Chris Cook

It is fairly well established, as various people have pointed out over the past few days, that poor children in the UK are more likely to be overweight than their richer peers. This is often seen as a curious reversal of older norms: poor children used to be lean.

But one aspect of modern poverty is the same as ever. Inner city school leaders sometimes talk about children looking poorer than others. What they are referring to is not weight, but height. Poor kids are usually shorter (especially ex-refugees). Read more

Chris Cook

Today is league table day, when school exam results are published. The most interesting part of the table is the bottom: 195 schools* are below the government’s “floor targets”. These schools are risk of being taken over by a third party to turn them around (if the process is not already underway).

Schools in this category have fewer than 40 per cent of their pupils get Cs or better in English, maths and three other subjects. They must then also have fewer than 70 per cent of the schools’ pupils making “expected progress” in both English and maths.

A few system-level observations:

  • London does really well. Really well. Only 11 of its schools are below target. Only four are in inner London. The outer boroughs are now a bigger educational problem than the inner city.
  • None of the 164 selective schools was below the floor. Grammar schools cruise to the floor target, because they select bright kids. But some might repay a visit by the inspectors: three of them made less-than-expected progress in English.
  • About one third of failing schools are sponsor academies already. The DfE has yanked on the convert-to-academy lever a lot already. But there are another 132 schools left below the floor target not already attached to sponsors.
  • The academy chains are not going to find it easy to take them on. The best academies are all in London. The worst schools are not. There is limited really good improvement capacity in chains outside the capital, where it is needed.
  • The converter academies were not all good schools. Already, there are 14 which are not meeting the standard. The DfE’s terror of sorting out struggling academies is going to become an ever-bigger problem.

And here is the data: first, what type of schools are below the floor target. For the neophytes, voluntary-aided and -controlled schools are the two types of English religious schools. Foundation Schools and CTCs are types of schools with more independence from their local authorities than others (both are precursors to the academies). Studio Schools and UTCs are types of employer-led school (see here for more on them):

School type Above target Below target
Sponsor academies 249 63
Converter academies 666 14
CTCs 3
Community schools 897 72
Free schools 5
Foundation schools 475 33
Studio Schools 1
UTCs 2
Voluntary aided 399 11
Voluntary controlled 64 2

Second, this is where the struggling schools are. I have broken this down by the GCSE-age school population, which brings out some of the variation in regional school quality more clearly.

GCSE pupils in above-target schools GCSE pupils in below-target schools Proportion of pupils affected
East Midlands 41,799 4,490 9.7%
East of England 56,847 4,054 6.7%
London 71,817 1,746 2.4%
North East 25,450 1,782 6.5%
North West 70,592 4,802 6.4%
South East 78,976 5,113 6.1%
South West 50,789 1,736 3.3%
West Midlands 57,328 3,194 5.3%
Yorkshire and the Humber 51,500 4,359 7.8%

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Chris Cook

On the Today programme last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, announced that Ofsted, the inspectorate, will start trying to piece together which local authorities are good at driving school improvement and which are weak.

This plan, intended to focus fire on local government, could end up drawing attention to the Department for Education. This is because Sir Michael will hold the local authorities to account for all local schools – including academies, independent state charter schools.

On the radio, he was up against David Simmonds, a Tory councilor from Hillingdon representing the Local Government Association, who pointed out that there is a particular problem with academies. He noted that academies, which now constitute half of all secondaries, answer directly to civil servants in the DfE – not to their local authority.

As a result, Mr Simmonds correctly pointed out that, councils have no power to sort things out when it comes to academies. Sir Michael replied, also rightly, that good local authorities do it anyway. The way that this works is that they lobby the DfE to take action. As it happens, a few days later, the TES reported that the pressure from the DfE on academies might soon become a bit more active.

But there remains a problem for local authorities if the DfE is slow-acting. This has been happening with Islington – one of the fastest improving boroughs in the country. Islington has urged the DfE to act on a struggling academy in the borough – the City of London Academy (COLA) – for some time. The COLA case study demonstrates that this can drag on and on. The department has been pestered about the school constantly.

We have some DfE officials’ notes on COLA from a year ago. Originally written for ministers, the notes explain the background and their position. Some betray a touch of irritation about the persistent London borough. Read more

Chris Cook

Next week, the Department for Education is unveiling access to the Key Stage 4 league tables. The interesting policy thing to watch for is how many schools are under the floor target – these schools are at risk of a takeover by an academy chain. This is not straightforward: academy chains are not all equal, there is a limit to how far they can grow -and some of them are already struggling with the load they have.

