2022 Autumn Term 1

The know zone

  • Primary concerns
    Key Stage 2 data seems to confirm expectations: the pandemic has hit primary pupils' learning hard, though with one curious exception, says Tiffnie Harris. More
  • The wait goes on
    The national funding formula (NFF), introduced five years ago, is taking a long time to implement and still more work is needed to make it fit for purpose, says Julia Harnden. More
  • Office for Students
    As last year's sixth formers head off to university this month, Kevin Gilmartin looks at just who is watching over the millions of undergraduates out there. More
  • Strategy falls short
    Hayley Dunn says the government's new school resource management (SRM) strategy doesn't go far enough to recognise the vital role of school business leaders. More
  • Just the job?
    Are you finding it difficult to recruit staff? If so, are there particular roles or subjects that you are struggling to recruit for? Here, ASCL members have their say. More
  • Positive influences
    Director of Learning David Whitaker says ASCL Council provides him with a voice and an opportunity to influence 'the system'. Here, he shares his passion for school leadership, Council, music and beer. More
  • Leadership magic
    A good headteacher knows when to stay in the background and let people get on with their jobs, just like a famous, perpetually stoned, animated bunny, says Carl Smith. More
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Key Stage 2 data seems to confirm expectations: the pandemic has hit primary pupils’ learning hard, though with one curious exception, says Tiffnie Harris.

Primary concerns

Key Stage 2 SATs returned this year after 2020 and 2021 tests were cancelled due to Covid. In its primary accountability measures update in June, the government said the resumption would “help schools, local authorities, academy trusts and the department to understand more clearly the impact of the pandemic on pupils nationally and how this varies between particular groups of pupils (for example, disadvantaged pupils), schools and local authority areas” (bit.ly/3PAvWZz).

Key Stage 2 data national headlines from the 2019 SATs had continued to present a worrying pattern of decline, particularly in reading and for disadvantaged pupils. The 2022 data (bit.ly/3viyuDw) has confirmed our fears, alongside an unexpected headline for reading, where attainment levels actually rose. 

The headlines begin with the important reminder, “These are the first Key Stage 2 attainment statistics since 2019, after assessments were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic …” and, “These pupils experienced disruption to their learning during the pandemic, particularly at the end of Year 4 and in Year 5.” 

Key headlines are stark: the combined average attainment figure of 59% achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths is 6% down from 2018/19. 

Across other individual subjects, the percentage of pupils meeting the expected standard increased slightly in reading and fell in all other subjects compared with 2019:

  • Reading: 74%, up from 73%
  • Maths: 71%, down from 79%
  • Writing: 69%, down from 78%
  • Grammar, punctuation and spelling: 72%, down from 78%
  • Science: 79%, down from 83% 

Absences on test days 

The rise in pupil absences on test days nationally this year will have affected the average data. In addition, for some schools, not all areas of the primary curriculum leading up to the end of Key Stage 2 tests may have been covered due to Covid-related teacher absence. This might show on average that attainment has declined when these children might have been able to answer more of the questions had they covered all areas of the curriculum. 

The impact of the pandemic may also have meant more children achieving the lower marks and fewer pupils achieving the higher marks when compared with previous years – which means fewer children achieving greater depth scores. 

KS2 performance tables will not be published this year but the DfE will still produce the normal suite of KS2 measures at school level:

  • Primary schools will be able to access their own performance data via the schools checking exercise and Analyse School Performance (ASP).
  • Trusts, local authorities and governing bodies will have access to data via ASP and trusts will have access to their own multi-academy trust (MAT)-level data.
  • Ofsted – the DfE will provide the data to Ofsted to go in the inspection data summary report (IDSR) to inform inspection activity.
  • DfE teams – department officials will use the data to inform oversight by regional teams. 

Biggest challenge 

Despite the decision not to compare one school with another in performance tables, there are still issues related to who can see this data and how it is used. The DfE underlines that any data in 2021/22 needs to be used “more cautiously”. 

In setting performance management objectives, the DfE’s model policy on teacher appraisal and capability makes clear that, while objectives may be set using robust assessment data, “these will not be used in isolation and other factors will also be considered” (bit.ly/3cJH6g0). 

Other implications may emerge after regional analysis, especially on the impact of the pandemic on disadvantaged children and communities. The published data tells us that reading standards have improved since 2019 but is this true across all children? Does this include children in the most disadvantaged regions? It is also essential that we can isolate data from those regions that were most affected by Covid-19 over the last two years. 

Arguably, the biggest challenge relates to the implications of this data on one of the key ambitions in the schools white paper: by 2030, 90% of primary school children will achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and the percentage of children meeting the expected standard in the worst performing areas will have increased by a third (bit.ly/3J5AyUR). A recent study on KS2 SATs outcomes in 2022 suggests that only 1% of schools achieved the DfE’s 2030 target (bit.ly/3z86C6b). 

Without significant investment into primary education, and with a focus on the future of assessments, any improvements in pupil attainment will become less of an ambition and more of an impossibility. 

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary and Data Specialist