This post compiles some of the most recent and telling statistics about the state of high attainment in England.
It includes a brief summary of the policy position as it stands ahead of the government’s response to the selection green paper.
Finally it outlines a ten point improvement plan which does not involve building new grammar schools or otherwise increasing the number of selective places.
The sections below deal respectively with: outcomes of the latest international comparisons studies; the most recent KS2, KS4 and KS5 performance data; the state of play on KS5 destinations and HE fair access; and recent evidence of the quality of provision in schools.
Much of this data quantifies conspicuous excellence gaps, between the achievement of disadvantaged high attainers and their peers.
International comparisons studies
My last educational posts, published in the first half of December 2016, were devoted to analysis of England’s performance in the latest round of international comparisons studies.
They include comparison of England’s performance against the best-performing European jurisdictions, given that broader government improvement targets have sometimes been expressed that way. For further background see TIMSS PISA PIRLS: Morgan’s targets scrutinised (May 2016).
‘Troubling TIMSS trends’ (4 December) found that:
- Since the last TIMSS cycle in 2011, England’s performance against the advanced benchmark has fallen by one percentage point in both Year 5 maths and Year 5 science, is unchanged in Year 9 science and has improved by two percentage points in Year 9 maths.
- The domestic trend since 2003 is broadly positive in Y5 and Y9 maths but broadly negative in Y5 science and, to a lesser extent, in Y9 science, as illustrated by chart 1 below.
Chart 1: Percentage of English learners achieving the advanced benchmark in each assessment, TIMSS 2003 to 2015
- Since 2011 England has gained one percentage point on the best European performer in Y9 maths, lost one percentage point in Y5 science, lost three percentage points in Y9 science and lost four percentage points in Y5 maths.
- In 2003 England matched the best in Europe on three of the four assessments. Now it is three percentage points behind in Y9 science, five points behind in Y9 maths and 10 points behind in Y5 maths and science.
- 2015 excellence gaps between FSM and non-FSM performance against the advanced benchmark are 11 percentage points in Y5 maths, eight percentage points in Y9 science and six percentage points in Y9 maths and Y5 science.
- FSM-eligible learners are least successful in Y9 maths and the ratio between non-FSM and FSM success rates reaches 4:1 in that assessment compared with 3:1 in the others.
‘PISA 2015: England’s results investigated’ (11December) found that:
- Since the last PISA cycle in 2012, performance at proficiency level 5 and above has fallen by 0.9 percentage points in maths, is unchanged in science and has improved by 0.8 percentage points in reading.
- In maths performance at proficiency level 5 and above is almost identical to where it was in PISA 2006, though it has fluctuated betweentimes. Equivalent performance in science is 2.3 percentage points lower than in 2006 but has changed hardly at all since the 2009 cycle. In reading performance has improved steadily since a dip in 2009 and now stands 0.7 percentage points higher than in 2006. This is illustrated by chart 2, below.
Chart 2: Percentage of English learners achieving proficiency level 5 and above in maths, science and reading, PISA 2006 to 2015
- Since 2012 England has closed 4.4 percentage points on the best in Europe in maths at proficiency levels 5 and above. It has closed 2.8 percentage points in science and by 0.6 percentage points in reading.
- England has been making steady progress in closing gaps between it and the best European performers at these higher proficiency levels since 2006. But this has been achieved by maintaining its own performance or, at best, achieving only modest improvement while success rates among the best performers have fallen back.
- In 2015 there is an excellence gap of eight percentage points at the higher proficiency levels in science.
While these results are not entirely consistent, the overall picture across both studies is one of marginal adjustment. As my last post observed:
‘Any bettering of England’s comparative position cannot be attributed to resounding domestic success. The best that can be said is that more severe backsliding has been avoided.’
To the extent that international comparisons scores can be correlated with the cumulative impact of educational reform in the five years immediately preceding the 2015 assessments, there is no evidence of significant improvement in the comparative performance of England’s high attainers.
