A study from researchers at the University of Bristol suggests that secondary schools are being ‘punished’ because the Department for Education’s (DfE) school performance tables do not fully take pupils’ backgrounds into account.

The study, by Dr George Leckie and Professor Harvey Goldstein, looked at the government’s headline measure, Progress 8, which the DfE uses to assess the progress made by pupils during secondary school. The researchers then factored in information on pupil background, including age, gender, ethnicity, special educational needs, English as an additional language, free school meal eligibility and deprivation. The DfE performance tables currently consider pupils’ prior attainment, but not their background. Once they had taken this wider range of factors into account, Dr Leckie and Prof. Goldstein found that a fifth of schools saw their position within the performance tables change by more than 500 places. Eligibility for free school meals and pupil ethnicity were found to be factors which most significantly altered a school’s position in the performance tables.

Perhaps most significantly the research team found that in their adjusted tables 40 per cent of schools currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ would no longer fall into that category. Dr Leckie said ‘It seems clear from our results that the higher the proportion of disadvantaged pupils in a school, the more it will effectively be punished for the national underperformance of these pupil groups. On the flip side, other schools are rewarded merely for teaching educationally advantaged intakes’. The researchers are calling for the Government to publish and explain a pupil background adjusted Progress 8 measure side-by-side with the current measure to present a more informative picture of schools' performances.

A DfE spokesperson said ‘Our school accountability measures reflect our high expectations for all pupils, whatever their background.’

Full study: https://tinyurl.com/y9zmp7tj

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