8 April 2018
Follow me @LindaDerrick1
There has been a lot of publicity in the newspapers about the under-achievement of poorer* children in Bucks in primary schools. The under-achievement of poorer pupils is a lot worse than that of more prosperous pupils.
Bucks County Council has tried to explain why Bucks is so ineffective at helping its poorer pupils. Those explanations are superficial and misleading. So perhaps BCC simply doesn’t care about helping poorer children.
What we are looking at is something called Key Stage 2 (KS2). KS2 covers the four years of schooling for pupils aged between 7 and 11. At the end of KS2, pupils are assessed using national tests and some teacher assessments.
Nationally, 48% of poorer children reached the expected standard in 2017 at KS2 in reading, writing and mathematics.
In Bucks, only 38% of poorer pupils reached the expected standard at KS2.
So poorer children in Bucks do significantly worse than nationally.
Nationally, 68% of more prosperous children reach the expected standard at KS2. The difference between the percentage of poorer children reaching the standard and more prosperous children reaching the standard is known as the “attainment gap”. Nationally therefore the attainment gap at KS2 is 20%.
BCC doesn’t provide the percentage of more prosperous children in Bucks reaching the expected standard. It calculates its attainment gap using the national figure of 68% which gives an attainment gap of 30%.
The “real” Bucks attainment gap for KS2 (i.e. comparing the performance of poorer pupils with that of more prosperous pupils in Bucks) is higher. The attainment gap in Bucks is at least 30%.
Now let’s look at BCC’s explanations for why BCC is so dismally failing its poorer children.
1. Sarah Callaghan, the Service Director of Education at Bucks County Council, said the achievement gap is big because the overall attainment of Bucks pupils is above national average.
On average, 62% of children nationally reach the expected standard at KS2. On average, 64% of Bucks children reach the expected standard.
I fail to see how this small difference in overall attainment explains the large gap in the attainment in Bucks between poorer children and their peers.
2. Ms Callaghan added “You do see nationally there is a clear difference of results at the end of KS2 then going into KS3 going into secondary and that is because there is an external moderation of KS2 but it is an internal process at KS3.
“So you do see when something is externally moderated it can be more rigorous so you’ll see a difference between those phases – so it is about how do we make sure we are supporting consistent moderation.”
(My thanks to the Bucks Free Press for this quote which I assume they took down by shorthand. I couldn’t make head or tail of what Ms Callaghan said).
I suppose she was saying that the external assessment process of children at KS2 is more rigorous than the internal assessments at KS3 for 11 to 14-year-olds and this widens the gap.
But this is nonsense. How does an assessment at age 14 affect the attainment gap at age 11?
What OFSTED has said is that the tests at the end of KS2 are now more rigorous and expect more of children. Unfortunately, the more rigorous tests show that poorer children are falling even further behind and nationally the attainment gap has widened.
However, that does not explain why the gap in Bucks is so much worse than the national gap.
3. Councillor Appleyard, the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, said secondary schools had to spend time getting all their pupils up to the same level of attainment at Key Stage 3 – just like universities have to do with undergraduates.
I fail to see how this is relevant to the attainment gap at KS2.
4. Councillor Lambert asked if funding was being targeted on poorer pupils and if there was a timeline for narrowing of the gap.
Ms Callaghan said Bucks had only just set up an initiative called Side-by-Side and it would take time – an unpredictable time - for any improvements to work through. Councillor Appleyard added it was the responsibility of the schools to deliver results; BCC had no authority to go into schools and demand things from them.
At this point, I began to wonder why Councillor Appleyard– or indeed anyone else – hadn’t mentioned the fact that BCC has been failing poorer pupils for years. BCC has been promising to take action for years and failing to do so. And now Councillor Appleyard was refusing to accept it had any responsibility.
Has Councillor Appleyard forgotten that the majority of primary schools are still the responsibility of the council and BCC does have the authority to ask these schools to make changes? BCC certainly has the responsibility to provide support.
Has he also forgotten that the Select Committee set up an inquiry in 2013 after criticisms from education ministers about the wide attainment gap in Bucks? Councillor Dhillon, now Chairman of the Select Committee, was on the inquiry and it took evidence from Councillor Appleyard who was the responsible Cabinet member then as now.
That inquiry made twelve recommendations for narrowing the gap, including asking Councillor Appleyard to ask the Schools Forum to review the Funding Formula “with the objective of targeting additional funding at the children of families from the most deprived backgrounds”.
Did Councillor Appleyard ask the Schools Forum and did it ever report back?
The inquiry also recommended asking Councillor Appleyard to ask the Bucks Learning Trust to provide specific guidance and support on narrowing the gap. BCC has now cancelled its contract with BLT and brought the work back in-house. But did Councillor Appleyard ask BLT to do this work and, if so, did it ever report back? Is BCC now doing this work?
The inquiry recommended that Councillor Appleyard apply to the Education Endowment Foundation for funding to evaluate what works in Bucks on narrowing the gap. Did Councillor Appleyard ever apply to the Foundation or evaluate what works in Bucks?
The inquiry also recommended that the planned review of Children’s Centres should focus on their role in improving the educational achievements of poorer children in their early years. BCC decided to close all the Children’s Centres (now temporarily reprieved) but did the review consider this role and what was its conclusion?
It’s been four years since the inquiry reported and nothing seems to have happened. BCC was failing its poorer pupils then and is still failing its poorer pupils now. It doesn’t care and accepts no responsibility.
It’s the same old story.
*BCC’s paper refers to “disadvantaged” children. I think the major disadvantage these children suffer from is poverty.