Revised KS2 attainment data was published in SFR62/16 on 15 December 2016, alongside the 2016 primary performance tables. This updated the provisional data released last September, supplying additional breakdowns by pupil characteristics.
I reviewed the provisional data in Only 5% of primary pupils achieve at a higher standard (September 2016) while The perennial problem of primary high attainers (November 2016) added analysis of the 2016 national KS1-2 transition matrices published at the end of October.
Key findings in relation to KS2 high attainment, updated to reflect SFR62/16 and the primary performance tables:
- While 53.5% of pupils (including those in independent schools) achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, only one in ten of those (32,057 pupils – 5.4% of the cohort) achieved the higher standard. This required a scaled score of at least 110 in the reading and maths tests and teacher assessment that the learner was ‘working at a greater depth’ in writing.
- In other words, roughly one in every 20 pupils is performing consistently in the top quartile of the attainment scale. There is substantial gender disparity, with 56.4% of those achieving the higher standard being girls and only 43.6% boys.
- The underlying data reveals that 1,434 FSM pupils – 1.6% of all FSM entrants – and 30,136 non-FSM pupils – 6.1% of all non-FSM entrants – achieved the overall higher standard. Only 4.5% of all those achieving the higher standard were FSM-eligible. The gender disparity was even more pronounced. Of the successful FSM pupils, 593 (41.4%) were boys and 841 (58.6%) were girls.
- The underlying data also shows that 3,662 disadvantaged pupils – 2.0% of all disadvantaged entrants – and 27,908 non-disadvantaged pupils – 7.0% of all non-disadvantaged entrants – achieved the overall higher standard. So only 11.6% of all those achieving the higher standard were disadvantaged. Of those who were successful, 1,540 (42.1%) were boys and 2,122 (57.9%) were girls.
- The SFR notes that 29% of primary schools had no pupils at all who achieved the higher standard. The performance tables also show that 11.2% of state-funded primary schools had no high prior attainers who achieved this standard, and 41% of state-funded primaries had no disadvantaged learners achieving it.
- As for the individual assessments, there were FSM excellence gaps – between the percentage of FSM-eligible pupils and the percentage of all other pupils achieving a higher standard (or WAGD in writing) – of 12.1 percentage points in reading, 10.7 points in maths and 9.3 points in writing.
- The equivalent disadvantaged excellence gaps were 13.2 percentage points in reading, 11.4 points in maths and 9.6 points in writing. Both sets of excellence gaps are illustrated in Chart 3, below.
Chart 3: KS2 FSM excellence gaps and disadvantaged excellence gaps at higher level/WAGD in reading, maths and writing, 2016
- Amongst those pupils achieving at the 90th percentile in reading and maths combined, 7,399 were disadvantaged and 50,316 were non-disadvantaged, a ratio of almost 7:1 in favour of the latter.
- The 2016 transition matrices show that the proportion of learners in the highest prior attainment groups (all those with an APS of 21.0 or higher) going on to achieve only at the expected standard stands at almost 35% in reading, 40% in maths and 42% in writing.
These are very disappointing outcomes, even allowing for the disruptive effect and teething troubles associated with the introduction of a new assessment regime.
They give the lie to Ofsted’s view that, compared with the secondary sector, primary provision is relatively strong. The only silver lining is that the baseline is so low that substantive rapid improvement should be relatively straightforward to achieve.
Revised KS4 performance data was published on 19 January 2017 in SFR03/2017, alongside the secondary performance tables.
This analysis is limited for the simple reason that, unlike KS2 and KS5, there is no proper high attainment benchmark at KS4. ‘Passing’ the EBacc with C grades or above is no real substitute. This is a major inconsistency within the accountability regime.
It would not be hard to establish an Attainment 8 benchmark, pitched for the sake of argument at 70 (GCSE grade A average), to be adjusted upwards in line with changes to the tariff as grades 1-9 are introduced.
