Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Primary assessment for non-primary people: a very quick guide

The DfE collects a bewildering array of data from primary schools. This quick guide to statutory assessment is here to help.

Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP)
This assessment takes place at the end of the reception year when pupils are 5 years old. It 
comprises 17 early learning goals (ELGs) against which pupils are assessed as emerging, expected, or exceeding. If pupils meet the expected level of development in the 12 prime and specific ELGs then they are deemed to have reached a ‘good level of development’ (GLD). The percentage reaching GLD is the key performance measure, which is shown in the Ofsted Inspection dashboard but is not in the publicly available performance tables.

Phonics Screening Check (PSC)
Carried out at the end of Year 1, pupils attempt to decode 40 words, half of which are real and the other half made-up. Pupils managing to decode 32 or more out of 40 have achieved the expected standard, and the percentage doing so is another key measure. As for EYFSP, school results are presented in the Inspection dashboard but are not available in the public domain.

Key Stage 1 (KS1)
At the end of year 2 pupils receive a teacher assessment in reading, writing, maths, and science. In science pupils are simply deemed to have met or not met expected standards (EXS or HNM). In other subjects the majority of pupils are assessed as either working towards (WTS), working at the expected standard (EXS) or working at greater depth (GDS). Pre-key stage assessment frameworks are available for those pupils that are working below the standard of the curriculum. Pupils take tests to inform the overall teacher assessment in reading and maths; there are no tests for writing and science. A grammar, punctuation and spelling test is provided but it is non-statutory and no data is collected. The DfE collect pupils’ overall teacher assessment in each subject – they do not collect the test scores – and the percentage achieving expected standards and greater depth in reading, writing and maths are the key measures. Pupils’ KS1 results also act as the baseline for primary school progress measures but this may change in future if the DfE implement a baseline at the start of reception. A school’s KS1 results are shown in the inspection dashboard but are not available in the public domain. 

Key Stage 2 (KS2)
At the end of Year 6, pupils sit tests in reading, maths, and grammar, punctuation and spelling. 
Achieving a score of 100 or more indicates that the pupil has met the expected standard and a score of 110 is deemed to be a high score. There are no tests for writing and science so pupils receive a teacher assessment based on the KS2 teacher assessment frameworks*, and these mirror the format of KS1 with a binary result for science (HNM or EXS), and more differentiated outcomes in writing (WTS, EXS, GDS). Pre-key stage frameworks are used to assess pupils working below the curriculum standard, with more pre-key stage categories than at KS1. The DfE collect test scores and teacher assessments but headline measures are mainly based on scaled scores in reading and maths, and teacher assessment in writing.  Headline measures include:
  • % achieving expected standards in reading, writing and maths combined (1 measure)
  • % achieving high standards in reading and maths, and greater depth in writing (1 measure)
  • Average scores in reading and maths (2 separate measures)
  • Average progress in reading, writing and maths (3 separate measures)
There are floor standards linked to these results with an attainment floor set at 65% achieving expected standards in reading, writing and maths combined, and progress floor thresholds that change each year. Schools' results are available in the public domain as well as in the inspection dashboard.

Note that only reading and maths scores are used for Progress 8 baselines.

*Teachers also make an assessment of reading and maths. This data is collected but is not used in headline measures.

Performance tables:
DfE Statistics:
Key guidance:

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Data Burden

In implementing a new approach to assessment and tracking we must first weigh up our desire for data against any impact on workload. Sometimes those seemingly minor tweaks can produce a butterfly effect, placing huge demands on teachers' time that are most likely disproportionate to any benefit gained from the data. Before embarking on a new assessment journey always start by asking: who is this data for? what impact will it have on learning?

Many schools have implemented systems with a small number of key learning objectives in each subject, encouraging teachers to have the confidence to make judgements on pupils' competence within a broad framework. Some schools however have broken these key objectives down into many smaller steps - perhaps to enable progress to be measured over shorter periods - and this is having an adverse impact both on teacher workload and possibly on learning itself as we seek to assess and record everything a pupil does. This may be done to improve accuracy but such micromanagement of assessment is undermining professional judgement and is unnecessary, demoralising and counterproductive. There is a great irony in procedures put in place supposedly for the purposes of school improvement that actually take teachers' time away from teaching. It is hardly surprising that some headteachers are experiencing a backlash. An anti-tracking rebellion is underway in many schools.

