Today the secondary performance tables are being published. Parents looking at the performance of their local school will be able to interrogate the progress pupils make, the attainment of pupils and the quality of the academic curriculum on offer at the school.
Since 2010, the government has focused on putting England’s education system on a par with the best in the world. The National Curriculum has been re-written to put greater emphasis on giving all pupils the core knowledge they need; internationally evidenced teaching methods have been introduced to England’s classrooms; and greater powers have been given to teachers and head teachers to deal with poor behaviour.
Primary schools now use phonics to teach children to read – a teaching approach that emphasises the relationship between letters and sounds. As a result of these reforms, there are now 147,000 more six year olds on track to becoming fluent readers than in 2012. Consequently, other countries are now looking to England as an example of how to successfully teach pupils to read.
Asian style maths mastery and a renewed emphasis on the importance of rigorous textbooks is re-invigorating the teaching of maths. The government is determined to learn from the teaching methods of Shanghai and textbook use in Singapore. Both districts have recently topped the international education tables and it is important we learn from these and other world-leading countries.
In secondary schools we have introduced the EBacc – English Baccalaureate – a combination of 5 academic subjects: English, maths, the sciences, a humanity (history or geography) and a foreign language. These subjects represent the academic core of subjects that the vast majority of pupils should study up until the age of 16.
In 2010, the proportion of pupils being entered into all 5 of these subjects stood at one-fifth. That figure has risen year on year to two-fifths. The EBacc policy is driving more schools to offer more pupils a rich academic core of GCSEs. There have been large increases in entries to some EBacc subjects in the past year alone: 82% of pupils entered EBacc science subjects, up from 70% in 2015; and 72% of pupils entered EBacc humanities, up from 65% in 2015.
This year we launched the new Progress 8 measure. This policy is designed to reward schools for the progress their pupils have made since the end of primary school. This measure gives a fairer assessment of the effectiveness of schools. It is important to recognise the excellent work by many schools throughout the country, often with cohorts of pupils with moderate or relatively low educational prior attainment. Equally, it is vital that schools with high-attaining cohorts make the most of the talents of their pupils.
Schools with a Progress 8 score of 0 are making average progress with their pupils. Most schools have Progress 8 scores between -1 and +0.7. About 5% of schools registered a school above 0.5 last year - these schools are performing superbly.
89% of Harris Academy Battersea’s pupils are from disadvantaged backgrounds, over half speak English as an additional language and the school has twice as many pupils with a special educational need as the national average. But Harris Academy Battersea registered a Progress 8 score of 1.14. Roughly speaking, this means that pupils at this impressive school achieved, on average, more than a grade more per subject than pupils with a similar starting point.
As a member of the transformative Harris Federation academy chain, Harris Academy Battersea teaches a rigorous knowledge-rich academic curriculum and behaviour at the school is exemplary. Schools like this demonstrate what is possible to achieve when pupils – whatever their background – are taught an academic curriculum like that enjoyed by pupils at the best independent schools, in a school environment that ensures poor behaviour cannot derail lessons. Innovative free schools and academy chains are leading the way by demonstrating what this combination of academic and disciplinary rigour can achieve. They can now act as a beacon for other schools to follow.
Prior to the introduction of Progress 8, schools were judged primarily on the proportion of their pupils achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grade C or above including English and maths. Whilst raw achievement was – and remains – crucial to pupils, this measure could result in perverse incentives for schools. The focus on just five subjects could result in a narrowing of the curriculum; the cut off at the C-grade could result in enormous focus on pupils at the C/D boundary, to the detriment of the their more-able and less-able peers; and schools with academically weaker cohorts were often not recognised for their hard work.
It is worth reflecting on the state of school exams in 2010. Grade inflation was rife, pupils were being entered into record numbers of so-called ‘GCSE equivalents’ and parents, pupils and the public had diminishing faith in the quality of exams.
From 2010, the government set about reforming the curriculum and the exams to ensure pupils in England were receiving an education on par with the best in the world. These reforms have culminated in the new GCSEs, the first of which – in English and maths - will be taken later this year. The rest of the GCSE subjects will be phased in over the next two years.
Pupils will no longer be chasing A*s. Instead the most able pupils will be awarded a 9 – a grade designed to be far more academically demanding than an A*. Grades will range from 9 to 1 and since the government put an end to grade inflation this new grading system should stand the test of time, breathing confidence back into the quality of England’s exam system.
The school system has undergone great change over the past six or seven years and has consequently seen great improvement.
The creation of free schools and the rapid expansion of academies has given head teachers and teachers greater powers over their schools and classrooms, encouraging a diverse eco-system of schools to emerge. This plurality of schools is in stark contrast to the uniformity of the local-authority near-monopoly that existed before2010. As a result, innovative schools like Harris Academy Battersea that prioritise firm discipline and a stretching academic curriculum have become the north star for system wide innovation.
Curriculum reforms that prioritise the academic subjects that are most valued by this country’s world leading universities have added rigour. New accountability measures are penalising schools that seek to game the system and they are encouraging schools to focus on the progress made by all pupils – whatever their background or prior attainment.
And the government is determined to go further still. We want to ensure a good school place for every child. Nearly 9 in 10 schools are now rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding and almost 1.8 million more children are attending a school rated as good or better than in 2010, but we want that standard of education for every child. That is why the government is looking at ways to encourage universities and independent schools to create more good school places.
We are looking to remove arbitrary restrictions imposed upon faith schools that are inhibiting the likes of the Catholic Church from opening more good and outstanding schools. And we are looking at ways to expand the number of selective school places, so that all pupils – whatever their background – can benefit from the excellent education offered by grammar schools – 99% of which are rated as good or outstanding. Today’s figures underline just how well disadvantaged pupils perform in grammar schools.
Today’s results represent another milestone in the journey this country’s education system has been on since 2010. They show how far the education system has come and the leading schools show what is possible to achieve.