Some snippets of data are available:
- The revised school guides give estimated 2016 Attainment 8 outcomes for KS2 prior attainment by fine level. A KS2 fine level of 5.1 correlates with an Attainment 8 outcome of 59.92 points, a fine level of 5.5 equates with an A8 outcome of 68.81 points, 5.6 with 71.48 points, 5.7 with 73.85 points and 5.8 with 76.06 points. Yet the performance tables show that 14.1% of state-funded secondary institutions returned an average Attainment 8 score below 60 for their ‘KS2 high achievers’ and 38% also returned a Progress 8 score below zero for this cohort.
- The Social Mobility Commission’s 2016 State of the Nation Report uses a ‘5+ GCSEs at A*/A with at least grade C in English and maths’ measure, finding that 5% of FSM students and 17.5% non-FSM students achieve this. Large regional variation is highlighted, with the FSM success rate varying between 9.6% (London) and only 2.8% (East Midlands).
- A report by Cambridge Assessment on A*/A grade GCSE achievement in 2015 reveals that 0.48% of all candidates achieved 10 or more A* grades and 4.09% achieved 10 or more A*/A grades. Additionally, 4.89% achieved five or more A*grades and 18.54% achieved 5 or more A*/A grades. Substantially more girls than boys achieved these outcomes. At the extreme, the percentage achieving 10 or more A* grades was 0.63% for girls and 0.34% for boys.
- The same report provides data broken down by broad deprivation group (IDACI data was used to divide students into three equally-sized groups). The percentage of low deprivation students achieving 10 or more A* grades was 0.85% (1,458 candidates) whereas the comparable figure for high deprivation candidates was 0.19% (323 candidates). For 10 or more A*/A grades the equivalent figures were 6.7% low deprivation (11,456 candidates) and 2.01% high deprivation (3,430 candidates). For five or more A* grades they were low deprivation – 6.75% (11,544 candidates) high deprivation – 1.94% (3,320 candidates) and for five or more A*/A grades they were low deprivation – 24.78% (42,388 candidates) and high deprivation – 10.06% ( 17,208 candidates). This data is illustrated in Chart 4 below.
Chart 4: Percentage of high and low deprivation students (IDACI) achieving different GCSE outcomes in 2015
- The 2016 KS2-4 transition matrices reveal that, for KS2-KS4 English, only 44% of students with a L5a at KS2 achieved an A* grade at GCSE, while 39% achieved an A grade and the remaining 17% recorded B or below.
- Similarly, for KS2-KS4 maths, only 49% of those with KS2 L5a went on to secure an A* grade, while 32% secured an A grade and the remaining 19% achieved grade B or below.
- Transition matrices published in 2015 distinguish between the performance of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students. They demonstrate that disadvantaged high attainers are particularly susceptible to making insufficient progress. There is a gap of 17 percentage points between the proportions of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged learners with Level 5a in KS2 English achieving GCSE A* and an even more substantial 20 point gap in maths.
- In maths these gaps have remained stable at 19-21 percentage points since 2011, but in English they have increased from 12 percentage points in 2011 to double that rate in 2014.
Chart 5: Percentages of advantaged and disadvantaged students with KS2 L5a achieving GCSE A*, 2011-2014
- In 2016 the numbers of disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students achieving an average A grade or higher in both GCSE English and GCSE maths were 8,476 and 71,733 respectively, so more than eight times as many non-disadvantaged students were successful.
- The comparable numbers for an average A* grade were 976 and 13,592, so non-disadvantaged students were almost 14 time more successful than their disadvantaged counterparts. Both these ratios have improved compared with 2015, but the methodology has shifted from counting English language only to counting the highest score from English language and English literature.
KS5 achievement, destinations and fair access
KS5 performance data for 2016 was published alongside the performance tables in SFR05/2017, also on 19 January 2017. KS5 destinations data was published on the same day in SFR01/2017. In March 2017 an ad hoc statistical notice ‘A level attainment: Characteristics‘ was added.
There are clear high attainment benchmarks for A level at KS5, indeed there are three to choose from – 3+ A*/A grades, AAB grades or better and AAB grades or better with at least two in facilitating subjects – and progress scores are now available. Average point scores and average grades are also published.
