The PDFs on this page have been archived. Links will take you to documents on the National Archive Website.

When measuring the performance of maintained schools in improving the academic achievements of their pupils, the Department for Education and Skills should take account of newly available data on the academic achievements of the pupils in earlier stages of their education and on aspects of their economic, social and cultural backgrounds.

Jump to downloads

This recommendation appears in a report today to Parliament by head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn. Although not all relevant factors can be taken account of, the report points out that adjusting for the influence of those external factors for which data are available provides a more robust and objective assessment of school performance – in terms of the difference schools make – than measures of academic achievement alone.

The National Audit Office report is based on analysis of data for more than one million pupils in more than 3,100 schools who sat their Key Stage 3 tests or GCSE/GNVQ examinations in 2002. The analysis shows that the wide variations between the average academic achievements of pupils in different schools at both Key Stage 3 and GCSE level diminish substantially when adjustments are made for the influence of external factors, although there remain considerable differences between high and low performing schools. And taking account of external factors can make a big difference in the performance rankings of schools relative to one another.

The analysis showed some association between different types of school and the difference they make to academic achievement. Selective schools, specialist schools, faith schools, beacon schools and single sex schools all achieved, on average and to varying degrees, a higher ranking than the average for all schools at either Key Stage 3 or GCSE level or both, although the average differences in performance are small.

Prior academic achievement was the external factor that had the strongest association with current academic achievement. Eligibility for free school meals, which is used as an indicator of deprivation, also has a strong association. However, eligibility for free school meals is a fairly imprecise indicator of deprivation. It does not assess relative economic well-being, or capture other social, cultural and environmental factors that might also have a strong influence on academic achievement.

The characteristics of an effective school, in terms of the quality of education provided, are widely recognised. They have been promoted by Government policy and initiatives in recent years, for example through the specialist schools programme, and are the main focus of Ofsted’s inspection programme. They include a clear ethos or vision, related to the school’s particular circumstances; effective leadership and management; high quality teaching; effective procedures for encouraging pupil attendance and good behaviour; and strong links with parents and the local community. These characteristics can take many different forms, and the most effective schools are those that are best able to adapt them to their local circumstances and priorities.

The National Audit Office report makes the following specific recommendations to the Department for Education and Skills:

  • that it should produce and make publicly available performance information for maintained secondary schools that takes into account academic achievements adjusted not only for pupil prior achievement, but also for other external influences;
  • that it should use this adjusted performance information as a tool, amongst others, for assessing school performance and evaluating the effectiveness of policies that impact on schools;
  • that, in association with other departments, local authorities and other organisations with an interest in indicators of economic and social deprivation, it should explore whether an indicator more sophisticated than eligibility for free school meals can be developed; and
  • that it should ensure that schools have sufficient flexibility in their use of resources to best meet the educational needs of all pupils.

There is also a recommendation to Ofsted that, in informing its judgements on the quality of education provided by schools and in further developing its risk-based approach to school inspections, it should use the improved information now becoming available to take more account of the influence of external factors on the academic achievements of pupils.

"Measuring and comparing the performance of schools are vital to the task of improving the education of our children. The Department and Ofsted are now able to take into account the influence of external factors in order to analyse the difference that schools make to the academic achievements of their pupils. This provides a more robust and objective assessment of the relative performance of schools, and gives policy makers a firmer basis for targeting their efforts on those schools most in need of support."

Sir John Bourn


Publication details

Latest reports