School banding

13 December 2013

Article written by Sian Hughes, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

exam hall

Image from Geograph by Daniel Hawgood. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The third annual data for secondary schools was published on 12 December 2013.

In 2011, the then Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning’s twenty point action plan committed the Welsh Government to publish school banding data to improve school standards following the 2009 PISA results.

What is banding?

Banding uses the relative performance of schools to group schools into one of five bands. Band 1 schools are those whose data show good overall performance and progress across the measures. Band 5 schools are those where performance and progress are weak relative to other schools.

Banding groups schools according to a range of factors.  The intention is that the data is used to inform planning, target support and to challenge performance.  It is intended to identify strengths, weaknesses and best practice and support 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 due to changes in performance in that school itself, or to other schools moving up or down the bands.

In 2012/13 and 2013/14, schools in Bands 4 and 5 received additional financial support 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:

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) can be seen on the Welsh Government website. The Welsh Government also publishes the My local school website which also contains data on pupil numbers and characteristics,  school performance, attendance, staffing and finance on the website. Schools are also 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 said that they have not had sufficiently robust data to be used in the calculation of bands. Primary banding therefore will is not being undertaken until 2014 and will be based on the new reading and numeracy tests. However, there is a range of primary school performance data on the my local school website.