Press release

Step-change in ambition will mean higher standards for all

The government announces a new accountability system that will help ensure all children are literate and numerate.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Teacher working with pupils

An ambitious new accountability system will raise standards across the board because of its high expectations and its focus on the progress made by every child from age 4 to 19, the government announced today.

Schools Minister David Laws said it was right that schools and colleges would be held accountable for ensuring every child is able to read and write well, and has good maths skills. This will mean all young people leave education with the skills needed to compete for apprenticeships, places at leading universities and good jobs, helping to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

He added that the new system of measuring performance was much fairer on schools and colleges, would expose both underperforming and coasting schools, and would mean all pupils received the attention they deserved to achieve to their full potential.

Across primary and secondary schools, and into post-16 education, the higher standards will be underpinned by more rigorous tests and qualifications, a high quality of teaching for all pupils, and a strong focus on the key subjects of English and maths.

The new system will help:

  • primary schools ensure all children start secondary school able to read well, write well, and have a solid grounding in maths. There will be a new, more ambitious bar (set at 85% of a school’s pupils) while a reception baseline will mean that progress is a key element of the new system. This baseline will be a simple check of a child’s level of understanding - for instance, counting and picture or letter recognition - carried out by the child’s teacher in the first few weeks of reception
  • secondary schools ensure all pupils study a broad curriculum and achieve a good set of qualifications at age 16, with an emphasis on English and maths, and subjects most valued by employers and universities. The focus on progress, with the C grade threshold scrapped, will mean all pupils will get the attention they deserve
  • colleges and school sixth forms - following the recommendations made by Professor Alison Wolf in her ground-breaking review of vocational education - will be expected to ensure young people study stretching academic and vocational qualifications which equip them well for employment or further study. Where students have not achieved a C in GCSE English or maths at 16, they will continue studying English or maths as part of their 16 to 19 studies

All schools and colleges will also have to publish the essential information about their performance - giving parents an at-a-glance overview of the progress a school’s pupils make, and the grades they achieve.

Primary schools will show pupils’ progress from age 4 to 11 (compared to others with similar starting points in reception); what proportion reach the demanding new standard at age 11; how well pupils do on average at age 11; and what proportion of their pupils are rated ‘high achieving’.

Secondary schools will show pupils’ progress from age 11 to 16 (compared to others with the same results at age 11); what their pupils’ average grade is across 8 subjects; what proportion of their pupils achieve at least a C in English and maths; and what proportion of their pupils achieve the EBacc.

Colleges and school sixth forms will show students’ progress from GCSE to age 18 (compared to others with the same GCSE results) in academic subjects or Tech Levels (the new gold-standard technical qualifications that finally place vocational education on a par with A levels); what students’ average grade is in each category; the progress made by students who joined them without a C in English and/or maths; what proportion of their students drop out; and what proportion of their students go on to further study, a job or training at the end of their courses (when the data is robust enough).

The highly respected OECD is clear that the best education systems in the world are characterised by autonomy for schools and by strong accountability systems which highlight the performance of all providers and which give clear information to parents and young people.

Schools Minister David Laws said:

The new system will mean higher standards, no hiding place for under-performing schools and coasting schools, and real credit being given to schools and colleges which may have challenging intakes but which improve their pupils’ performance.

In primary schools, we are raising the bar to improve standards and introducing a proper measure of progress from when children start school to age 11. I want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths so that they can thrive at secondary school. A better start at secondary school is a better start in life.

We are also asking much more of secondary schools - they will need to ensure they teach a broad range of subjects, with a special focus on English and maths. But they will also be fairly judged on the progress their pupils make, and the removal of the blunt C grade threshold means all children will get the attention they deserve.

Colleges and school sixth forms will, for the first time, have to meet a range of demanding measures and show that they are getting their students into good jobs, further study or apprenticeships.

We must set high aspirations for all schools and their pupils - and I am confident that our brilliant heads and teachers will continue to meet the challenge we are setting them.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said:

We are pleased that the government has engaged with the profession on this critical reform. We welcome the emphasis on progress as the defining measure of school performance and the recognition that there is more to primary education than preparing for secondary education; and, indeed, more to preparing for secondary school than tests in English and maths.

We welcome the retention of teaching assessment in writing and that test results for spelling, punctuation and grammar tests will be used to inform teaching rather than to hold schools to account. I believe the profession should take seriously the proposal to baseline performance in reception. The first 3 years of education are arguably the most important and they are currently ignored in the accountability framework, punishing those schools who serve the most challenging communities.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of ASCL, said:

ASCL welcomes the Department for Education’s intention to develop new accountability measures that are fair and comparable across different types of providers of post-16 education and training.

New measures that are consistent and similar across different types of provider will give students and parents a much better basis for making an informed choice, and can help us move towards a level playing field for inspection and holding institutions to account.

ASCL values the opportunity to offer views about the development of accountability measures, for 2016 and beyond.

Tim Sherriff, headteacher of Westfield Community Primary School, in Wigan, which has been rated outstanding in its last 2 Ofsted inspections and where more than 4 in 10 pupils are eligible for free school meals, one of the highest proportions in the country, said:

At Westfield we have extremely high expectations for all pupils regardless of their starting point as evidenced by the number of pupils we enter into the higher level assessments. The new bar is challenging for those schools whose intake is significantly below that of their peers nationally but the focus on progress means the value that a school adds to its pupils’ achievement is taken into account. I feel it is fair to assess the progress of pupils in comparison with others who had a similar starting point.

Helen Tyler, headteacher of St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Holborn, central London, which earlier this month was rated by Ofsted as outstanding, said:

It is my belief that the bar should be raised so that children are ready for and have a greater chance of success at secondary school, and improved life chances. Schools should be aiming for all children to make the necessary progress to attain highly. No child should be left behind.

I also agree that schools should publish their results on their website. Parents are entitled to know how well their child’s school is doing and how it compares to other schools.

Lubna Khan, headteacher of the outstanding-rated Berrymede Junior School in Ealing, west London, said:

An assessment at age 4 will give really important information to schools about the starting points of children. Schools will find this an extremely valuable element of the wider assessment they will continue to make of their reception class pupils to enable each child to develop.

It is very important that we, as a junior school, have very close links and a good dialogue with our feeder infants’ schools so we are fully aware of the children’s abilities when they join us at age 7, and that assessment practices are consistent across phases, not based on test results alone but supported by a wider range of evidence.

Judging schools on the progress their pupils make is fair. I also support higher expectations being set for 11-year-olds - it will help ensure that all children leave primary school ready for high school, and all schools should want to achieve that. With high-quality, excellent teaching, the support of parents and high ambitions, there should be no ceiling.

Chris Paterson, associate director of CentreForum, said:

Putting progress at the heart of each stage of the accountability system is a major step forward. By capturing the distance schools and colleges enable their pupils to travel, progress measures allow for fair and meaningful comparisons. Importantly, they also drive attention towards the performance of every pupil, which will particularly benefit disadvantaged pupils and promote social mobility.

At primary, a progress measure poses a challenge in that it requires an initial assessment. If this can be introduced in a positive and sensitive way however, it will allow the distinct advantages of a progress measure to benefit pupils. Accountability reform may not seem like the most exciting education reform of the coalition government, but it has the potential to be the most significant.

Professor Alison Wolf, of King’s College London, said:

I welcome the provision of a wide range of easy-to-understand indicators. The information will make it significantly easier for parents and students to identify the best post-16 provider for them.

Notes to editors

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Published 27 March 2014