Performance Tables disadvantage poorer schools!

Demonstration against cuts to education in Wandsworth
Demonstration against cuts to education in Wandsworth

‘SCHOOL performance tables are not an accurate or reliable indicator of school effectiveness. The Progress 8 measure that is used to compile these tables is inherently flawed.’

That was the opinion of the teachers’ union the NEU and its assistant general secretary Nansi Ellis, as she commented on the secondary school performance tables published yesterday by the Department for Education.

‘Using the grade a child achieved in primary school in two subjects,’ Ellis continued, ‘is not a safe starting point against which to assess their attainment five years later. Nor does it take into account all the additional problems and factors that affect pupil attainment.’

She insisted: ‘The tables can also disadvantage schools in economically and socially deprived areas. ‘Many good schools fall in the bottom half of the tables simply because they serve poorer communities. There is a well-established link between child poverty and academic attainment, yet performance tables fail to reflect the hard work that schools put in to try and compensate for the poverty that many children experience.

‘(Tory Education secretary) Damian Hinds must look at the evidence, stop this inaccurate and misleading use of data and move towards accountability that gives a true picture of the work and attainment of schools.’

At the same time a BBC analysis showed that, judging by such conditions, it would take over 70 years for poorer pupils to catch up with their peers at GCSE. If the pace of change remains the same as it has been since 2011, their correspondent calculated, ‘poorer pupils will not do as well (as richer pupils) before 2096.’

Those data, it added, show merely that ‘the achievement between the poorest pupils in England and their classmates is closing only very slowly’. This year, in fact, just 24.9% of the poorest pupils got good passes in English and maths GCSE, compared with 50.1% of the rest.

At the same time, the ‘funding squeeze on schools in England’, according to Education Technology firms, is ‘forcing edtech companies to keep the prices of their products down’, a representative of the firms commented.

Bruno Reddy, who developed Times Tables Rock Stars, which he claimed had been used in ‘more than 12,000 primary and secondary schools worldwide’, claimed that edtech price rises in England were currently lower than in the US.

He said: ‘The number of players in the market has suppressed price rises, certainly compared to what people pay in America for equivalent products, and also because of everybody tightening their purse strings I suspect a lot of edtech providers are having to be sympathetic to that and keep prices affordable.’

He argued too that teachers today are ‘a bit more shrewd when it comes to choosing the right edtech for their class’, and were more likely to spend time trialling products before making an investment. His views were also voiced by Patrick Hayes, director of the British Educational Suppliers Association.

He added that ‘anecdotally’, it seemed true that edtech price rises were lower here than in the US, although he was not aware of comparative research examining these trends. But asked whether this was good news for schools, he instead said it was a sign of the ‘budgetary pressures’ schools were still under.

He continued: ‘I think companies are not able to raise their prices as much here because schools don’t have the budgets to pay for existing ICT and infrastructure at the moment. ‘With the DfE requesting that schools make considerable back office savings over the duration of this parliament, companies don’t really feel they are in a position to start raising prices.

‘Sadly, over the past three or four years, schools have been cutting back considerably on their edtech budgets, and there’s been some very tight competition and a bit of a race to the bottom in terms of prices.’

Responding, however, to warnings from the Office for Students (OfS) to universities over their use of unconditional offers to would-be students, the University and College Union (UCU, representing lecturers) argued that the best solution was to overhaul both of the ways in which students apply to university.

Launching a consultation on how the admissions system can best serve students, the OfS likened universities’ particular use of ‘unconditional’ offers to ‘pressure selling’. And UCU said the consultation had ‘to look seriously at moving to a post-qualification application (PQA) system’.

In fact, UCU recently set out a model for an admissions system where students apply to university after they receive their grades. They believe this approach would be fairer for students, bring the UK into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of unconditional offers as well as the chaotic clearing process.

UCU head of policy Matt Waddup, said: ‘It is encouraging that the higher education sector is finally looking at how to tackle the explosion of unconditional offers. Any consultation must prominently feature the voices of staff as they are the ones on the front line.

‘Shifting to a system where students apply to university after they receive their grades would make these type of unconditional offers redundant, bring us in line with the rest of the world and end the chaotic clearing scramble.’

Currently, almost a quarter of students applying to university received at least one unconditional offer in 2018, compared to just 1% five years ago. Yet as few as one in six (16%) students have their A-level grades predicted correctly. No other countries use predicted grades to award university places, and seven in ten staff involved in university admissions back a PQA system.

Nevertheless, tuition fees for some degrees could now rise to more than £11,000 per year after MPs passed legislation allowing universities to charge more for shorter, more intensive courses. As a result students in England could be offered ‘accelerated’ two-year courses from September, which the government says will save them 20 per cent on tuition fees compared to traditional three-year degrees.

This would ‘allow’ universities to charge £11,100 a year, compared with the £9,250 a year currently paid for three-year courses. The Department of Education said this offers students a saving of at least £5,500 in total tuition costs, as well as saving them on maintenance costs for an additional year.

However, Matt Waddup, head of policy for the University and College Union, has called on the government not to worsen but instead to fix a system that ‘piled debts on students’.

He said: ‘Instead of gimmicks which risk undermining the international reputation of our higher education sector, the government should focus on fixing the underlying problems with our current finance system which piles huge debts on students. This decision is not about increasing real choice for students, it is about allowing for-profit companies access to public money through the student loans system.

‘Without proper safeguards, accelerated degrees will quickly become devalued, but the government shows no signs that it understands this.’