Data is back – but not (quite) as we know it

Colin Logan, Senior Education Lead at SSAT, explains in his latest blog how data has made a return, but not in the same way that we were once used to.

Not so long ago, school performance data seemed to be the only thing that mattered. The performance tables and the Ofsted judgements that were at least partly based on them, were what kept school leaders awake at night. Then Covid came along and everything stopped. Although students still got their grades, no data on them was collected, let alone published. It’s fair to say that the sky didn’t fall in as a result, but then we all had other things to worry about.

Ofsted was often accused of following the data. Indeed its one-time deputy director for schools told members of our Leading Edge steering group that inspection had too often reinforced the performance tables rather than counter-balance them. When 2019 became the last year for which performance data was available, it coincided with the introduction of a new Ofsted framework which put less emphasis not only on published outcomes, but also on the data schools collected in-house. There is even now an argument that perhaps things went too far in that direction and that outcomes aren’t now paid enough attention during an inspection. But if there was no up-to-date data available, Ofsted couldn’t draw upon it.

February 2022 saw the publication for the first time in nearly two years of updated guidance on secondary and 16 to 18 accountability measures. Data is back – except for primary schools where, although KS1 and KS2 tests are scheduled to take place in the summer, the results won’t be published. However, it won’t be completely back to normal for KS4 and KS5. The absence of data from 2020 and 2021 will have a significant effect on what is available for at least the next five years.

For primary schools, KS2 tests will return this summer and the results will be shared with Ofsted and others “for school improvement purposes”. They will also appear in ASP and IDSR reports in the autumn, although the data will not be published in performance tables this year – these won’t re-appear until the autumn of 2023. In 2024, however, there will be no KS2 progress scores as there will be nothing from KS1 in 2020 on which to base them. The same will apply to data for the 2025 tests which would have drawn on scores from 2021. 2024, however, will be the first year when results from the reception baseline test will be available for children in Y2 and the KS1 tests will then no longer be compulsory.

In secondary schools, this summer’s KS4 students will be the first with scaled scores from KS2. This means that the process for measuring Progress 8 will need to be amended, although it will continue to be based on an average of students’ reading and maths scores from primary school. We’re not expecting to learn exactly what this will look like until the autumn. But although Progress 8 will continue for now, it will disappear again in 2025 and 2026 because of the absence of KS2 scores from 2021 and 2022. The DfE has also confirmed their definition of low, middle and high prior attainment. It won’t come as too much of a surprise to hear that low is below a scaled score of 100, middle is between 100 and 110 and high is 110-plus.

Schools’ Progress 8 scores this year will also be affected if they have any early entries that would normally have counted. Although the entries will count, the results won’t. This means that if a student entered GCSE English literature in summer 2021 and the language paper in 2022, the earlier entry will count to double-up the score in the English bucket but the grade awarded won’t. In normal circumstances, the higher of the two grades would have been used and the lower one could have counted in the “other” bucket. As a result, schools with early entries will have a lower Progress 8 score than would otherwise have been the case.  This will also apply to early entries in other subjects.

This year will see Attainment 8 and grade 5+ in English and maths published at MAT-level for the first time but, again, we’re awaiting further guidance on the detail.

In KS5, most of what we have known previously will re-appear with a few notable exceptions. There will be no Level 3 VA or Tech Level progress measure because there are no KS4 results to base them on. Similarly, the English and maths re-take progress measure will not appear, although the DfE is considering an alternative measure but hasn’t announced (or decided) what it will be yet. Results from the extraordinary autumn A and AS Level series won’t be counted, although unit-level grades for vocational and technical qualifications from 2021-22 will. The A-Level maths measure will not re-appear until at least 2024 and the Tech Bacc has been ditched permanently. Progress scores for KS5 will not be possible again until 2024. Average point scores at MAT-level will appear for the first time.

There will also be a change in the criteria for which students are included in the KS5 measures which is designed to avoid schools having to remove those that completed their programme of study in their third year as part of the checking exercise. This should also ensure that no student appears more than once in published data.

It won’t be until 2027 that progress scores will be available again across all key stages, although the DfE is exploring options for producing alternative progress measures in the meantime.

For easy reference, a summary of all these changes follows in table format.

Following the distractions of the past two years, some school leaders might feel they need a refresher in interpreting their data in ASP and the IDSR (remember them?) and how FFT Aspire might present things from a different viewpoint. There will also undoubtedly be some newly-appointed school leaders for whom all this will be a new experience. At SSAT, we are ready to respond to whatever you feel you need, whether it’s bespoke consultancy or group training. We’d like to hear from you – please email us with any requests or suggestions.

And remember – data doesn’t provide all the answers but it does suggest what questions you need to ask.

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