Oral statement to Parliament

Reforming the accountability system for secondary schools

Minister of State for Schools David Laws makes an announcement on school accountability.

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

Teacher talking to students

Mr Speaker,

I would like to make a statement on the future of secondary school accountability, following our recent consultation. But may I first welcome to his post the new Shadow Secretary of State, and can I express our best wishes to his predecessor the Honourable Member for Liverpool West Derby.

Until now secondary schools have been judged by the proportion of pupils awarded 5 GCSEs at grade C or better, including English and maths.

Schools currently improve their league table position if pupils move over the C/D borderline. This gives schools a huge incentive to focus excessively on the small number of pupils around the 5 Cs borderline. This is unfair to pupils with the potential to move from E grades to D grades, or from B grades to A grades.

It is also, paradoxically, unfair to those on the C/D borderline because it leads schools to teach to the test. Ofqual, the chairman of the Education Select Committee and others are all clear that this is the case. Indeed, all 5 of the maths organisations said that the current approach harmed the teaching of mathematics. The Association of Teachers of Mathematics, for example, said that “Teaching to the test results in superficial skills development which means that students are ill prepared for adult life.”

Furthermore, as Chris Paterson at CentreForum has shown, the current accountability framework discourages schools from focusing on the lowest attaining pupils.

In a recently published book ‘The Tail’, the authors argued that the last 15 years have seen rises in average attainment, but not in the attainment of those at the bottom. International surveys such as TIMMS confirm this position. We need secondary schools to give more attention to pupils who are falling behind.

The current measure also permits many schools, particularly in affluent areas, to ‘coast’. These schools find it easy to hit targets based on 5 C grades. The school may look successful, but Cs are not a success if pupils are capable of more. The accountability system must set challenging but fair expectations for every school, whatever its intake.

The 5 A* to C measure also encourages schools to offer a narrow curriculum. Mastery of just 5 subjects is not enough for most pupils at age 16.

Furthermore, the use of equivalent qualifications means that some students have not been offered a rigorous academic curriculum that would have served them well. Until this year, a school could offer English, maths and only 1 BTEC and still have the pupil count as having achieved 5 Cs or better.

We believe that we can do better.

Publishing the most important information about schools

We will require all schools to publish core information on their website, in a standard format. From now on, there will be 4 key measures which must be published:

  • pupils’ progress across 8 subjects. So, a parent will see whether pupils at a school typically achieve 1 grade more than expected, or 1 grade less
  • the average grade a pupil achieves in these same ‘best 8’ subjects. This will show, for example, that pupils in a particular school average a high B grade or a low D grade in their GCSEs
  • the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths
  • the proportion of pupils gaining the EBacc, which will continue in its current form

We will also look at including a destination measure to show the percentage of pupils who move on to further study or employment - including further training.

Floor standards

We are proposing an important change to the way we measure underperformance and to our floor targets. Rather than the 5 A* to C GCSE threshold measure, we will use the new progress measure. This is much fairer because it takes account of a school’s intake.

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.

This approach is fairer for schools as well as pupils.

Coasting schools will no longer be let off the hook. Equally, headteachers will no longer feel penalised when they have actually performed well with a challenging intake. We must not deter the best headteachers and teachers from working in challenging schools.

Pupils’ progress and attainment will be assessed in 8 subjects: English and maths, 3 further EBacc subjects, and 3 other high-value qualifications. This final group can include further traditional academic subjects, subjects such as art, music and drama, and vocational subjects, such as engineering and business. English and maths will be double weighted to reflect the importance of these subjects.

This will encourage schools to offer all pupils a broad curriculum with a strong academic core.

We will define the new floor standard as progress half a grade lower than reasonable expectations. So, if pupils at a school are expected to average a B in their 8 subjects, the school will be below the floor if they average less than 4 Bs and 4 Cs.

At present, there are 195 schools below the floor standard. Using existing figures, we estimate that around twice as many schools would be below this new floor standard. However, as schools will adjust their curriculum to the new framework the actual number is likely to be significantly lower than this.

We also want to recognise schools in which pupils make exceptional progress. So, a school in which pupils average a full grade above reasonable expectations will not be inspected by Ofsted in the following year. This is the first time that the accountability regime has offered schools a carrot, as well as a stick.

Schools have planned their current curriculum for years 10 and 11 on the basis of the existing accountability system. For that reason the new system will begin in 2016, that is, for students currently in year 9.

We will, however, allow schools to opt in to the new system from 2015.

Publishing more information about schools

The government response to the consultation also describes how we will publish the information we hold about secondary schools through a new data portal. This builds on our existing performance tables, and will allow all interested groups - governors, parents, academics and civil society more widely - to analyse many aspects of school performance.

Our full response to the consultation is available on the Department for Education’s website, and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.


Mr Speaker, we are removing perverse incentives for schools to act in a way which is not in the best interests of pupils. More pupils will get the teaching they require and will obtain the valuable qualifications they need.

These proposals will have a major and positive effect on our education system. We hope they will secure support from across the political spectrum.

Published 14 October 2013