'This is the floorshow, the last ideal' - The Sisters of Mercy
Yesterday, Twitter lit up with debate and disbelief over Nicky Morgan's speech to NAHT. Much of the consternation related to her assertion that "this year...no more than 1% more schools will be below the floor standard than last year". How could she guarantee this? How can she possibly know this in advance with such confidence? With new tests and assessments based on a new curriculum, how can anyone predict how many schools will be below floor standard?
The reason for the confusion is that everyone is focussed on attainment, and for the past year there has been a creeping panic that many pupils will fail to meet the expected standard, especially in writing. And it even seemed that the DfE had come round to this way of thinking with its statements on standards this year in its clarification document on KS2 writing:
'As this is the first year of schools working with the new interim assessment frameworks, the Minister for Schools has written to the Chief Inspector asking him to ensure that Ofsted inspectors take into account national performance and contextual factors when considering a school's performance in writing at KS2, which is used as part of the floor standard.'
'The Minister has also asked RSCs to be mindful of the impact of these new arrangements in making decisions about issuing warning notices and tackling underperformance following this year’s results.'
So it looked like the ground was being prepared for a large number of schools to be below floor and that some degree of lenience would be shown.
But then Nicky Morgan announces, with head-scratching certainty, that there would be no more than 1% more schools below floor than last year. This means just 6% of schools.
Was working towards the expected standard the new expected standard?
Well, as mentioned above, we were all focussing on attainment: the percentage of pupils passing the expected standard thresholds in reading and maths tests (scaled score of 100+), and assessed as meeting the expected standard or working at greater depth in writing. We all assumed there would be a high percentage of schools where fewer than 65% of pupils meet this standard in the three subjects combined, and this could well be the case. But as stated in the DfE's primary accountability technical document, that is only part of the floor standard. Schools that fall below the 65% threshold will need to meet or exceed each of the VA thresholds for reading, writing and maths. And these haven't been set yet. We know these thresholds will be negative, we just don't know how negative, and we are not in a position to have any attempt at estimating VA right now, or predicting what these thresholds might be.
So, let's put this in the context of old money. Imagine if, last year, the DfE announced that it had changed the attainment floor standard from 65% L4+ RWM to 65% L5+ RWM. Suddenly the majority of schools are below floor. Then it states that any schools falling below this new, tougher standard must be above each of the VA thresholds for reading, writing and maths.
The panic grows.
Then it announces that the VA thresholds are 97.2, 96.8, and 97.1.
At a guess, we'd probably only have around 3% of schools below floor.
Now, I was under the impression that the DfE would set the KS2 VA thresholds based on 2016 data and maintain them for future years, much like they have with the progress 8 threshold for secondary schools. This would give schools some idea of what they're up against. But I can't see how this will work now. With standards improving each year - as they now doubt will with pupils having increasing exposure to this new curriculum - I suspect VA thresholds will change to reflect this. As more schools meet the 65% floor standard they will need to tighten the progress measures to ensure they catch the right number of schools. You can make data do anything you like of course.
And, no doubt, we'll all be kept guessing.