I have been meaning to write this blog for a while but I keep putting it off because the subject matter is a little bit sensitive, probing into the dark areas of data mismanagement for perceived performance gains.
So let’s highlight some of the ways that schools are playing the system, how these games can be spotted and how we can gain greater insight into what is happening. Let’s start with everyone’s favourite qualification right now, the European Computer Driving License:
The ECDL has been around a fairly long time, certainly I can remember having the opportunity to do some similar exams whilst I was working for a local authority way back in 2003. However what is happening now is that it is being seen as an easy qualification for schools to gain a huge boost to their progress 8 score in the Open element. The ECDL story is what triggered me to write this piece today when I saw the 346% increase in the numbers of ECDL qualifications achieved over the past year.
So, 117,200 certificates in the past year, that almost puts it on a par with French or GCSE PE for the number of entries. The rise of ECDL has been well documented elsewhere, most notably when the PiXL club touted it as an easy success route at one of their national conferences.
Much else has been written about the rise of ECDL, most notably from Schools Week, here and again here. Also weighing in heavily on the debate are Edudatalab who make it clear in this piece that student’s achieve dis-proportionally higher grades in the ECDL than they do in other qualifications…
“In the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) qualification, which has drawn criticism recently, the difference is staggering. On average, pupils taking the ECDL achieve 52 points – equivalent to a grade A – whereas they average 38 points – below grade C – in their GCSEs.” (Edudatalab, May 2016)
So not only can higher grades be achieved, but schools can put student’s through the qualification in a much shorter amount of time, 3 or 4 days of intensive teaching and testing can achieve results for students way in excess of what they can achieve in a two year course in a GCSE subject. In my experience, an employer might value an A grade in mathematics, higher than a Distinction in ECDL, but the performance tables awards them equal points. And this is the crux really, the fault does not lie in the existence of the ECDL qualification but instead lies at the feet of whoever decided that the course was the equivalent of top grades in mainstream GCSEs. However it is not mathematics that is suffering in the progress 8 world, all students have to take mathematics. The ‘loser’ qualifications come in the form of GCSEs that also are available for the open bucket, they cannot compete with the power of ECDL. The dilemmas schools face are thus: Spend two years completing an approved GCSE in a non-Ebacc subject or spend 3 days blitzing ECDL and achieving higher tariff results to boot.
Of course, this hoo-hah has not gone unnoticed, if the DfE and Ofqual seem oblivious to this phenomenon then at least Ofsted appear to be on the ball. In their Summer Update to Inspectors, they make reference on pages 4 and 5 to Examination Entry and Curriculum where they state:
identify any subjects with a substantially higher percentage of entry than the national figure, taking into account any specialism of the school, and the total of all qualifications in a subject area, such as information and communication technology (ICT), or in related areas, such as ICT and computer science
Without mentioning any particular qualification, this could well be alluding to ECDL entries.
Schools need to tread carefully in this area and think carefully about future entry patterns, I’m up for rewarding schools efforts, but not at the expense of others (remember Progress 8 is a zero-sum game, so improvements – however they are made – in one school then affect the rest of the school population.) If ECDL really is the answer, every student might as well do it and then we can be judged on the remaining Progress 7.
The ECDL effect can be seen via performance figures where schools have great Open element scores but lower impact on the scores in English, maths, and Ebacc elements.
So three ways the ECDL issue can be resolved:
- Reduce points, and then schools that still feel it is genuinely beneficial to their students can still offer it.
- Tighter Ofsted scrutiny over entry patterns (this might already be happening)
- Publish Progress 8 without ECDL, or simply the best 7 subjects – Progress 7, this would highlight any schools that are relying on one qualification to boost scores.
OK next up on my list…
MFL qualifications for native speakers:
This is not going to be a popular stance (with some) but some schools simply put their students in for GCSE qualifications in their home language.
How can this be spotted?
When we look at school results and see things like; 5 A grades in Polish, 8 A* grades in Urdu, 3 top grades in Mandarin.
OK fine, these results like ECDL are falsely inflating a slot in progress 8, this is not as widespread but possibly even less worthy, simply because the school has not taught these children anything, whereas there is an element of teaching in ECDL. A GCSE in their own language is probably not that useful to them.
The counter argument to this is that these children often have lower ability in English and therefore this is simply a counterbalance to that, but it isn’t really close to being the same thing. Lower prior attainment in English will be reflected in KS2 starting points.
If Ofsted were looking, they could say, OK – 3 A grades in Polish, great well done, you must have some great teaching in that area, can I observe part of a lesson please? Where would they go? These things are superfluous to the school system.
See also: Graded Music Qualifications, taken privately outside of school – claimed by the school – the same thing really.
Finally for today, because I have a bunch more:
The Missing Masses:
When Edudatalab, published the excellent Floors, Tables and Coasters in 2015, I expected a much bigger uproar nationally about this graph:
This clearly shows an exodus of pupils in Autumn and Spring Term of Y11 and what happens on the third Thursday in January? The school census, where pupils on roll at that point count in school performance figures whether they like it or not. This isn’t just an odd phenomena this is deliberate massaging of the figures to remove ‘troublesome’ or dare I suggest ‘underperforming’ students before they are cemented into the school performance figures.
This is a major concern to me in education, how can these students simply be allowed to be AWOL, do we not as a nation have a duty of responsibility to educate this students to the best of our ability to the end of compulsory education.
However deeper than this even is the MAT effect. Students switching schools within MATs to simply go onto a roll in January (briefly perhaps) so that they do not adversely affect the results of a school that is in danger of inspection in the next cycle. They might never set foot in the school. I’ve mentioned this before here, it’s impossible to prove from here.
However, surely nationally, the NPD can be interrogated to show numbers on roll at individual schools in Y10 January and then the following year Y11 January and this can be used as a basis for further investigations.
I don’t like this one at all, infact I like it least of the three mentioned today. The darkest of the dark arts, a large secondary MAT with an outstanding special school included… have a think where those students are ‘going’ for a few days in January.