But full outcomes for disadvantaged students will not be introduced until the next cycle, so other sources must be mined for that data.
Key points include:
- In 2016 in state-funded schools and colleges 10.5% of students entered for one or more A level (or applied A level) achieved three or more A*/A grades; 18.5% achieved AAB grades or better and 13.9% did so with at least two passes in facilitating subjects. Some 6.9% of all subject entries were awarded an A* grade and 15.9% were awarded an A grade.
- UCAS end of cycle data for 2016 provides further information about A level point scores (where A*=6, A =5 and so on). Among all UK-domiciled applicants (excluding Scotland) aged 18 and holding at least three A levels, some 21.5% recorded scores equivalent to AAA or higher. This falls to 19.7% for England only.
- Among all UK-domiciled applicants (excluding Scotland) aged 18 and holding at least three A levels, some 1,805 of those living in POLAR3 quintile 1 areas recorded scores equivalent to AAA grades or higher. (That is 1.04% of all applicants.) By comparison, some 17,275 (9.99% of all applicants) from POLAR3 quintile 5 areas did so.
- The response to this FoI request shows that, in 2015, 4.4% of formerly FSM-eligible students achieved 3+ A*/A grades at A level, compared with 9.6% of all other pupils. The corresponding figure for the ‘AAB with at least two facilitating subjects’ measure were 5.6% and 12.3% respectively.
- The March 2017 ad-hoc note includes data for those eligible for FSM three years prior to completing KS5. In 2016, 4.9% of matched FSM-eligible pupils achieved 3 A grades or better at A level, compared with 11.0% of those not FSM-eligible, giving an excellence gap of 6.1 percentage points. The underlying data (which does not agree fully with the headline in the note itself) shows that FSM gaps on this measure have varied between 6.4 percentage points and 7.6 percentage points in the period from 2011 to 2016. The equivalent pupil premium gap has varied between 6.6 and 7.5 percentage points since 2013, reaching its largest value in 2016. Both FSM and pupil premium success rates improved somewhat in 2016, but the corresponding success rates for non-FSM and non-pupil premium improved even more.
- According to the DfE destinations statistics (underlying data) the number of formerly FSM-eligible learners admitted to Oxford and Cambridge increased to 65 (rounded) in 2014/15, having been stuck on 50 (rounded) for three successive years. By comparison the number of formerly FSM students admitted to all Russell Group universities and to all high-tariff universities is increasing steadily, as shown in chart 6 below. In 2014/15 disadvantaged numbers (‘ever 6’ FSM and looked after children) were also reported for the first time, with 90 proceeding to Oxbridge. This is rather low by comparison with the FSM success rate.
Chart 6: Numbers of formerly FSM students progressing to Oxbridge, all Russell Group and all high-tariff universities, England, 2010/11 to 2014/15
- But the gaps between FSM and non-FSM admitted to Russell Group and higher-tariff institutions are substantively unchanged compared with 2013/14 as chart 6 shows. The high-tariff gap has fallen slightly, by one percentage point and the Russell Group gap remains at seven percentage points. The underlying data shows that the high-tariff gap has actually fallen from 8.89% to 8.40% (so just under half a percentage point) and that this is largely attributable to a 0.4 percentage point drop in the non-FSM total – FSM numbers increased by less than 0.1 of a percentage point.
Chart 7: Percentages of formerly FSM and non-FSM students progressing to Russell Group and all higher tariff universities, 2010/11 to 2014/15
- UCAS end of cycle data for 2016 provides more recent (and more troubling) information about access to higher-tariff institutions. It shows that the entry rate for English 18 year-old FSM students was 2.5% whereas for non-FSM students it was 9.51%, a gap of just over seven percentage points. In 2015 the corresponding gap was only 6.78 percentage points. Moreover, the gap between the entry rates from POLAR3 quintile 1 areas and quintile 5 locations increased by 0.3 percentage points and the gap between top and bottom quintiles on UCAS’s new multiple equality measure also increased by 0.1 percentage points. Although numbers of disadvantaged students admitted may be increasing, numbers of non-disadvantaged students admitted are increasing at an even faster rate, so causing these fair access gaps to grow, despite heavy investment in the OFFA access agreement regime, which will shortly be transferred, without any substantive reform, to the OfS.
