- Floor standards – the proportion of children in a school attaining a Government determined target for either SATs or GCSEs – have become an established part of an ‘accountability’ regime which fails to support teaching and learning but reinforces the idea of ‘failing’ schools.
- There is a complete lack of transparency or legitimacy around floor standards and how increases in them are determined. For example, the previous floor standard, which required all primary schools to have 60 per cent of their pupils at level 4 or above in English and maths, plus the progress measures, was increased in 2014 to a minimum of 65 per cent of pupils achieving the expected level. 1 They continue to appear arbitrary figures, plucked out of the air with no justification.
- Floor standards are predicated on the belief that rates of improvement will rise year on year on a continuous basis and that by rigorously challenging schools where this is not the case, such a rate of improvement can be sustained. Yet academic progress is not uniform and linear; and cohorts of children can vary considerably in terms of ability, disposition and prior attainment.
- Floor standards assume that almost all children will be able to achieve the ‘average’. For some children, achieving below the floor target in core subjects is still a tremendous achievement, although this has sometimes been gained at the expense of their access to a broad curriculum.
- As national exams measure absolute performance only, it is impossible for floor standards to take into account the challenges pupils may face. Factors such as hunger, lack of heating, space to study in, access to computers or books inevitably impact on pupils’ ability to concentrate or keep up in the classroom. The Department for Education should be focusing its attention on addressing child poverty instead of fixating on quotas of achievement.
- Schools with results that fall below floor standard tend to have more pupils from areas of deprivation 2 and more pupils with special educational needs which can have an effect on overall school performance. 3
- An important factor in raising levels of attainment in schools is a high quality workforce supported by good leaders, yet it is generally schools that fall below the floor standards that have the most difficulty in attracting and retaining adequate staff. 4
- There has been a significant drop in the number of maintained mainstream primary schools that do not meet the floor standard. In 2011 there were 1,130 schools that were below the floor but in 2012 there were just 476 schools. Similarly, 195 secondary schools are below the floor currently, 56 fewer than last year if the floor had remained the same (40 per cent). This is something that should be highlighted and celebrated.
- Floor standards are being used to drive the Government’s political agenda for education. By increasing the demands of floor standards and thus making more schools appear to ‘fail’, more schools become eligible for intervention, in particular, conversion to academy status.
1 Standards and Testing Agency (2014). Assessment and Reporting Arrangements Key Stage 2. Available here.
2 DfE (2010). Underperforming schools and deprivation: A statistical profile of schools below the floor standards in 2010. Available here.
3 Education endowment Foundation (2011). The Education Endowment Foundation - Its target students and schools. Available here.
4 Bush, A. Edwards, L. Hopwood Road, F and Lewis, M (2005). Why here? Report of Qualitative Work with Teachers Working in Schools Above and Below the Floor Targets. Available at: here.