The unelected man behind one of the most important Lib Dem achievements in government

He isn’t a minister. He’s not elected. He’s not even an unelected member of the House of Lords. But Tim Leunig will be able to look back on this Parliament as one where he made a much bigger contribution than many Liberal Democrat ministers.

The cause? The new method for measuring school success in England which he first worked on when at Centre Forum and now has been instrumental into turning into policy as the Department for Education’s Chief Analyst.

Ministers such as David Laws have been supportive, and Tim Leunig is now officially in a politically impartial job, but the new scheme is very much Tim’s creation dating from his days as an active Liberal Democrat thinker.

The choice of how to measure schools as a huge knock-on impact on how schools function, and meaningful measures are a vital part of giving parents (and local councillors) a good understanding of the performance of their school and what they can demand of it. Bad measures, however, misdirect teaching efforts and mislead parents. That’s why Tim Leunig’s work is so important.

As he has described it for the Civil Service Quarterly:

Prior to 2010, a school was “above the floor” if three in ten pupils were awarded 5 of more GCSEs of grade C or better. Schools failing to meet this standard were deemed to be “below the floor”. Such schools would be inspected by Ofsted. Should Ofsted confirm that the school’s performance is poor, a change of management would follow.

This approach encourages schools to concentrate on C/D borderline pupils. Getting a pupil from Cs to A*s, or from Fs to Ds gets no credit. It also means that intake, not the quality of teaching, largely determines whether a school is defined as doing well. A grammar school will never be below the floor, whereas some schools have intakes that are much more challenging. This makes jobs in schools with challenging intakes more pressured, and less attractive…

The new system has at its core the progress that all pupils make in their time at secondary school … A school’s intake of pupils doesn’t matter, because the new system is based on the progress pupils make, not their final attainment.

Schools will receive points for grades in 8 GCSE subjects. A G grade gets 1 point, up to 8 for an A*. English and Maths have to be in the mix, and are doubled weighted, reflecting their importance…

Each pupil’s GCSE score is compared with that of other pupils who performed equally well at age 11. This gives us a measure of the pupil’s progress relative to reasonable expectations. A school’s progress score is the average of its pupils’ progress scores. This is the key measure: if pupils in a school average half a grade lower than the same mix of children typically achieve elsewhere, the school is below the floor, and will be inspected. Furthermore, every school will have to declare their progress score on their website. Parents will know whether children typically learn more or less in each of their local schools. The formal national accountability system will support local, informal, accountability at the school gate…

The proposal has been universally welcomed. Graham Stuart, (Conservative) chair of the Education Select Committee described it as “an educational breakthrough”, while by his (Labour) predecessor, Barry Sheerman said it was “the best statement I have heard from a Minister since 2010”.

Independent experts agreed. To quote Loic Menzies again: “it is *the* most important (positive) change the Coalition is making in education.” One head described it as “a real game changer”, while another said “these new measures are challenging and fair”.

ASCL, the principal heads’ union stated that they had argued “for a change to this kind of measure for many years”. Even the NUT, who argue against quantitative accountability measures, described the changes as a “step in the right direction”, particularly welcoming “the move away from a ‘spotlight’ on pupils on the C/D borderline”. The Local Schools Network, who have been critical of most of the current government’s changes said that “this is one of the most well-thought out papers to come out of the DfE recently, asking the right questions and raising the right issues”.

You can read in full Tim Leunig’s piece about measuring schools here.

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