Published on: 14 Jul 2017

Make accountability accurate to what schools are actually challenged to do, and make it proportionate so that the focus stays firmly on the doing and not on reporting on the doing

Pupil progression, Stretch and Challenge – new school accountability measures in Wales

A comprehensive education reform programme is underway in Wales. It will introduce change to curriculum, assessment and teacher training.

‘Qualified for Life’ is the title of the current document that provides an overview of the reform programme and ‘Qualified for Life 2.0’ is due for publication in the autumn. It will give an update on the progress made and identify the work yet to be done in all key areas of the ambitious reform programme.

School leaders, governors, teachers and others will be particularly interested in the proposals for new accountability measures. All will be keen that the new accountability measures are an accurate reflection of the new curriculum, currently meant to be available for use in schools in 2018 ahead of a full roll-out in 2021.

Learner progression and the achievement of more able and talented students are currently pre-occupying those with a lead responsibility for considering new accountability measures. Kirsty Williams, Cabinet Secretary for Education in Welsh Government, gave evidence to the Children and Young People’s Committee of the Welsh Assembly in June, and reflecting on PISA results, she said:

“We have raised the performance of our children at the lowest level; they are performing above OECD average. What is heart breaking for me is to find Wales so woefully underrepresented in the highest categories of performance, in level 6 and level 5 in particular—50 per cent below, in some cases, the OECD average for Welsh children not performing at that highest level. So, it’s clear to me that we need to look at how our reforms can impact upon that.”

Estyn, the school Inspectorate, has also highlighted the underachievement of more able learners, including those from deprived backgrounds. In his 2015/2016 Annual Report, Meilyr Rowlands, the Chief Inspector of education and training in Wales, reported:

“In around a third of primary schools, more able pupils do not make enough progress because the work they are set is not challenging enough. In secondary schools, GCSE and A level results should be better at higher grades.”

The Welsh Government has argued that the comparatively low achievement of Wales’ highest achievers is an ‘unintended consequence’ of the Key Stage 4 performance measures it has used to hold schools to account.

The Cabinet Secretary said in June:

“One of the consequences of relying solely on the level 2 plus, of course, is that once a student’s got a C, that was regarded as a success. Now, of course that is a success if, for that individual child, the best result they could have got was a C. But if that child came into your school and was destined to get an A* but only ends up with a C in maths, that is not a success. But under the level 2 plus measure, that’s regarded as a success. So, we need a much more intelligent way of looking at school performance, and one that doesn’t drive behaviours or end up in unintended consequences.”

The Cabinet Secretary also confirmed that new and more intelligent accountability measures are not an easy thing to design:

“If it was easy, we would have done it. Somebody would have come up with a system before now if it was such an easy thing to do. We are in discussions at the moment to look at what a dashboard kind of progress measure could look like. So, we’re actively working on a new set of accountability and assessment regimes at present, but it’s challenging work and we have to think always: if we introduce this, what are the behaviours that will happen in school, and what, potentially, might be the unintended consequences of that?”

It will be a busy summer for those in Welsh Government who are looking at accountability.

Their mantra should be: make accountability accurate to what schools are actually challenged to do, and make it proportionate so that the focus stays firmly on the doing and not on reporting on the doing.

After all, only feeding the pig makes it fatter.

By Robin Hughes, Consultant, GL Assessment. Follow Robin on Twitter @RobinHughes66

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