A decade ago, the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching expected standards did not vary much across the regions – except for a little place with an unfixable education system called Inner London.
The lines in blue on the chart below show that most regions had just over 70% of pupils meeting the expected standard at that time.
The new expected standard is calibrated on a different scale so comparisons are tricky. Everybody knows that London now has great primary schools. But there is another region doing surprisingly well without anyone talking about it – the North East.
Compared to the expected KS2 results which FFT produces based on KS1 results, of the 12 local authorities in the North East only Northumberland shows as having performance that is behind what would be expected. (This is almost certainly because their middle school system leads to inflated KS1 results at first schools, and middle schools who do not treat KS2 as a high stakes exit test.)
This strong performance across the region means that just 20 primary schools there fall below the floor standard (less than 3% of schools in the region).
The subject data tells an interesting story of exactly how the region is pulling away from the ‘pack’ of other English regions. Here we use the data contained in FFT’s Aspire that converts the historic KS2 marks achieved by pupils into new scaled scores.
In maths it shows London some way ahead of other regions in 2014, and increasing this advantage in the new 2016 maths tests. The improvement in the North East’s maths performance is impressive; it is now significantly above regions such as the North West and South East.
The pattern in reading scaled scores looks a little different. The North East has again improved and has now joined the southerly regions with above average performance – London, the South East and the South West.
So what has been done to the North East to produce such a fantastic improvement in performance?
The answer seems to be nothing!
Their primary school sector has very few sponsored academies or free schools, lower rates of academy conversion than elsewhere, and fewer faith schools overall (though most of these are voluntary aided rather than controlled).
The fact that a region can improve on its own through the careful effort of its teachers and leaders is a reminder that where we disrupt systems in the name of ‘reform’ we sometimes divert focus away from the core business of teaching children.
The North East certainly has other advantages. It has much higher teacher workforce stability than other regions. And very fewer classrooms have unqualified or inexperienced teachers in them. However, these advantages accrue to North East secondary schools also, which are not similarly high performing.
I was lucky enough to speak at the Schools NorthEast conference recently where I tried to learn why the region’s primary sector was so strong whereas their secondary schools are not.
The primary teachers there contrast how they are able to get parents to engage in primary schooling, with the greater difficulty of doing so at secondary level.
This may be due to relatively low levels of literacy and numeracy in the adult population that makes supporting a child’s secondary education more difficult.
And the continuing economic situation in the region affects secondary school students’ expectations about what they might be able to go on and achieve, in a way that it does not for children at primary school.
With headline performance metrics changing so much this year, the FFT estimated scaled scores are a good way to compare your own school’s performance over time for subjects with test data. You can find them by logging onto fftaspire.org (password needed).