- UCAS institutional data also shows that, over the period from 2011-2016, the number of 18 year-old applicants from POLAR3 quintile 1 placed at either Oxford or Cambridge has varied between 125 and 160, peaking in 2012. In 2016 the total is 140. Over the same period, the number of such applicants placed at all higher-tariff institutions has increased year-on-year, giving a cumulative increase of some 44 percentage points.
The quality of provision
- In June 2013 Ofsted reported, on the basis of survey evidence, that ‘the most able students were not achieving their potential in over 40% of the [non-selective secondary] schools visited’. In an update published in March 2015, Ofsted complained of insufficient progress with inspectors identifying ‘too much complacency in many of the schools visited’.
- In June 2016, HMCI Wilshaw used his monthly commentary to point out again that little had changed, despite some adjustments to inspection practice.
‘It is…dispiriting to learn that in spite of Ofsted’s sharpened focus in recent years, little progress seems to have been made since I first reported on this important issue.
The most recent statistics paint a bleak picture of under-achievement and unfulfilled potential. Thousands of our most able secondary-age children are still not doing as well as they should in the non-selective state sector where the vast majority of them are educated…
… What is most depressing is that the brightest children from disadvantaged backgrounds are the most likely not to achieve their full potential.’
- HMCI’s 2016 Annual report, published in December 2016, highlights a significant GCSE performance gap – based on A*/A grade achievement in English and maths – between the most able in the South and East, on one hand, and those in the North and Midlands on the other. Increasing stretch for the most able is highlighted as a feature of secondary schools that have improved their overall effectiveness grade. However:
‘…in many cases at the time of inspection it was still early days. Some of the most able pupils said they would like more challenge in their work to push them even further’.
The annual report also notes shortcoming in ITE trainees’ capacity to teach the most able.
- Those seeking evidence of the complacency reported by Ofsted might point to the NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus (January 2017) containing the outcomes of a survey conducted between May and July 2016. Some 91% of primary school respondents and 89% of secondary respondents considered themselves either ‘very confident’ or ‘fairly confident’ in their ability to stretch their most academically able pupils. Further, 80% of primary respondents and 72% of secondary respondents expressed themselves ‘very confident’ or ‘fairly confident’ in their school’s ability to stretch such pupils.
Taken together, this portfolio of evidence justifies clearly the government’s decision to intervene. But what interventions are under way, what has yet to be implemented – and what are the prospects that these will be sufficient to address the shortcomings revealed above?
Summary of the present policy position
The government was elected in 2015 on a manifesto that promised to:
‘… make sure that all students are pushed to achieve their potential and create more opportunities to stretch the most able.’ (p. 35)
DfE’s departmental plan, originally released in February 2016, refers to the creation of these opportunities as already under way.
The subsequent schools white paper (March 2016) advocated ‘excellence for all’, identifying the most able as one of four groups ‘neglected by the previous curriculum and accountability system’.
It makes the explicit commitment:
‘We will ensure that all schools can stretch their lowest-attaining and most academically able pupils by increasing the focus on, and supporting approaches aimed at, boosting their attainment.’ (p.99)
There would be:
- Further action to ‘ensure that the pupil premium is used effectively in all schools, for all children – including the most able.’ (p.118). A few sentences were duly included in a guide to effective pupil premium reviews produced by the NCTL and the Teaching Schools Council.
- A new ITT core framework that includes:
‘a specific focus on stretching the most academically able pupils and cutting edge evidence on how these pupils can be challenged and stimulated to achieve the very highest standards.’ (p.99).
