Saturday, 22 February 2014

Weekly Update 22/2/2014

A rare, quiet, half-term, week from the politicians. But this week's adventure was Five go to Ofsted with top bloggers Tom Bennett, Tom Sherrington, David Didau, Shena Lewington and Ross McGill invited to meet with Ofsted's schools director Mike Cladingbowl. Naturally there all blogged about it. (And Bill Lord wrote a good blog about the wider significant of the lack of primary presence at the meeting).

The big news was a bold statement from Mike Cladingbowl that inspectors shouldn't be grading individual lessons - and the meeting was followed up with new guidance from Ofsted on this issue. Quality of teaching - based on evidence beyond the lesson; such as pupils' books - can be graded, though. So there remains a dangerous lack of clarity that will, I expect, prevent many schools from dropping their own lesson grades (Alex Quigley would go further - and I agree). But it's a start and it's great to see Ofsted starting to engage with these issues - and with the blogging world.

Five go to Ofsted (thanks to @JamesTheo)

Other highlights

Joe Kirby on building a rigorous, content-led, curriculum.

Deputy John on the blight of constant interventions

Tessa Matthews on the forgotten children neither bad or good enough to get attention

Tom Loveless on the poor evidence base for professional development.

Robert Hill on the over-expansion of some academy chains and how to stop this happening in the future

And David Carter on chain accountability + expansion from the perspective of someone running an excellent one.

Michael Tidd with further thoughts on assessment after levels.

Rob Peal on teaching character (or rather why it can't be taught).

And Briar Lipson on why it can be taught.

David Weston on the consensus-driven Scottish education system

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The North-East conundrum

Last year Ofsted released a report on disadvantage and education called "Unseen Children". There are all sorts of interesting charts and graphs in there but one set has been puzzling me on and off since the report was released.

They show the percentage of schools with the "most" and "least" deprived cohorts judged good or outstanding for leadership by region. The first chart (below) looks at primary schools and finds that for both the most and least deprived schools the North-East comes out on top, fractionally ahead of London and the North-West.

But then look at the equivalent graph for secondaries. Suddenly - in the "most deprived" category - schools in the North-East plummet to the bottom of the table. And it's not just a leadership issue - the same applies in the "teaching" category - where just 29% of deprived secondaries in the North-East are rated good or outstanding.

My first thought was that maybe there just aren't many secondaries included in this measure for the North-East, which is the smallest English region. Annoyingly the Ofsted report doesn't give any numbers but over 60 secondaries in the North-East are eligible for Teach First - which is a rough proxy - so it's a not insignificant number.

Then I looked at exam data, after all Ofsted inspections are pretty data driven these days. Unfortunately I can't look at the data for these particular schools as I don't know which ones Ofsted have included. However looking at results for pupils on free school meals shows a less exaggerated version of the same pattern. Primary results in the North-East last year were the second best in the country after London, alongside the North-West. This matches the Ofsted figures fairly well.

But a similar table for GCSE results shows the North-East slipping behind the West Mids/North-West and much closer to the other regions. This implies progress for these pupils during their secondary education is lower. And looking at the data for Teach First eligible schools suggests this is the case. In 2012, nationally, 65.7% of pupils in Teach First eligible schools made expected levels of progress in English and 64.3% in Maths. In the North-East the figures were just 60.9% and 59.1%. In Inner London they were 74.9% and 75.9%. Even in other poorly performing regions, like the South-East, pupils made a bit more progress than in the North-East.

So even if the Ofsted data is exaggerating the issue it is pointing to something real. Primary schools in the North-East serving deprived pupils are amongst the best in the country (outside of London) but the secondary schools serving those pupils are making less progress - on average - than elsewhere.

This is particular puzzle as most of the reasons given for regional differences - cultural or economic issues; immigration; supply of high-quality teachers - should apply to both sectors equally. And they seem to in other parts of the country (the West Midlands is an exception the other way - the secondaries seem to be doing better than the primaries).

If you're expecting an answer to the conundrum I'm afraid I don't have one. The only half-baked theory I can come up with is that the unusual labour market in the North-East (high dependency on the public sector for employment leading to higher teacher retention) might have different impacts on primary and secondary schools.

But I'd love to get better theories (or better analysis), especially from people who know the region much better than I do. It seems like an important question if we're to get to the bottom of how to help schools drive up standards outside of the capital.


Thanks to everyone who responded to this blog. No one offered any obvious suggestions that I'd missed but there were a few theories that act as a nice set of hypotheses for future research. So here's a list of the four most popular theories:

That the issue is small 1 or 2 form entry primaries feeding into large secondaries with wide catchment areas. Some people noted that rural areas in other parts of the country also seem to have this issue.

That some LAs in the NE are three-tier.

That the economic situation and lack of jobs in the NE lead to a lack of aspiration or a belief that aspirations can't be fulfilled as young people progress through secondary.

A shortage of "system leader" type heads who can/will take on responsibility for supporting other schools.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Weekly update 15/2/2014

A fairly busy week for education started with Labour nudging forward their reform agenda with an Ed Miliband speech proposing allowing parent's to "trigger" interventions in their schools.

Tristram Hunt followed up with another speech proposing that "character" be taught in schools. I liked this response from Gaby Hinsliff. (If you're interested in this area the best literature review of the evidence was recently published by the Institute of Education).