Based on early drafts of the data returns (and assuming the DfE doesn’t calculate this stuff in an odd way*), about 240 schools last year failed to get 40 per cent of their pupils Cs in English, maths and three others. Of these, about 220 had a below-average number of pupils making “adequate progress” in English and maths, putting them at risk of takeovers.

Before the DfE starts its getting-tough-on-failing-schools routine, I thought I would update and republish two graphs. First, I have worked out what happens if you remove the failing schools. Answer: not an enormous amount. As ever, these are average results for poor pupils (on the left) running over to the richest (on the right).

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Chris Cook

In today’s Times, Greg Hurst writes about concerns that some academy chains might be a bit overstretched and find it difficult to continue growing. It has been pretty well established that the first round of “sponsor” academy takeovers was a success. The chains definitely improved the failing schools that they took over.

But some of the groups mentioned by Greg are not doing that well. To start with, here is a sample of academy chains’ results, using the government’s favourite measure: what proportion of children got Cs or better in English, maths and three other GCSE subjects in 2011? I have only included schools in the measure under their current leadership for three full years or more.

Provider Total Low PA Mid PA High PA
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) 55.8% 28% 74% 95%
Ark Schools 63% 70% 83% 93%
The Bourne Family Trust 82% 88% 75% 100%
E-ACT 40% 28% 78% 100%
Harris Federation 67% 62% 86% 100%
Jack Petchey Foundation 61% 43% 59% 92%
Thomas Telford School 57% 47% 89% 100%
United Learning Trust (ULT) 50% 33% 73% 92%

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Chris Cook

So, we now know where free schools are going, I thought that I would quickly illustrate a curiosity about them. This map of local authorities is coloured by the performance of FSM-eligible children (a marker of poverty). Red is poor performance and blue good. Free schools are green.

I have chosen this measure because it’s a simple like-for-like metric. Differences are not scores simply accounted for by the fact that some areas have more poor children: I am looking only at deprived pupils’ attainment. This is a quick and dirty way to gauge LAs. Red areas, broadly speaking, are underperforming. Read more

Chris Cook

The Ofqual decision that is all is well on the English GCSE has not been received well by schools. I thought, further to my last post, that it would help understand school leaders’ feelings about this if we took a case study of an excellent school.

I have asked Sally Coates, head of Burlington Danes Church of England Academy – one of the Ark Schools – to explain what she went through last week.  Before you read her account, I thought I would explain why this particular school matters.

Like other Ark Schools, BDA uses “progression” to gauge its success. It benchmarks itself on improving and stretching each child, regardless of the level of their education when they enter. It does not simply attempt to hit the government’s targets.

As a result, BDA expends effort on people who already know enough to get Cs in English, maths and three other subjects – the basket of achievement used by the government to measure school success. This school does not – unlike others – fixate on the C/D line.

This is easy to spot: Ark’s performance rises dramatically when you use a measure that gives schools credit for getting children to higher grades than C. BDA stacked up 24 children last year who managed straight As in English, maths and three other subjects.

Let me be clear,  the school does keep an eye on that grade boundary. Here, indeed, is a photo of the Venn diagram Ms Coates describes below, enhanced with some light photoshopping to make sure it is entirely anonymous.

Children are in a circle showing where they are weak. Each child in each circle gets appropriate tutoring to help drive them up to the line.

But this intervention is only one of a chain of monitoring lines. Children in the “safehouse” are being monitored against higher grades elsewhere. I will return to this, but BDA’s results show a great deal more As and Bs than is normal.

That is why Ms Coates’s anger is so important: despite being focused on progression, not the narrow “C will do” measures used by the government, the school was caught out by the shift in the C/D boundary. Now, over to Ms Coates: Read more

Chris Cook

A big story we have published records the stunning improvement in London’s schools that has taken place over the past decade (also: analysis on the topic).

As part of the number-crunching I did for to that story, I can also provide an update from our measure on social mobility in schools – how much does poverty damage your school results? It’s not good news, alas.

Last year, we reported that our educational mobility index had been rising for five consecutive years – from 2006-10. Unfortunately, this year, things deteriorated a little. That blip upwards in 2010-11 means poverty exerted a bigger influence on the school results of children in 2010-11 than it had in 2009-10.

As a reminder, for those of you who have not committed these things to memory: we measure this through quite a simple metric. First, we draw our old friend, the Graph of Doom, which shows how exam results interact with poverty:

To come up with this graph, we divide the country into hundredths, by their neighbourhood deprivation. Then we plot each grouping’s average score on the line, according to a simple performance measure (which I’ve tweaked since we last did this). Read more

Chris Cook

There’s an interesting development in Croydon, my scenic home town. The south London borough is fully comprehensive: it has no academically selective state schools (“grammar schools“). Since 1998, it has also been forbidden for new grammars to be opened anywhere in the country, except as replacements for closing ones. But Croydon council has an interesting idea.