I recently visited a school to help them set up tracking for the reception year. Initially the school wanted to track against development matters statements in each of the areas of the early years foundation stage profile, making an assessment every half term. After discussion, they decided that they would just focus on reading, writing and maths. I took a look at the list of statements - there were around 60 for each subject across the various month bands. I got out my calculator:

60 statements

3 subjects

6 terms

45 pupils

That comes to 48,600 assessments that the Early Years teacher would have to make across the course of year.

Let's say each assessment takes 5 seconds to enter onto the system. This works out as 9 days per year for one teacher.

Perhaps the teacher wouldn't have to update each assessment each term but you take the point. It's a potentially huge burden. Thankfully the headteacher and deputy went a bit pale and decided to go back to the drawing board. Their tracking system now requires the teacher to record an assessment against each of the 17 areas of the foundation stage three times per year. Somewhat more manageable and the early years teacher was certainly happier. They can spend more time doing more important stuff, like teaching.

But yesterday I had a lengthy twitter chat with the rather awesome @misterunwin. In his school they do no objective level tracking at all in their system. No box ticking, no rag rating statements, no assessment by numbers. Teachers make an overall judgement of where each pupil is at each half term and this produces all the data the school needs for analysis and reporting purposes. Teachers therefore spend very little time on data entry, freeing them up to do the stuff that has real impact: planning lessons and teaching children. Detailed pupil progress reviews are used to reveal gaps, inform next steps and identify where further support is needed. Staff are very happy with this arrangement, and improved staff morale will obviously benefit the school in many ways.

I have always tried to encourage schools to keep lists of objectives to an absolute minimum; to strike that balance between impact on learning and impact on workload. However, I completely understand why schools will want to reject any approach to tracking that takes teachers' time away from teaching, which is why some schools are choosing not to track in this way at all. I doubt that we are about to see schools ditching tracking systems en masse - I'm certainly not advocating that, by the way - but we do need to be mindful of the how these approaches can eat into teachers' precious time and the adverse impact this can have.

Start by getting your calculator out.

The beginning of the end

The DfE's primary assessment consultation, which closes on the 22nd June, focuses on a number of aspects of statutory assessment but it really centres on the baseline, the point from which pupils' progress to the end of KS2 will be measured. The DfE's preferred option is to set the baseline at the beginning of the reception year, and this has been supported by the likes of the NAHT (with caveats), the Headteachers Roundtable, as well as numerous headteachers and senior leaders that I've spoken to over the past year or so. I do, however, recognise that this is a contentious and emotive subject with many in the profession being understandably concerned and opposed to the idea of assessing children at such a young age. Is it possible to assess 4 year olds with any degree of accuracy? What about the pupils' month of birth, which can make such a big difference at that age? And can assessment be disruptive and stressful for children if they are not fully settled in to school life?

These are valid concerns but most primary schools already assess children on entry into reception so this is not new. No doubt the primary reason for carrying out such assessments is to support children in their learning but all too often schools are seeking to establish a baseline from which to measure progress. Pupils are therefore shoehorned into various bands with associated point scores in order to count steps of learning, or plotted onto RAISE-style progress matrices, which show them moving from one band to another. Those that progress, for example, from the 30-50 low band on entry to meet expected standards at KS1 are deemed to have made 'above expected progress', and are colour coded green or purple for good measure. Simple stuff that usually satisfies the demands of governors, the LA advisor and even an Ofsted Inspector.

The problem is that this data is fairly meaningless. On-entry assessments, carried out for the purpose of teaching and learning, are being commandeered for progress measures in order to respond to the increasing pressures of accountability. Such conflicting aims result in perverse incentives, which inevitably skew the data.  It is therefore no surprise that most pupils, according to schools' own data, are below average on entry and appear to make good progress across key stage 1. The reality, if the data remained true to its intended purpose, may look somewhat different and would probably be more informative, too.