Michael Gove, meanwhile, pounced on the New Statesman's campaign to push the private/state divide further up the agenda to flaunt his progressive credentials.

In other news the School Teacher's Review Body decided to tweak teacher terms and conditions rather than take an axe to them. NASUWT used this as a convenient excuse not to join the NUT on their March strike. Michael Wilshaw made a typically lively appearance at the Education Select Committee. And the NAHT Commission on Assessment was published (here's an interesting response from David Thomas).

Other Highlights

An excellent analysis of the relationship between the 5 A*-C measure and the new Attainment 8 one by George Leckie

Peter Blatchford on the evidence of teaching assistants' effectiveness

John Tomsett argues individual lessons should never be graded again

Richard Spencer offers an alternative view that lesson judgements can be valuable

Debra Kidd on why she's leaving teaching

Alex Quigley on language, social class and curiosity

Neerav Kingsland defends school choice in New Orleans

Andy Jolley's top 10 tips for primary schools introducing universal free school meals.

Jonn Elledge wonders why we don't care the adult skills budget has been cut by 20%

Five things schools need to know about the SEN reforms by Amy Cook

Sue Cowley asks some questions about the proposed primary baseline assessments

And a special commendation has to go to Tom Bennett this week. Not only did he produce a series of beautiful blogs on his school trip to Israel and Palestine (first one here) but he also gave us a final superb review of the last episode of Tough Young Teachers. I think we all agree with Claudenia, Chloe, Oliver and Meryl....

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Why are black pupils doing so well?

Yesterday I was playing around with GCSE data and found an interesting trend. Over the past five years black pupils have almost caught up with white pupils in the main 5 A*-C measure including English and Maths.

My first thought was that this must be a function of the "London effect" as over 60% of black pupils live in the capital. But actually black improvement has been faster in other regions. (Health warning on this chart - some regions have very low numbers of black pupils, especially the North East where just 139 took GCSEs in 2013).

My next thought was that it might be a result of immigration. Unfortunately we don't know how many recent immigrants are included in the figures but we can look at differences between black Caribbean and black African as a proxy, as the latter are more likely to be recent immigrants.

It turns out that the percentage of black African pupils as a proportion of all black pupils has increased over the past 5 years from 54% to 59% and black Caribbean has decreased from 33% to 29%. This explains some of the faster rate of improvement for black pupils overall as black Africans do about 8 percentage points better than black Caribbeans.

But the rate of improvement has actually been faster for black Caribbeans (13.9 percentage points over the past five years compared to 12.8 for black Africans). So there's something else going on as well...

I then noticed that black boys have improved faster than black girls over the past five years (14.4 percentage points to 12.8). This is the opposite of what's happening with white British boys and girls (7.8 to 11.2). It seems like this gender difference is another part of the jigsaw.

Then I dug into the gender/ethnicity data a bit more and found that white British boys not black boys were the outliers.

Despite all the attention on the under-performance of white British boys this surprised me. I had thought the issue was with poor white British boys. But white British boys on Free School Meals make up a small proportion of these figures (and are improving at the same rate as their non-FSM peers - albeit from a much lower base).

So to answer my initial question I've identified two reasons why black pupils are improving faster than white ones. First there are a larger proportion of higher performing black Africans. And secondly black boys are improving faster than white British boys (as are Pakistani/Bangladeshi boys).

Of course this analysis only begins to scratch the surface of what's going on here. And it throws up a whole lot more questions. Perhaps most of all: what's going on with white British boys (poor or rich)?

All the data in the blog is taken from here.
All terminology is that used by the Department for Education

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Weekly Update 8/2/14

On Monday Michael Gove gave a speech in which he said his ambition for the school system is that when parents: "visit a school in England, standards are so high all round that they should not be able to tell whether it’s in the state sector or a fee-paying independent."

One wonders if he'd read the previous week's New Statesman in which David and George Kynaston had a fascinating history of Labour's reticence to engage with the private school dilemma. This week's edition had a follow-up with five commentators, including Andrew Adonis and Laura Mcinerney, giving their views on what to do about the private/state divide.

Gove also said he wanted to see a longer school day - and hinted at funding. Russell Hobby of NAHT wondered whether a longer day might not lead to better working patterns for teachers (Katie Ashford highlighted the problems caused by the current working patterns in this blog). And Jonn Elledge asked where the money was going to come from.

In exciting news for education geeks everywhere the Education Endowment Foundation released its first batch of Randomised Control Trials (including one showing summer schools having no effect on maths performance). And the NFER put out a paper looking at how we can get evidence like this to classrooms.

Other Highlights

A superb blog by Daisy Christodoulou on the problems of using data without a theory

David Thomas on how his school supports innovation

Tom Bennett takes apart five myths about behaviour

Martin Robinson's 51 year lesson plan

Some helpful FAQ on the new primary curriculum from Michael Tidd

Tom Sherrington on differentiation

Mary Myatt lists some features of an outstanding lesson

Lucy Crehan's five lessons on professional development from New Zealand.

Stephen Tall on the best and worst LAs for pupils on free school meals

A potentially very important bit of PISA data analysis from Cambridge Assessment which they say undermines the OECD's claim that the best education systems promote autonomy.