Published on: 02 Nov 2017

Why average at Key Stage 2 shouldn’t mean average for all of GCSE

By Hilary Fine, Senior Publisher, GL Assessment

An enduring frustration for many teachers is the difficulty of accurately predicting student attainment at GCSE from Key Stage 2 scores, as well as the difficulties of using this data as the basis of school performance measures.

The following statistics illustrate the point. In 2013, only 30% of children with an average Level 4b across KS2 English, Maths and Science attained a Grade C in Geography. Similarly, 38% of children with a level 4b achieved a C in Biology, 37% in Chemistry and 48% in English. This shows why we need to be cautious – and of course, most teachers are.

In England, the expected standard at KS2 (which changed from a Level 4b to a scaled score of 100 in 2016) is used to predict the ‘average’ attainment of Grade C at GCSE across a range of subjects - or indeed, a 4 or a 5 as the new GCSEs are introduced. It therefore follows that a child who attains an average score in their KS2 SATs will be predicted average scores in their GCSEs as part of their Attainment 8 and Progress 8 scores. But is this right?

As Steve Walters, Deputy Head of Newport Girls’ High School in Shropshire, explains: “SATs scores offer some information, but one set of data is not enough, especially now that national curriculum levels have been scrapped.” And now that GCSE grades have changed, too, target setting has become more difficult than before with the boundaries of the middle grade 4 or grade 5 bands being much more difficult to predict.

Unlike the Key Stage 2 SATs, which focus on Mathematics and English knowledge and skills of the Key Stage 2 curriculum, many schools use an assessment of cognitive reasoning abilities to add a more nuanced picture of each child that can also helpfully inform target setting.

“We have sound and secure baseline data which informs target-setting processes. And if you work to the target, Progress 8 will look after itself in years to come,” adds Steve. Results from the Cognitive Abilities Test are particularly useful, he says, as they produce 1-9 indicators, which help preparations for the new Progress 8 measure.

James Lissaman, Assistant Head at De Lisle College in Leicestershire, agrees that it’s important to look beyond a simple attainment measure. He points to the example of a student who, when she arrived, had fairly low target grades in the more academic subjects and was targeted E grades for most of her GCSEs. “However, the Cognitive Abilities Test showed that she was very creative and very active, and she left us with A grades in PE, art, drama and music,” he says. “We could have pushed her down the academic route, but it was clear that it wouldn’t have been right for her. We’ve got to remember that we’re here for the children.”

If a child has an ‘average’ score on the Key Stage 2 National tests and we predict them ‘average’ grades at GCSE, we may already be capping their potential rather than committing to supporting their hard work and effort. It is therefore worth utilising more than one source of information on the child and look at both attainment at Key Stage 2 as well as an assessment of cognitive reasoning to ensure we see the bigger picture.


Read more in our new report, The Lost Middle: how the term ‘average’ can obscure student problems and potential