The other issue is that many of these assessment practices are immensely time consuming, and it is often in the reception year that tracking is at its most excessive. Teachers dutifully tick off numerous development matters statements, in order to 'level' a child and supposedly measure their progress, despite this being contrary to the purpose of the assessment. It is, in short, a colossal waste of time. Would it not, therefore, be preferable to have a dedicated and universal, standardised baseline assessment, which would afford more robust comparisons of pupils, cohorts and schools, instil greater confidence in progress measures, and free other forms of assessment from the damaging influence of perverse incentives?

However, this is clearly an unpopular opinion. Someone recently suggested I was confusing assessment with accountability, of losing sight of, or perhaps never really understanding, the true purpose of assessment. As a data analyst I admit I am more focussed on accountability and performance measures - that's my job - but I do understand that the main purpose of assessment is to help children learn, to identify gaps and barriers, and inform next steps; and that these principles are put at risk by accountability. However, doesn't accountability in education require some form of assessment? Aren't they inextricably linked? Or am I being naïve or narrow minded? Perhaps this is more about confusion over the purpose of assessment: formative or summative, low or high stakes, for teaching and learning or monitoring school standards. Can assessment be all these things without getting wrenched apart in a tug-of-war between opposing forces? It would appear not. We only have to look at how the Foundation Stage Profile is being put at risk as pupils' development in specific early learning goals is being used to establish prior attainment groups for key stage 1 measures in the Inspection dashboard. And concerns about the validity of key stage 1 assessment, used as a baseline for key stage 2 progress measures, are nothing new.

A baseline therefore, whether taken in the reception year or at the end of key stage 1, is most robust if it has a single purpose: to act as a start point for future progress measures. There may be some formative by-product but that's not the main reason for carrying it out. Perhaps the reason why one particular assessment - one rooted in the principles of the foundation stage profile - became so dominant the first time round, was because we lost site of the main purpose of the assessment, or never truly understood it in the first place. Either that or it was a protest vote from a profession concerned about yet another accountability measure. But let's face it, the purpose was never very well explained; that the baseline was required to produce a standardised score, which would be used to construct prior attainment groups for a future VA measure. Pupils scores at key stage 2 would then be compared against the average score of pupils nationally with the same baseline score. That's pretty much it.

Accountability measures are not going anywhere soon, so we have to consider whether we want an accountability system based on attainment or progress. Most would probably go for the latter and so we need to work out how this is best achieved. It makes sense to measure progress from the earliest point possible but this doesn't necessarily have to be the beginning of reception year. It could be from the end of reception year, which would mean modifying the EYFSP, or from a separate assessment at the beginning of year 1. Whatever happens, it is obviously fairer to judge school performance on the basis of the progress pupils make and we need to recognise that the current process of measuring progress from key stage 1 to 2 is flawed, inaccurate and not fit for purpose. Future measures need to be far more robust, more standardised, and take account of as much of pupils' journey through school as possible.

Either that or scrap the entire system and start again.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

This is a low

I often use a race analogy to explain value added, to help people understand how we can measure progress without levels and why we don't need to have data in the same format at either end. Here's a simple example:

Imagine you enter a 10k race, which is part of a series of 10k races being held across the country on the same day. When you register you are asked what pace group you’d like to run in: slow, medium, fast. A keen runner, you choose to go in the fast group and you're handed a green vest to wear. Obviously, the medium pace runners get orange vests, and the slower group wear red (everyone loves a RAG rating system). You feel good that day, having trained hard, and run your race in 41 minutes. You’re thrilled because you’ve run a PB and you’re 10 minutes faster than the average time for your race that day. Even better, you find out you are 12 minutes faster than the national average time for the whole series. Unfortunately that’s not what the race organisers are interested in; they’re interested in how your time compares against the national average time for the green vest group, which happens to be 37 minutes. Despite being way faster than the overall average time, you are 4 minutes down on the average time for your group. Your value added score is therefore -4.

This is how VA works: it involves comparing one result against the average result of those in the same start group nationally. Here we have a start defined by a colour and a result in a time format; for KS1-2 measures we currently have a start defined by a sub level and a result in scaled score format. Same thing. 

Whilst I much prefer value added to the old levels of progress measure - it's rooted in some form of reality after all - it does have one serious flaw: SEN and EAL pupils are often expected to cross the same line in the same time. 

