Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
In February I announced my intention to establish a new School Standards Unit within my department. The Unit was established in May and one of its first tasks has been to develop the national banding system for schools as part of the improvement agenda that I set out in my February address.
As we approach the end of term I want to update colleagues on progress in developing the system, to set out what the system will achieve and outline the key actions planned for the autumn term.
The introduction of a banding system is one of a suite of policy actions designed to give us a clearer focus on our performance and progress. The system will group secondary and primary schools into bands reflecting their outcomes and progress, taking account of the challenge they face from socio-economic circumstances. Special schools will not be banded.
The banding system will use national data sets to provide a consistent approach to grouping schools according to where they are on their improvement journey. It will give the School Standards Unit a starting point for discussion with consortia and local authorities about priorities for support and challenge. In turn, it will give consortia and local authorities a starting point for discussion with schools; it will provide a basis upon which to direct our resources to where they are needed most to ensure we secure the improvements necessary in our school system.
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.
The national school banding system is a tool to help us be effective in driving improvement across the board. The most important aspect of banding will be the support, challenge and sharing of best practice that follow. The development of a framework and statutory guidance to support this will be key to delivering long term, sustainable improvements.
The School Standards Unit has worked closely with the sector. As a result of this work we currently have a pilot banding system for secondary schools which uses a mix of data to reflect most recent outcomes, progress over time, contextual results and value added data. The School Standards Unit is testing this model in the first round of consortium stocktakes this term.
Following feedback from all local authorities this term, the model for secondary schools will be refined and finalised in time for the start of the new academic year. Work has begun on the primary school banding model which will be based on the same principles as the secondary model using national data sets, recent outcomes, progress and context.
It is important that schools, those involved in supporting them on their improvement journey, and parents understand which band their school is in, what it means in terms of support and challenge and priorities for improvement. That is why I have arranged for the sector to receive notification today about the progress we have made and the planned next steps in implementation of the school banding system.
Early in the autumn term each secondary school will receive details of the band into which they have been placed, the data on which the banding has been based and detailed guidance to help them interpret and understand the banding. We will also share the banding information with local authorities and support the implementation of the system with a suite of communication materials and activities to ensure as complete an understanding of the system and its purpose as possible.
For secondary schools, this initial banding will use data up to the 2010 external examination results. This is to ensure that schools, governing bodies and local authorities have banding information alongside other key performance information to inform discussion on relative performance and target setting early in the autumn term. Once we have data for the 2011 examinations the banding will be updated and the revised information sent to schools.
As work progresses with development of the model for primary schools I will keep colleagues updated and communicate a timeline for release of information.