robert Coe in an informal conversation. He was very clear in his reply. Statistically and on an individual basis the predictions are robust for English, Mathematics and Science. I told him I was particularly interested in predicted performance with regard to design & technology. He admitted straight away that data from primary schools was unlikely to provide an accurate predictor. “What should d&t teachers do?” I asked as it seemed clear to me that they would be expected to make predictions and held to account for them. Robert indicated that there were several ways forward, all involving not inconsiderable effort. Much closer liaison with feeder primary schools was a possibility. In an ideal world yes but given that it is widely acknowledged there is considerable variability in primary d&t provision and some schools have 10 plus feeder schools this didn’t seem that feasible. Make the prediction at the end of Year 7 after teachers have had a chance to teach and assess pupils’ responses. He agreed that this was useful but stressed that there should be some cross-school comparisons to ensure that the d&t curriculum and its assessment in a particular school wasn’t so at variance with typical data from other schools as to skew the possibility of making a reasonable prediction of GCSE performance in d&t. This made sense but added significantly to the work load of the task.
Then it struck me. Just how useful is it for the pupil aged 11 (or their parents) to know what he or she is likely to achieve in an examination in 5 years time, even if that prediction is accurate (which seems unlikely in d&t)? What is likely to be the response of the pupil told that their predicted grade is low, or high or middle of the road. Will high grade expectation cause the pupil to slack, will the low grade expectation cause the pupil to give up? Will the expectations be achieved on a self fulfillment prophecy basis? Why should pupils starting secondary school and their parents be saddled with this information? What seemed important to me was that the curriculum they were offered was engaging and enjoyable in that it intrigued without baffling, challenged without being daunting and as a result the pupils worked as hard as they could and received useful on going feedback on how to improve. Clearly it is very important to track progress across Key Stage 3 (more on this in a future post) and from this tracking and the knowledge of pupil progress it gives to be able to have a three way conversation (pupil, parent, teacher) at the end of Key Stage 3 about whether a pupil should continue with a subject to GCSE level (assuming it is optional) and if the pupil does opt for it what sort of result can be expected (based on three years worth of information and experience) and what might be done to improve on the expected result. I can’t see that delaying the act of prediction of GCSE performance until the pupil is 14 will do much to damage accountability. I don’t see that this would invalidate information that primary schools might provide secondary schools. Such information is useful if it provides a snapshot of where the pupil is and any particular strengths or weaknesses that pupil might have. This will help secondary teachers enhance the learning prospects for that pupil.
Are these new accountability measures a form of educational attainment determinism? What do others think?