The issue is that many EAL and SEN pupils have comparably low start points, and are therefore placed into the same prior attainment groups, effectively treating them as similar pupils. And this means they will be compared against the same benchmarks at KS2. As we know, many EAL pupils make rapid progress and score well in their KS2 tests, whereas SEN pupils do less well. The end of KS2 estimates against which each pupil in the prior attainment group is compared, being an average of the performance of SEN and EAL pupils, tend to be too high for the former and easily attainable for the latter. The issue is exacerbated by the current system of low nominal scores assigned to the pre-key stage assessments, which almost guarantees that SEN pupils can only obtain negative progress scores whilst EAL pupils excel against their benchmarks.

We can return to our race analogy to illustrate this issue further. Imagine our pace groups are defined by how many steps runners could take when they were 18 months old. The runners wearing red vests were those that couldn't walk at that age. But perhaps some of those have gone on to be fast runners whilst others have continued to have difficulty walking. On race day they are in the same group, in the same vest, and each of their times will be compared against the overall average time for group. Hardly fair.

This issue needs resolving somehow. Introducing some form of CVA is an obvious answer - a measure that recognises the difference between SEN and EAL pupils - but is likely to lead to a proliferation of SEN pupils and a corresponding decline in those registered as EAL. Removal of pre-key stage pupils from progress measures is also a possibility but that may result in a big increase in pre-key stage pupils as schools seek to get certain pupils discounted. 

I'm not sure what the answer is but it needs serious thought because as it stands, schools are hammered if they have SEN pupils, especially if they are pre-key stage. 

The DfE stated that they wanted measures to reflect the progress made by all pupils.

Time to make good on that. 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Pupils included and not included in KS2 measures

The issue of who is and who isn't included in KS2 measures is still causing major headaches for many, which is understandable because it's a bloody minefield. As we have just got through SATS week, and no doubt many senior leaders are now turning their attention to those not so distant reports, I thought I'd attempt to provide some clarity. There is, of course, a chance I've got some of this wrong, but it's worth a try.


Attainment can be broken down into two main measures: 1) threshold measures (% attaining expected and high standards) and 2) average scaled scores.

1) Pupils included in and excluded from threshold measures

All pupils are included in this measure initially. Pupils can be discounted if they are recent arrivals from overseas, are EAL and from a non-English speaking country. Such pupils are identified during the checking exercise in September, using the results list sent via NCA Tools. Consequently, due to timing, discounted pupils are included in unvalidated data but are removed from later, validated data releases including the performance tables. All other pupils are included in the measure including pupils that were absent, below standard of tests, or disapplied. Pupils that achieve 100+ (or who have a TA of EXS in writing) are deemed to have met the expected standard; those that achieve a score of 110+ (or have a TA of GDS in writing) are deemed to have met the high standard. They are the only pupils in the numerator. All other pupils are in the denominator with exception of any discounted pupils. Again, discounting does not take effect until validated data release. 

2) average scaled scores

Only pupils with a scaled score of 80+ are included in this measure. Nominal scores assigned to pre-key stage assessments (70-79) are only used in the progress measure. Nominal scores are not used in average scaled score calculation. 


This is the real minefield and I created the following diagram to help navigate it:

Essentially to be included in the progress measure a pupil needs a start point (KS1 result) and an end point (KS2 score). The score can be a scaled score from a test or a nominal score assigned to a pre-key stage assessment or teacher assessment in the case of writing.

Scaled scores range from 80 to 120. 

Writing scores as follows:
WTS = 90
EXS = 103
GDS = 113
(Note: these may change this year)

Nominal scores are as follows:
BLW = 70
PKF = 73
PKE = 76
PKG = 79
(Note: these may also change this year)

So, if a pupil has a) a KS1 start point, and b) and KS2 score as detailed above, they will be included in progress measures.

Those that are excluded from progress measures (and this is where it gets complicated and may well change this year) are as follows:

No KS1 result
pupils without a start point are not included. They are not assigned a nominal baseline. 

Absent (A code)
Pupils that are absent from tests are excluded from progress measures even if they also have a pre-key stage assessment

Disapplied (D code)
Pupils that are disapplied are also excluded from progress measures. This is a commonly misunderstood term, confused with 'below standard of test'. It actually should only be used in cases where a pupil has been disapplied from the national curriculum and it is therefore not possible to make a teacher assessment. A disapplied pupils cannot therefore have a pre-key stage assessment. I have seen numerous examples of pupils coded as D, that actually should have had a B code and accompanying PKS assessment. Disapplied should be a rare occurrence in mainstream settings. 