A single sentence was included in the framework:
‘Providers should equip trainees to be able to inspire and provide extra challenge for the most able pupils.’
- Renewed effort to ‘identify and spread what works for the most able’. The government would:
‘Investigate, fund and evaluate approaches to help the brightest students in state schools to fulfil their potential. This could include developing new, prestigious challenges and competitions at key stages 2 and 3, like the UK Mathematics Trust challenges. These would be open to all able pupils – wherever they go to school. And they could aim to provide both additional content that stretches these children beyond their school’s regular curriculum; and opportunities for further stretch outside school. We will also look for opportunities to extend the approaches used in Isaac Physics and the Cambridge Maths Education Project to other A level subjects.’ (p.99)
This third action has generated no tangible outcome to date, unless one counts the expansion of the Mandarin Teaching Programme, but that has not been badged overtly as provision for the most able.
When the selection green paper was published in September 2016, it seemed – though it was not explicitly stated – that proposals for increased selection and admissions reform had supplanted the outstanding white paper commitment, which was not mentioned.
The green paper did seem to imply some continuing priority attached to support for high attainers, provided that it also generated much-needed additional school places, but separate proposals for a heavily weighted low prior attainment factor in the national funding formula appeared to suggest the opposite.
This cannot easily be reconciled with the ‘excellence for all’ motif in the schools white paper, or with assessment reforms designed to give progress by all learners equal status, regardless of their starting point.
In January, 2017 a parliamentary reply clarified the position on the outstanding white paper commitment:
‘Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton): To ask the Secretary of State for Education, with reference to the White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, published in March 2016, what progress has been made on establishing a fund to help the brightest students in state schools to fulfil their potential.
In the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper, the Government committed to ‘investigate, fund and evaluate approaches to help the brightest students in state schools to fulfil their potential’.
The Government is currently consulting on plans which will help to create more opportunities for all pupils, including the most able, through proposals to increase the number of good schools places, including selective places. In addition, Departmental officials are assessing the best ways to support the most academically able pupils across the full range of state schools, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. We will announce our plans in due course.’
So it is clear that the government is pursuing a twin-track approach, providing additional:
- between school selection, grammar school admissions reform and grammar school outreach; and
- support for the most able learners in all state-funded schools, so not just confined to opportunity areas and potentially extending beyond the attainment-raising options mentioned in the white paper.
Naturally these two elements must be complementary and mutually supportive.
But the introduction of more between-school selection is anathema to most education professionals – and the evidence base supporting it is also perilously thin
Grammar schools do attract relatively stronger lay support, but even a strictly demand-led programme to introduce new schools is certain to run into difficulties.
Only in the post-16 sector is selection relatively uncontentious and the industrial strategy green paper proposes a renewed effort to introduce more selective 16-19 free schools with a maths specialism.
It is, however, open to question whether relatively narrow specialism of this kind ought to be more widely encouraged – and it will be necessary to look beyond the universities for suitable sponsors. Moreover, the capacity of the two existing examples to act as engines of social mobility is as yet unproven.
Ultimately the biggest problem with any ‘bricks-and-mortar’ strategy of this kind is that it requires heavy capital and recurrent investment, yet inevitably results in a ‘postcode lottery’, since the benefits are confined to the geographical areas in which the new schools are located (and substantively to the students admitted).
A ten point reform plan
Several of my recent posts have been dedicated to discussing ‘the best ways to support the most academically able pupils across the full range of state schools, particularly those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds’.
Here, for the sake of completeness, is an affordable ten-point plan that would go a long way towards improving the state of affairs outlined in the statistical sections above.
One: There is widespread confusion between ability and attainment – and different attainment indicators are in play. Replace the term ‘most able’ with ‘high attainers’. Define high attainers against one or more high attainment benchmarks at the baseline and at every subsequent key stage. Where necessary ensure that benchmarks under the old levels-based system are mapped against the new scaled scores. Use the same benchmarks to define high attainers in the Ofsted inspection framework and in the school performance tables. In the secondary tables report performance against a new secondary benchmark (eg Attainment 8 of 70+, adjusted as appropriate as the tariff changes) to complement the higher standard at KS2.
