STRANGE FRUITS: The KS2 results

The statistical first release of KS2 results is full of warnings about the impossibility of comparing results between this year and last year. The content and standard have changed and no-one will be surprised that the results have gone down considerably.  Six years into Conservative rule, it would be handy to measure its success with the cohort that entered primary school in the year of victory.  It is not to be.

What has happened to reading?

The biggest surprise for me is the sudden reversal of fortune in reading. It has always been our most successful test result, but this year it is the worst.  The reading curriculum was the least changed element of English, yet somehow it has plummeted into last place, trailing writing by 8%.  Why is that?  Take your pick:

  1. There has been a sudden and as yet unexplained drop in pupil reading performance
  2. The phonics programme refocused schools away from comprehension
  3. The test was too hard
  4. Blame the teachers.

The text in the test was so hard that it excluded many pupils from even attempting certain questions. Usually, you can award half-marks for partial answers, but without evidence, the Standards and Testing Agency would have found it hard to push up the marks to a more realistic level. The test did not allow sufficiently for differential performances in the lower half of the pupil population. (This is, in fact, the major drawback of the right/wrong tests that have crept into national assessment in the phonics and SPAG tests).

Writing

Writing, meanwhile, has risen through the ranks. At 74% it is the best result. Why then, is it greyed out in the DfE statistical release?  I ask a rhetorical question: it is because it is teacher assessment and not trusted by government.  This year, the gap between the SPAG result and the writing result has narrowed from 7% to 2%. That isn’t surprising: the performance descriptors for writing were almost exclusively SPAG criteria, so writing in the sense that we knew it – composition, text types and the development of ideas – has been much diminished.

From being the top priority in many schools’ improvement plans, will writing  now be demoted in favour of reading as schools look to improve their results? I think this will be an awkward moment for many schools. It all depends on how seriously you take this year’s reading results.  Schools will perhaps do more to prepare pupils for tougher extracts in the tests.

The ‘all three’ accountability measure

In 2015, the ‘all three’ accountability score was 80%, not too far away from the subject scores of 89% (reading), 87% (writing) and 87% (maths).  This year, the gap is much wider.  The 66% (reading), 74% (writing) and 70% (maths) is more significantly distant from the 53% for all three.  That suggests two things: firstly, that the reading result set a low ceiling on the best possible performance, and secondly, that a very different group of children did well on writing than did well on maths. In other words, there was much more uneven performance.

Uneven performance this year will at least be something to work on next year. Individual schools will have a clear sense of where to focus their efforts.  Personally, I would be careful about over-reacting to the reading result. The test was too hard and I think STA will have heard the level of concern and strive to create a test for the full ability range.

More to come

We won’t know until 1 September how the results have impacted on gender, FSM and ethnicity, or how the results are distributed across the country.  I have a first impression that schools with large numbers of children who used to be borderline (the wobbly Cs) have felt the worst shock waves, but I also have an impression that the results are more random than I expected, and without a clear pattern as yet.

If our withdrawal from the EU leads to deeper cuts, it is not inconceivable that the greying out of the Writing result will progress to its disappearance. Now that it doubles up as a SPAG measure, it would be easy to argue for the removal of the for the expensive moderation operation. I notice that the government has also gone quiet on the mooted shift to external marking at KS1.  That too may be waiting for the chancellor’s verdict on our financial futures outside the EU.