2019 Autumn Term 2

The know zone

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  • Collaboration wins the day
    Deputy Director of Policy, Duncan Baldwin, on why collaboration gets a 'gold star' and the DfE gets 'must do better'. More
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  • Little wonders
    A new intake of 11 year-olds is a colourful, joyous - and well-equipped - thing to behold. If only we could bottle that initial courage and infectious passion for later years, says one head. More
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Deputy Director of Policy, Duncan Baldwin, on why collaboration gets a ‘gold star’ and the DfE gets ‘must do better’.

Collaboration wins the day

Two years ago, I was hiding under my duvet, waiting for the DfE to publish provisional Progress 8 scores alongside the pupil data checking exercise. Having persuaded schools to collaborate with one another and their providers to estimate these scores within days of GCSE results, my nervousness was about accuracy. What if the exercise generated averages that weren’t close enough to published figures? School leaders and managers would feel badly let down.

Each year since, I have had the same qualms, but schools reassure me that the whole exercise is enormously valuable and that results are often within a whisker of published figures. They can only ever be estimates, but they are as strong and accurate as they are because so many of you take part.

Catastrophic errors 

This year was different. Thousands of BTEC results were omitted and the estimates for the open element of Attainment 8 were markedly different from those predicted by collaboration. School leaders were badly let down, but not by collaboration.

They were rightly angered that the DfE could get things so wrong, especially as this data is used to underpin provisional performance tables. The collaboration data let us mark the DfE’s homework. Written large in red at the bottom: must do better.

Further errors were discovered, ironically in the way GCSE Statistics was being treated. We quickly sought reassurances from the DfE about putting this right. We needed a commitment that system errors were corrected urgently, that national averages were recast, that schools would receive republished pupil level data and that additional workload burdens should be kept to an absolute minimum. The DfE agreed.

Meanwhile, Ofsted had taken a brave and very welcome step embracing collaboration data. In its inspection update it indicated that schools could share their provisional overall Progress 8 figures with inspectors if they wished. But in yet another irony, Ofsted wouldn’t accept these after DfE data, presumed to be accurate, had been published. Wisely, Ofsted extended the time that collaboration data could be used and assured us that the wrong data would not be considered by inspectors.

Lessons to be learned

As educators we are used to mistakes. I’m sure you tell your pupils that making mistakes is a very good way to learn. It’s not so easy to be forgiving of those mistakes when there are such high stakes involved and when the impact on school leaders is so profound. So, will everyone learn from the process? I’ve got some suggestions.

The DfE knows about the collaboration exercises and their power. My first suggestion is that the providers who have collaboration features in their systems compare notes with the DfE before results are published next year, so that errors like this could be detected before they land in schools and do so much damage.

Ofsted should embrace rather more of the collaboration data than it has this year. If Ofsted is looking more at curriculum and its impact then there could be more to be gained by leaders sharing the individual components of Attainment 8. Better still, I hope Ofsted will acknowledge the subject level data that schools can obtain from the ASCL Data Toolkit (www.ascl.smidreport.com) and FFT Aspire.

The overemphasis on Progress 8 needs to be changed. The withdrawal of the floor and coasting standards will help, but we need to put Progress 8 back in its box. It can be a helpful sense check but it doesn’t deserve its place as a single arbiter of a school’s effectiveness. We’ve suggested to the DfE that the concept of a single headline measure needs rethinking.

For me, the greatest lesson was the vindication of the collaboration process and the power this gives to schools. Working out Progress 8 early is one thing, but sharing data in new and innovative ways could transform our understanding of what works and let the profession embrace areas such as artificial intelligence (AI). We’ve been leading a project with groups of schools in the North West to explore this and we’ve already gained new insight into pupils’ attendance, potentially making a difference to pupils while they are still at school. Schools can now join ASCL’s Open Data Project by visiting askeddi.com/ascl

So, no more hiding under the duvet for me. Next year, I’ll be up early with gold stars for schools and red pen at the ready for the DfE. I hope I don’t need it.

Duncan Baldwin
Deputy Director of Policy