Two: Invite tenders for a national research centre based in a leading university (which could then be excused the responsibility of sponsoring any schools provided it met any costs not met through income generation). The centre would specialise in publishing data and research relating to high attainment, especially the closing of excellence gaps between disadvantaged high attainers and their peers, and fair access to highly selective universities. It would also undertake programme evaluations and develop guidance.
Three: Commission the development of common guidance for all schools comprising a set of core principles governing the education of high attainers and a revised set of non-prescriptive quality standards modelled on those previously published. Ofsted inspection would assess whether schools were observing this guidance.
Four: Commission fuller pupil premium guidance to disseminate effective strategies that schools have used to bolster the attainment and progress of disadvantaged high attainers. Consider topslicing £50m annually, or ring-fencing pupil premium for high attainers, either individually or collectively, at school level and using it to part-fund…
Five: …a universal entitlement to support for all high-attaining disadvantaged learners from KS3 through to HE entry. This would also benefit from a pro-rata contribution from 16-19 budgets and from universities’ access agreement budgets. Support would be open access in KS3 but participation thereafter would be based on prior attainment and continuing good progress. The measure of success would be places secured on the most competitive HE courses. Universities would be strongly encouraged to make contextual offers to participants. On the demand side, schools and colleges would undertake a standard needs-assessment, commissioning and review process to secure a coherent programme of additional learning and support opportunities for their participating students. On the supply side, the full range of providers (universities, commercial and third sector) would position and advertise their services within a common provision framework. This would bring much-needed coherence to a fragmented market without requiring heavy regulation or a centralised government-run programme. Administrative costs would be low.
Six: Develop a national network of some 50 ‘high attainer hubs’ on the maths hub model and introduce peer-led ‘high attainer reviews’ on the pupil premium review model. Fund the hubs to pursue both national and local improvement priorities. Ensure that selective school outreach is integrated within the hubs so that, as far as possible, it is available nationwide.
Seven: Ensure that neither mastery – as propounded by the NCETM – nor the teacher assessment regime undermines a coherent approach to top-end differentiation that foregrounds greater depth but also integrates faster pace and more breadth where these best meet the learners’ needs. NCETM should issue substantive guidance to support schools in developing appropriate differentiated provision and establish a resource bank of suitable problems/tasks. Effective practice should be disseminated via the maths hubs, liaising as necessary with the new ‘high attainer hubs’.
Eight: In the wake of the EEF-funded setting study due to report in 2018, commission guidance for schools on effective approaches to within-school and within-class selection. This should include effective setting practice, to maximise the benefits for high attainers and minimise (ideally eliminate) the disbenefits for lower attainers. It should also encourage schools to push beyond straightforward setting and streaming by trialling more innovative models (which might include MAT-wide ‘centre of excellence’ models). All schools should be expected to evaluate and evidence the impact of their preferred solution(s) (whether selective or all-ability) so that such decisions are driven by comparative outcomes rather than ideology. Ofsted inspectors would review this evidence,
Nine: Ensure that the national funding formula recognises the additional costs associated with meeting the needs of high-attaining learners and does not overweight funding towards lower attainers. That will help schools to meet costs associated with improving their provision in line with this plan.
Ten: Commission the national research centre, supported by EEF funding and the tax on sugary drinks, to develop and evaluate new, universally available in-school and out-of-school enrichment opportunities as envisaged in the white paper. Universities might be encouraged to offer such opportunities – perhaps subject-specific programmes modeled on Isaac Physics or the Cambridge Maths Education Project – as an alternative to sponsoring schools. Priority should be given to provision for disadvantaged high attainers that fills conspicuous gaps in the framework referred to at five, above.
This would remove the need for additional selection, as envisaged in the green paper, though admissions and outreach reforms for existing selective schools would be retained. The savings would offset any additional cost to the taxpayer arising from this alternative strategy.