Yet recent research has shown ‘there is little hard science underpinning the linear system in use’, with only 9% of pupils making linear progress at each key stage (from KS1-4). As a twin, I had experienced first-hand the non-linear bursts and spurts of progress. Experiencing the same teaching, parenting and environment (variables that often account for variation in progress) my twin sister and I progressed in completely different ways at different times and at varying speeds. As the report suggests, ‘more children get to the ‘right’ place in the ‘wrong’ way than get to the ‘right’ place in the ‘right’ way’. This has implications for the way we use attainment scores – if targets are set based just on scores from the last Key Stage tests, this means nearly all children will be deemed underperforming at some point in their school careers.
What I found particularly interesting was that the predictability of progress and attainment is poorest in those children with low levels of attainment at Key Stage 1, the majority of whom will either outperform or underperform at KS2. We must be careful not to restrict this group of pupils by setting low targets for attainment or restricting their access to more challenging learning, as many could go on to perform highly in their later school career. This was exactly the case with my sister, who performed so poorly through much of primary school that teachers wanted to put her in intervention groups and lower ability sets. Luckily my parents refused, on grounds of wanting to keep us together and a faith that my sister had it in her – they were proved right by top GCSE Grades, a degree in PPE from Oxford and a career in diplomacy with the Foreign Office.
This presents a challenge – how do we ensure accountability, and more importantly ensure that we provide the right support at the right time to the right people, if we are relying so heavily on the use of this linear data system. We need to develop better systems for this and allow for a more complex representation of progress without compromising on holding ourselves, as schools, accountable. As schools we have been guilty of allowing measurement to supercede learning. Instead, we need to be more adept with using a range of evidence and measures to understand and support progress.