Thursday, 3 November 2011

Educating Hedley

A Jersey secondary school's GCSE results would be the third worst in England and Wales if it was included in league tables. Grainville school saw 13% of pupils gain five A* to C GCSEs including English and maths in 2011. A breakdown of results has been published at the request of Education Minister James Reed. Director of Education Mario Lundy said Grainville school was "heading in the right direction". Jersey does not participate in the league table system in England and Wales. Grainville head teacher, John McGuinness, said the fact the school had a high percentage of pupils with special needs and from homes with English as a second language would have an impact on results. Island average The island average was 58% of pupils getting five A* to C GCSEs, which compares to a UK average of 53%. A Freedom of Information request revealed in February that state secondary schools in Jersey performed worse at GCSEs than almost all UK schools. Another States-run school, Haute Vallee, saw just 18% of pupils get 5 A* to C GCSEs, which was down from 20% in 2010 (1)

Les Quennevais (45%)
Le Rocqieur (28%)
Grainville (13%)
Haute Vallee (18%)
Hautlieu (97%)
JCG (96%)
Beaulieu (71%)
De La Salle (81%)

This has I think also to be placed in a broader context. With respect to children from homes with English as a second language, these would tend to be children from poorer, less affluent families. The Welsh case study shows how this can be the case.

The statisticians in Wales decided that a fairer and more useful way that just ranking by exam results would be to look at families of schools, and that there could be significant information revealed by comparing exam performance within families of schools. That also shows how a school measures up against others facing similar challenges:

For example, Cowbridge High School in the Vale of Glamorgan and Hawarden High School in Flintshire, which both serve relatively affluent areas [Family 20], are in one group - while Pen-Y-Dre High school in Merthyr Tydfil and Glyn Derw High School in Ely, Cardiff, which are both in relatively deprived areas, are in another [Family 6]. (2)

The families are set by the Welsh government and take into account the percentage of pupils at each school:

 eligible for Free School Meals
 living in areas classed in the most 20% deprived areas in Wales
 with special educational needs
 whose first language is not English or Welsh

It was notable that there was a significant difference between Family group 20 - affluent - and Family group 6 - deprived area.

% 5 A*-C GCSEs inc. English/Welsh and Maths
School Family 20:  72.66
School Family 6:  23.33

% Achieving 5 GCSEs (A* to C
School Family 20:  82.85
School Family 6:  41.96

Because the statistics are sorted by demographic means first, I think this is a clear indicator of a correlation between educational achievement and poverty.

That is not to say that all children from poor areas will do badly, and we all know of individual cases where either the parental focus on education, or the child's own drive and determination will lead to success despite the disadvantages, but that seems to rely more on home background and personality than the educational system, and luck, too, may play a part - Rutherford, for example, won a scholarships which allowed scope for his intelligence.

Jersey is a small Island, and we can't obviously group schools by families in quite the same way. It is obvious, however, that the two schools with the lowest results have catchment areas within deprived town areas, while Quennevais for example, is a much more affluent Parish.

There are still slum dwellings in St Helier, houses where families are cramped into fairly small rooms, where there is rising damp, doors and sills are rotting, and the landlords do the bare minimum to keep the place in repair. I know someone who lived in one for a while. There are no such dwellings that I am aware of in St Brelade.

According to Educational Testing Service, SAT scores rise with every $10,000 of family income. This should not be surprising since all the variables that contribute to high-test scores correlate strongly with family income: good jobs, years of schooling, positive attitudes about education, the capacity to expose one's children to books and travel, and the development of considerable social and intellectual capital that wealthy students bring with them when they enter school.

Related to this, the poorer families tend to also be those from homes with English as a second language, and as an added ingredient in the mix, the lowest performing schools have a larger proportion of special needs children in integration programmes than any others in Jersey:

Grainville head teacher, John McGuinness, said the fact the school had a high percentage of pupils with special needs and from homes with English as a second language would have an impact on results.

Facts and figures: Grainville have about 24% of pupils from homes with English as a second language and also about 24% of pupils with special needs.

We can, in fact, frame a falsifiable scientific hypothesis on Mr McGuinness' suggestion. If we have a stratified breakdown of results within the school, in three categories (a) general (b) homes with English as a second language (c) special needs, then we can test the results.