No scale score awarded and has HNM or EXS teacher assessment
These are the progress loophole pupils. They sat the test but failed to achieve enough marks to get the lowest scale score of 80. There were around 350 in maths last year but around 3500 in reading. Because HNM and EXS do not have an associated nominal score, if a pupil with one of those teacher assessments fails to achieve a scale score, then they end up with no score at all, and no score means they cannot be included in progress measures. The STA have stated that they intend to close the loophole this year, which probably means assigning a nominal score to HNM and EXS for such instances. We don't know what the nominal score would be but it seems logical to assume it would be capped at 79. 

Missing result (M code) 
If the result is missing, the pupil is excluded from progress measures.

Unable to access test (T or U code)
Again, pupils with these codes are excluded from progress measures.

Think that's pretty much evevrything.

Hope it's useful. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Defence against peverse incentives

I recently attended the JUSCO (junior school collaboration) conference in Birmingham organised by Chris McDonald (@chrismcd53). It was a great day packed with interesting talks and heated debate; and if you had to use one word to sum up the feelings in the room it would have to be 'frustration'. This feeling was perhaps best encapsulated in Dr Rebecca Allen's talk (@drbeckyallen) in which she showed the stark contrast in progress measures between all through primary schools and junior schools and postulated that "either there is stuff that's going on in your schools that really isn't as helpful as it could be [...] or there's something that's gone wrong with the way the government is measuring school performance". Becky then went on to show the contrast in inspection outcomes between infant and junior schools where the former are 2.8 times more likely to be judged outstanding than the latter, and perhaps unsurprisingly there is a far greater prevalence of RI and inadequate judgements amongst junior schools than amongst infant schools. Inevitably much of discussion that followed concentrated on the direct impact of over inflation of KS1 results by Infant schools, but an arguably bigger impact results from depression of KS1 results by primary schools, where perverse incentives exists to try to make results as low as possible. Junior schools, with no control over their pupils' start points, end up unfairly compared to a national baseline that is engineered to maximise progress. In an attempt to illustrate the issue I created the following diagram. I call it the swirling vortex of despair.

It shows how junior school pupils are at a huge disadvantage in the progress race because the school does not have control over the baseline, and how pupils that make good progress in reality end up with negative scores when compared against supposedly similar pupils nationally. It's like entering a fun run only to discover that the other competitors are elite athletes in disguise.

But this is not all about junior schools. The current system of measuring progress from KS1 to KS2 is hugely flawed and it is deeply concerning that such high stakes are linked to such bad data. The combination of ill-defined, crudely scored, best-fit sublevels at one end and a mix of test results and weird, clunky nominal scores at the other hardly makes for an accurate measure of progress. Add in those perverse incentives to keep the baseline as low as possible whilst inflating KS2 writing teacher assessments and finding ways to exclude less able pupils from measures and we have a mess of system that favours the most creative (or the least honest). And it's set to get worse in 2020 when the current year 3 with their new format KS1 results get to the end of KS2. The decision not to collect KS1 tests scores seems a missed opportunity when we consider what we will probably end up with. Instead of a refined series of start points based on scaled scores, we will have a handful of prior attainment groups, each containing tens of thousands of pupils, all of whom will have the same KS2 benchmarks. An avoidable disaster waiting to happen.

And so we need a better baseline and this is the hot topic in the recently launched consultation on the future of primary assessment. Most seem to favour a baseline taken early in the  reception year and this is most likely the direction of travel. After all, surely it makes sense to measure progress from when pupils start primary school rather than from a point 3/7ths of the way through. Whatever the start point, any future baseline assessment needs to be principled, robust, and should be refined enough to provide a suitable number of prior attainment groups. Unfortunately, and inevitably, those perverse incentives to ensure a low start point will still exist so how do we avoid them?

Continue with the current arrangement of moderating a sample of schools each year. I would argue that this has not proved to be particularly effective. If it had been then we wouldn't have all these issues and I wouldn't be writing this blog post. It's probably time to consider other options. Alternatively moderation could be carried out after submission of data, which might help ensure schools err more on the side of caution. More likely though it would just create resentment. 

