Schools are to be a given a year’s holiday from Ofsted inspections when their pupils’ GCSE results are significantly better than expected, ministers announced today. The change comes in a reformed secondary accountability system which also includes new measures designed to stop schools from concentrating excessive time and resources on relatively small numbers of borderline C/D grade pupils.
Schools minister, David Laws, said the government wanted to “recognise schools in which pupils make exceptional progress”. “So, a school in which pupils average a full grade above reasonable expectations will not be inspected by Ofsted in the following year,” he told Parliament this afternoon. “This is the first time that the accountability regime has offered schools a carrot, as well as a stick.”
But the idea only received a muted welcome from heads. Brian Lightman, Association of School and College Leaders, General Secretary, said a single year off Ofsted would “not make a huge difference” to schools which may not have been due to be inspected that year anyway. “I am sure it will be welcomed by some schools but a judgement about school effectiveness is about more than just examination results,” he said.
The biggest change in the new system, which will apply to GCSE results from 2016, is the expected abolition of the five *A-C GCSEs including English and maths league table measure. The indicator was also used for crucial government floor targets for secondary schools and will be replaced with a measure of the progress pupils achieve across eight subjects.
There had been fears that its potential benefits would be undermined by the government’s original plan to also include a “threshold” measure of the proportion of pupils achieving grade Cs in English and maths GCSEs in the floor standard.
Critics – including the Graham Stuart, the Conservative chair of the Commons education select committee, and the CentreForum think-tank – said its inclusion would continue a C/D grade borderline focus, damaging to both bright and less able pupils.
Five organisations representing maths teachers and academics, are understood to have warned the government against any threshold measure for maths GCSEs. “They all said this was reducing the quality of maths teaching because too many kids were being force-fed maths on the margin for stuff they clearly didn’t understand,” a ministerial advisor said. Now the threshold measure has been dropped from the floor standards – which can trigger school closures and job losses – despite earlier strong support from ministers.
Mr Stuart said he was “delighted that ministers have listened”. “These plans are an educational break-through that will blow away the damaging obsession with the C/D grade boundary and help every child achieve the best possible results,” the MP said.
Schools will instead be encouraged to give the correct emphasis to English and maths by a double weighting for the subjects within the new progress measure designed to encourage a broader curriculum. This eight subject measure will also include three further English Baccalaureate subjects, and three other “high value qualifications” which could include more academic subjects, arts subjects like music and drama, or vocational subjects like engineering and business.
The key stage two national test results pupils received aged 11, will be used to calculate expected GCSE grades. To meet the floor standard schools will have to achieve results no more than half a grade lower, on average, than “reasonable expectations”. “So,” Mr Laws explained, “if pupils at a school are expected to average a B in their 8 subjects, the school will be below the floor if they average less than 4Bs and 4Cs.”
The minister said it would mean that “coasting schools will no longer be let off the hook”.” Equally,” he said, “head teachers will no longer feel penalised when they have actually performed well with a challenging intake.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “Although no single measure can capture the full value of the work of a school, this overhaul represents a significant step in the right direction.”
But Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers general secretary, said: “This particular progress measure assumes the validity of government’s primary school tests – which evidence and experience show cannot be counted on.”