Tim Pollard, the councillor in charge of schools, has written about a new school site that the borough is opening. The council want an existing school to run the site, in Norwood, as an annex. If the “parent” school were a grammar, the new half-a-school could be too.

…we took the decision yesterday to open up the competition to run this school to all types of secondary school, not just community-style comprehensive schools. The criteria the new provider needs to meet are that it should be a Good or Outstanding school in its OFSTED rating, that it should have well above average GCSE and A-level results and that it must be able to demonstrate that it can apply its admissions criteria appropriately and be in a position to receive funding from the Government as it expands.

So does that mean it could be a Grammar School? Yes, it could.

In Croydon we converted our last grammar schools into comprehensives many decades ago, in line with what was then government thinking. Our neighbours in Sutton, Bromley and Kent, on the other hand, resisted the intense pressure then put on education authorities to follow suit and kept their selective schools. Those schools, including Wallington Boys & Girls, Wilsons and Newstead Woods, are now amongst the most popular choices for Croydon parents who seek the best standard of education for their children. They are heavily oversubscribed, with many more children passing the exams than can possibly be accommodated.

It will be worth watching this unfold. “Satellite” schools and “annex” sites may be a loophole for establishing new grammar schools. Kent council, which is fully selective, will open a grammar school annex in Sevenoaks. But selection is firmly embedded there.

A Croydon grammar annex would be a bigger step – it would both mean a grammar crossing a borough border and introducing selectivity into a new area. This is all early on, but if Croydon gets this through, it could open up grammars once again as a national issue.

Here is why.

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Chris Cook

Since January, schools have been subject to a new inspection regime. Ofsted, the inspectorate, has changed its criteria. Data released today mean there is one question we can consider: is the new inspection regime any tougher or easier than its predecessor?

This is not a straightforward question: weaker schools get inspected more regularly, so the sample is not randomly selected. What we can do, however, is see whether schools are more likely to be promoted or relegated than in previous years.

This, too, is not simple. The Department for Education changed schools’ ID numbers when they became academies, so I cannot match every new report to the same school’s previous ones so it is a faff to match records, which has taken a bit of tinkering. We have matches for 1,711 schools – both primary and secondary.

Here are the results:

1 2 3 4
1 25% 50% 25% 0%
2 8% 58% 27% 7%
3 2% 44% 40% 14%
4 1% 13% 75% 11%

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Chris Cook

At the moment, groups putting forwards bids to open free schools – new academies opened from scratch – are finding out whether they have been approved for 2013 opening. This is an opportune moment to take a quick look at this programme.

Last week, I explained part of why the “converter academies” programme is so popular: it usually comes with a cash incentive to join in. But free schools have their own funding wrinkle. This one encourages primary free schools to be smaller than other local schools.

Using the DfE’s formula for free school funding, we can work out how much a primary free school would get in revenue (day-to-day) funding, plotted against how big it is, if it were to open at full capacity in the London borough of Camden in 2012-13.

Camden free school funding per pupil

This is the output of a formula: every primary free school gets a £95,000 payment plus a certain amount per child, which varies from borough to borough. In Camden, once you have counted in the pupil premium, SEN (special educational needs) funding and other funding, each extra child brings in, on average, an extra £5,870.

But the structure of the formula – a lump sum plus a roughly flat per-pupil payment – means that the amount you receive on average falls as the school grows. This is because the £95,000 lump sum (which is the same for all boroughs) gets shared between more and more pupils.

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Chris Cook

The cash advantage for converting to become an academy is bigger for schools in more affluent areas. Read more

Schools taking part in the government’s flagship academies programme are being overpaid by more than £120m this academic year owing to errors by the Department for Education, an investigation by the Financial Times has revealed.

The majority of the overspend will be clawed back from local authorities, stoking concerns that schools participating in the converter academies scheme are being favoured over other state schools.

    Currently seen as the government’s most visible public policy success, if local authority schools opt to become an academy, they are funded directly by the DfE rather than via local authorities. They gain autonomy over pay and curriculum, but are supposed to receive equivalent funding.

    However, analysis of DfE data reveals that 90 per cent of England’s 1,421 converter academy schools are being overpaid, with the bulk of the errors coming from schools which converted in the previous academic year.

     Read more

    Chris Cook

    Your birthday matters: children who are older when they start school as 4 year-olds outperform their peers. This is not a small effect, nor does it peter out as they get older. We can spot it easily at the national level among 16 year-olds. Read more

    Chris Cook

    The social mobility problem is not that there is a small number of weak schools serving a lot of poor kids. It is that poor children do badly in the majority of England’s schools. Read more