School-to-school support
This could take a number of forms: schools moderating each other's baseline assessments (this already happens a lot anyway), teachers from a neighbouring school invigilating the assessment in the classroom (think national lottery independent adjudicator with a clipboard), or actively administering the assessment. I'm not sure how popular the latter would be either with staff or with children.

Use of technology
If pupils were to do the assessment via an iPad app there are benefits in terms of instant data collection and feedback, which is useful for the user. Plus - and here's the sinister bit - algorithms can spot unusual patterns (think betting apps), which can help discourage gaming. However, there are no doubt access issues for some pupils and what if they struggle to complete tasks at the first attempt? Do they get another go? Plus it means the purchase of a lot of iPads. I recall that one of the six providers of the last attempt at a baseline assessment had such a solution and evidently it wasn't particularly popular - it didn't make it to the final 3 - but that doesn't mean it's not worth another look.

Random checks
This would probably only work if the assessment was carried out in all schools on the same day. I'm assuming this won't happen. It is more likely that assessment will be carried out over a number of days, which would mean schools submitting the dates of assessment in advance like an athlete declaring their whereabouts. Also, who would carry out random checks? This is probably a non-starter. It would be massively unpopular.

Data analysis
Unlike levels, which were broad, vague and non-standardised, and therefore lacked an accurate reference point (yes, 2B was the 'expected' outcome but no one could really decide what a 2b was), a standardised assessment based on sample testing will provide a more reliable measure. Schools or areas with consistently low baseline scores, where all or nearly all pupils are below average, may warrant further investigation.

I understand that all of this sounds rather big brother but the alternative is we carry on as we are with unreliable progress measures against which critical judgements of school performance are made. If we are going to have progress measures - and who wants to have their performance based on attainment alone - then it absolutely has to be based on credible data. That means having an awkward conversation about gaming arising from perverse incentives and what steps can be taken to avoid it, because the current situation of high stakes performance measures, floor standards and coasting thresholds based on utterly unreliable data is unsustainable.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Stuck in the middle with you (the problem with prior attainment bands)

This has actually been a good month in the fight against data nonsense. First, we are hearing news from STA briefings that they are aware of the progress loophole of despair and intend to do something about it. What exactly they'll do is anyone's guess but i'm assuming a nominal score for HNM in cases where pupils fail to score on tests. Whether they'll actually address the main issue of the unfairness of nominal scores for pre-key stage pupils (don't you just love those whopping negatives scores for SEND pupils?) remains to be seen. But at least there is some movement there. Next we have the Ofsted march update, which informs us that inspectors will no longer be asking for predicted results ("it's a mugs game" - Sean Harford). It also hammers home the point that there is no such thing as expected progress. And finally, relating to the above point about nominal scores, it urges caution when interpreting progress data; that inspectors must consider the effect of outliers and specifically mentions the issue of negative scores for pre-key stage pupils. This is all good stuff.

So, with good progress being made on these issues (pun intended) I thought I'd turn my attention to something else that winds me up: prior attainment bands. Not so much their existence but the varied and inconsistent ways in which they are defined. With RAISE on the way out, this is an opportunity to get things right next year. Well, we have to try.

Prior attainment bands - I'm talking about low, middle, high bands here; not the numerous prior attainment groups used to calculate VA - fall into two broad types: those based on average point scores at the previous key stage, and those based on prior attainment in the specific subject. VA uses APS whereas the old RAISE progress matrices were based on the prior level in the specific subject. Right now we have 3 main sources of school performance data (RAISE, Ofsted dashboard, and FFT) and we have 3 different definitions of low, middle, high prior attainment. 

Ofsted Insepction dashboard

Things get confusing right away. Here we have two different definitions on the same page. For progress (the top half of the page), low, middle and high bands are based on KS1 APS, whilst for attainment they are based on pupils KS1 level in the specific subject. This means we have different numbers in, for example, the low group for progress than we do in the low group for attainment.

