Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
Next week I shall be publishing the final bands for secondary schools. I now want to set out my approach to banding primary schools.
It is important that we consider the whole passage of children through the education system and ensure that we have quality provision at an early age which remains consistently high for all pupils until they leave education. That is why we have to band primary schools as well as secondary schools. The same principles apply. We need to look objectively at the quality of provision in each school and identify leading performance from which we can learn as well as look at whether local authorities and consortia need to provide additional support to those schools which are underperforming.
In developing banding for primary schools, I therefore want to put in place an approach which is objective, as consistent as possible with the approach for secondary schools and which focuses on my priorities of improving literacy, numeracy and reducing the impact of deprivation on educational outcomes.
There are greater challenges in developing an objective model for primary schools compared to secondary schools. The greatest of these is the large number of schools which have a small number of pupils.
When schools are small there will be very few pupils, or even sometimes no pupils, who contribute to the performance measures which are used in the calculation of banding. This means that a small school’s performance measures will fluctuate markedly from year to year, and this could be as extreme as 100% or 0% in any year, depending on the capability of 1 or a handful of pupils.
For this reason I shall be excluding the smallest schools from banding. It is simply not possible to produce a statistically robust and objective measure for schools this small. Initially we look at developing an approach of excluding schools who have fewer than ten pupils contributing to the performance measures used in the banding. This represents around 30% of schools.
Most local authorities will already have an approach for deciding the level of support which they provide to their primary schools. I will expect consortia to draw together the approaches in the local authorities in their area and use the banding information for the larger schools alongside the approaches for the smaller schools. To help consortia, we shall provide a profile based on the performance measures used for banding for all primary schools – including those who are too small to have a band calculated for them.
We will also need to look at using 3-year averages to ensure that we are not using overly fluctuating figures to calculate the banding.
I am also very aware that the band for primary schools with resource bases for children with special educational needs may be lower than if they did not have such a base. This is far more of a significant issue in the primary sector than the secondary sector as the number of pupils in resource bases will generally be a much higher proportion of the total number of pupils.
I want to ensure that this is recognised and that is why we shall ensure that primary schools with resource bases will be denoted as such when we publish the bands of primary schools. Officials in the Welsh Government are currently working with local authorities to identify which schools have resource bases.
Currently we have around 150 schools which are either only infant or junior schools. Only the performance measures for either Key Stage 1 or 2 will therefore apply to them. The band for those schools will therefore be calculated by comparing the information from the relevant Key Stage with all other primary schools’ performance on those measures.
The performance measures will be based on teacher assessments at Key Stage 1 and 2. I know there are concerns over the consistency of these assessments and the associated moderation processes. Over the next 2 to 3 years we shall be reviewing assessments and introducing new reading and numeracy tests which will be more robust. Until that time, we will use the teacher assessments as the basis for the calculation of bands as it is sufficiently robust to give us a lot of information. To wait for two years for better information will be negligent of us when we could be using this information now to improve the education of our children. We shall be classing the bands produced for primary schools in the first two years as interim for these reasons.
Officials will be working closely with key stakeholders, including local authorities, consortia, teachers, teaching unions, governors and parents early in the New Year to develop the model for primary banding. Schools will be provided with a provisional band before Easter. We shall then provide the final band in the Summer Term.
I will reiterate that banding is NOT about labelling schools, naming and shaming or creating a divisive league table. It is about grouping our schools according to a range of factors to establish priorities for differentiated support and identifying those from whom the sector can learn.