Accountability measures drive behaviour, schools get pilloried for that behaviour, teacher morale plummets, young people feel their achievements are undermined, school leaders get demoralised and the public lose confidence in the system. That’s how it works, right?
Well that has certainly been an emerging pattern and the big fear was that we would get more of the same in the new measures.
For the first time in a long time, however, I am smiling. I know it is early days, that the devil will be in the detail, that we have yet to see the effects etc etc, but I have looked at the behaviours these measures will drive and, up to now, I am smiling. Here’s why:
1. Teaching to the middle has been a constant drag on our education system. Although not entirely removed (apparently the % at C + in English and Maths will still be reported, but not as main measure), the ridiculous cliff edge of D/C borderline removal, should remove the worst behaviours. I’ve done it myself to my shame: removed kids from other subjects for extra English and Maths. And the worst of that is that it was never the kids who were desperate to improve from an B to an A, or an F to an E: oh no, we sacrificed everything to the precious C. The effect this has had on the aspirations of parents, children and teachers has been appalling. The profession should be dancing in the streets about the change to all grades counting in the measure.
2. With individualised floor standards for schools, based on students’ prior attainment, we will no longer have the disincentive to work in and lead schools in challenging areas. This is important, because poor kids need the best leaders and teachers and it was getting to a point where it was career ending to choose to be there.
3. Every child counts in these new measures. Ensuring that those who can move from F to D,E to C, and B to A* all count brings us back to a serious personalisation agenda. This is something else Labour supporting teachers should be dancing in the streets about. ‘The tyranny of the C’ lowered expectations of bright poor kids and abandoned far too many because they would never get to a C.
4. Although at first glance it looks like a way of making all schools make all children do an EBacc (an invented random collection of GCSE valued by some politicians with no supporting evidence from employers or universities), it really isn’t. Yes, they will report on % EBacc, but it won’t be the main accountability measure and those of us who choose to ignore it will continue to ignore it. The reality is ‘the basket of 8’ need not mean everyone does a language, science or humanity. I checked and for the student who wants to specialise English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Engineering, Product Design, and Business will have filled her ‘basket of 8’. As would the student doing English, Maths, Latin, History, French, RE, Sociology and Economics. I’m not suggesting that it is desirable for large numbers of students to specialise early on – just that they should be able to do so, if appropriate. And they can. Hurrah!
5. Even better, this measure actively encourages appropriate curriculum for students with alternative or special needs. The matrix, which to be fair we have yet to see, will use prior attainment to project points students need to achieve at GCSE. An SEN student with low prior attainment may be projected to get only 8 G Grades at GCSE (8 points). In arranging an appropriate curriculum for such a student it may be decided that he does Maths, English and 3 BTecs: the basket of 8 will not be filled, but the points scored could be higher than 8 due to the appropriateness of the curriculum. Incentivising schools to ensure appropriate personalised curriculum for all students designed to maximise their outcomes. A big smile from me for that one!
6. My final smile is that the progress floor standard appears to be statistically sensible. We have been pretending for too long that ‘3 levels of progress’ is an appropriate target for all. Statistically students with high prior attainment make more than 3 levels of progress and those with very low prior attainment make less. This will now be recognised in setting floor standards.
My early conclusion is that these new measures are challenging and fair.
Perhaps, even more importantly, they are about personalisation and every child getting the best. I hope the smile isn’t wiped from my face as we see implementation!