To clarify, the progress PA bands, based on KS1 APS are calculated as follows (and remember that maths is double weighted at KS1 so the fomula is (R+W+M+M)/4):

Low: KS1 APS <12
Middle: KS1 APS 12-17.99
High: KS1 APS 18+

Note that pupils who were 2c in reading, writing and maths at KS1 will have an APS of 13 and will therefore be in the middle band alongside pupils that were 2A across the board (APS 17). Furthermore, a solid 2b pupil (APS 15) will obviously fit in the middle band as will a pupil that was L1, L1, L3 in reading, writing and maths at KS1 (also APS 15). 

Meanwhile, below in the attainment section we have the other low, middle, high definition based on the pupil's level in the specific subject at KS1. Here, a pupil that was L3 in reading and maths, and L2a in writing will appear in the middle band for writing attainment measures due to their L2 in writing, but will appear in the high progress band due to their high KS1 APS of 20. Bizarrely, a pupil that is L1 in reading maths and 2c in writing will also appear in the middle band for writing attainment due to their L2 in writing, whereas for progress they will fit into the low band due to their low KS1 APS of 10. This is why it's so important for schools to know who is in those bands. If you have bright red boxes around your attainment meaures (gaps equating to 2 or more pupils) this may be difficult to explain if all your pupils were 2A, but if they were 2c and L1 in other subsets, then it's somewhat more justifiable.

Oh, and for KS1 of course, prior attainment is based on the pupil's development in the specific early learning goal. One early learning goal out of 17 used to band pupils by. That can't be right surely? Nice to see this get a mention in Ofsted's march update, too. 

And whilst we're on the subject of banding pupils for attainment measures, once we introduce an element of prior attainment, doesn't it cease to be about attainment and become a sort of pseudo progress measure anyway? Surely that's just like the old progress matrices, isn't it?


Now things get even more odd. In RAISE, they take the same approach as the dashboard when it comes to progress with low, middle, high bands based on KS1 APS (see above). This means your progress data in RAISE looks the same as the progress data in the dashboard (just presented in a more incomprehensible format). However, when it comes to attainment, instead of adopting the subject specific method used in the dashboard, they stick with the progress approach based on KS1 APS. RAISE therefore presents attainment and progress in a consistent way with the same numbers of low, middle, high pupils in both parts, but this has caused a lot of confusion because the data differs between the two reports. 

Elsewhere in the report we do have subject specific banding (based on pupil's level in that subject at KS1) and to really ramp up the confusion we have results in, say maths, presented for pupils that were low in reading or high in writing and KS1. I'm yet to meet an headteacher or senior leader who gets the point of this. I'm not entirely sure I do either.

And finally we come to FFT. They also split pupils into low, middle, and high bands based on prior attainment but have come up with a third way. Like the Ofsted dashboard approach (well the progress one anyway) this starts with KS1 APS, calculated in the same way as the DfE, but then they do something different: they rank all pupils nationally by KS1 APS (600,000 of them) and split the pile into thirds. Those in the lower third are the lower attainers, those in the middle third are the middle attainers, and (yes, you've guessed it) those in the upper third are the higher attainers. It's actually not quite thirds because if the 33rd percentile is smack bang in a stack of hundreds of pupils with the same APS, then they have to adjust up or down a bit I assume. This is why we don't get 33% in each band nationally.

I rather like this approach because it means the 2c pupils end up in the low group and the 2A pupils move into the high group. In fact you even find pupils with the odd 2b lurking in the lower group. You will certainly have more lower attainers in an FFT report than you do in the Ofsted dashboard and RAISE, and you tend to see fewer middle attainers and a few more higher attainers too. Pupils just get distributed across the bands a bit more and this tends to make sense to teachers (once they have got over their exasperation of having to get their heads round another methodology). 

One of the things that springs to mind is that term 'most able'? Most able based on whose definition? The school's? The DfE's APS approach? Or perhaps their subject specific approach? And what about FFT's too third nationally? Anyone have the answer?

This fragmented, confused and confusing approach can't continue, and with the end of RAISE we have an opportunity to come up with a straightforward and logical approach to establishing these prior attainment bands. I prefer FFT's approach but whatever we end up with, could we have some consistency please? At least not have contrasting methods on the first page of key report.

And we haven't even touched on current Y3. Anyone know the average of EXS+WTS+GDS+GDS? 

Over to you, people in charge of such things.