If they show English speaking children from English speaking homes are doing as well as other schools, and other children not doing so well, that would confirm the hypothesis. If all children do equally badly, it would falsify the hypothesis.

The other factor which has been raised is called "added value". This is a very simple concept, and I can illustrate it with an example from my days in the 1980s, when I had a brief spell teaching mathematics.

At secondary school, mathematics would be streamed, depending on the child's ability, but that ability was also based on their competence in mathematics on leaving secondary school. A top set, for example, would have no trouble in their first year in dealing with the multiplication, division, addition, subtraction and other manipulations of fractions. A third set might be largely lacking all competence. Yet the school syllabus might assume that - as it had been covered at their primary school - that they ought to have some competence in fractions. Hence, for the third set, there would be additional work needed in playing at "catch up", in a way that simply wasn't needed for the top set. So if - by the end of the year - the third set achieved the same level of competence that the top set had started with in fractions, there would be "added value", because they had moved on from their base point. However, the drag effect of these initial conditions meant that by the time they came to GCSE, the competency of the third set would probably still be behind that of the top set.

Again, within the system, individuals may come from a primary school at apparently one competency level, and move up from one set to another because they can achieve competency faster. A flexible system should allow for this, and I have seen that in place at Haut Vallee, for example. Because pupils are taught in classes at both primary and secondary schools, there is a need to set the pace at which the class can be expected to achieve competency, and that may mean that a brighter pupil from one primary school has less competency than one from another primary school.

Added value is often questioned, largely because it is harder to quantify in objective forms, and is often based upon assessments of target grades with a degree of subjectivity, where it is not clear how the baseline is measured. But there is no doubt that it exists. If  a child with severe mental handicap at Mont A L'Abbe, for example, manages to read basic words, and write, and can follow basic instructions (which could, for example, be transferred to a gardening job, as at Acorn Enterprises) - those skills are just as significant as A grades, or perhaps even more so, in terms of the degree of achievement and competency from that child's baseline.

Clearly if we had a baseline starting measurement - like the CAT grading - at the start of secondary schools throughout the Island, including the fee paying schools, it would be easier to gauge added value, because we would know the academic competencies of the catchment groups.

But as it stands, added value is problematic, because an agreed method of assessment is still debatable, and current systems appear to have a strong subjective element.

Test scores are projected for students and then compared to the scores they actually achieve at the end of the school year. Classroom scores that equal or exceed projected values suggest that instruction was highly effective. Conversely, scores that are mostly below projections suggest that the instruction was ineffective.

The problem with that is how to determine "projected values", which introduces an element of subjectivity into the equation. This is why Patrick Watson has criticised it:

There is  no international consensus  evident on the best way to measure added value. An NFER paper in 1999 when debate on added value  was really beginning in earnest said 'What value added data cannot do is prove anything. Value added evidence is only part of the story of school effectiveness. The notion of a value added measure which tells you – and everyone else – how well your school or department or class is doing, and is also simple to calculate, understand and use, is a non-starter'.

In the absense of that kind of measurement, or a statistical test of the McGuinness hypothesis, talk about "failing schools" simply is not helpful. It doesn't identify where any problems lie, but it is simply a way for some people to beat the education department with a stick.

But Mario Lundy, speaking on BBC radio about "rounded children" also being important - a metaphor, that alas, made me think more of the problems of obesity in schools - also is not really addressing the problems faced.

If poverty and deprivation is a significant causal factor in lower results, because of the hand that those schools with urban catchment areas have been given, then that should open up the debate to wider issues, as to how that can also be addressed. It may be easier to brow-beat James Reed, the Educational Minister, over the head with simplistic statistics than face the very real and growing gap between rich and poor.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The range of scores is not entirely complete.

Bear in mind that a fair number of young people (I'd guess many of them from Haute Vallee and Grainville) are also now doing vocational qualifications at Highlands. They'll still be on the school's books, but the extra qualification they get will be credited to Highlands, while the loss of a day a week reduces access to academic courses.

It'd also be interesting to see an aggregate score for Jersey of the percentage of 5 A*-C passes, and compare that with a similar sized region in the UK - Cheltenham, say.