School Banding Information to improve school standards

In 2011, the Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning’s twenty stage action plan dedicated the Welsh Government to release school banding information to improve school standards following the 2009 PISA results.

School Banding

What is banding?

Banding uses the relative performance of schools to group schools into one of five bands. Band 1 schools are those whose statistics show great overall performance and progress across those measures. Band 5 schools are those in which performance and progress are weak relative to other universities.

Banding groups schools according to a selection of factors. The intention is that the information is used to inform planning, target support and also to challenge functionality. It’s meant to identify strengths, weaknesses and best practice and encourage intervention.

The banding model cannot be used to monitor change over time as it is not known whether a change in band for a school is because of changes in functionality in that school itself, or into other schools moving down or up the groups. In 2012/13 and 2013/14, schools in Bands 4 and 5 received additional financial aid of #10,000 per school.

How does it work?

Bands are based on performance data of 15 to 16 year-olds:

– The level 2 threshold including English/Welsh and mathematics;
– An average of the total points awarded per pupil in GCSE and equivalent qualifications, points for a total amount of learning equivalent to 8 GCSEs are counted (the capped points score);
– Attendance; and
– English/Welsh and mathematics average points score.
A school’s score is modified to take into account the percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals.

This methodology has not changed since school banding data was first published, but the measures will be reviewed following the 2013 publication.

Concerns about banding

From the outset, many of the teaching unions have expressed concerns claiming:

– Banding is a return to the ‘league tables’;
– Even if there are improvements in all schools, there would be similar amounts of schools placed in bands 4 and 5 – the system does not allow for bands 4 or 5 to be empty;
– There is a ‘yo-yo effect’ with schools in band 1 in the first round of data falling to bands 4 or 5;
– There is a disparity between school banding levels and Estyn’s inspection information with some schools having had aspects of their work judged as excellent by Estyn but still having a low banding;
– The system of banding schools has fuelled competition rather than collaboration;
– A recent poll conducted by TES Cymru found that 62.2 per cent of teachers and 75.4 per cent of heads said they did not believe the introduction of banding had helped improve school standards.

Welsh Government’s response

However, the Welsh Government:

– Have always stressed that school banding data are not ‘league tables’ nor about naming and shaming, but say that data establishes priorities for differentiated support and to identify best practice;
– State that the banding model is a relative,’ normreferencing’ model taking the context of schools into account and challenging schools even when ‘raw’ performance is high.
– Say that around three quarters of schools (168) stayed in the same band or moved up/down by one band between 2011 and 2012; they also say that all the changes can be explained by changes in performance and schools which change by several bands have marked changes in performance;
– State that Estyn inspections are independent and cover a far broader range of considerations and it is reasonable to expect that banding and inspection outcomes will generally show similar trends but they will not align as such.
– Say that Band 4 and Band 5 schools have seen an increase in learners achieving the Level 2 threshold including a pass at grade C or above at GCSE in English or Welsh first language and mathematics of roughly five percentage points in between 2011 and 2012.
However, Band 1 schools have seen a decrease in learners achieving the Level 2 threshold of roughly three percentage points in the same period.

Where can the data be seen?

The data for 2013 (alongside data for earlier years) could be seen on the Welsh Government site. The Welsh Government also publishes the My local school site which also includes data on student numbers and features, Schools will also be benchmarked against schools with similar levels of Free School Meals and compared against schools in the same ‘families’. For primary schools the Welsh Government have stated that they have not had adequately robust information to be utilised in the calculation of bands. Primary banding therefore will is not being undertaken until 2014 and will probably be based on the newest reading and numeracy tests. But, there’s a range of primary school performance data on the my regional college website.