Azara Blog: What is the "expected" level for English in UK schools?

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Date published: 2005/10/09

Mike Baker of the BBC says:

The main education story this week was the warning that there is an "urgent need" to reduce the proportion of 11-year-olds who fail to reach "Level 4" in English.

The warning came from Ofsted, the schools inspectorate in England, in its report on the teaching of English.

In response, the government pointed out how much standards have risen since 1997; yet it agreed that the numbers reaching the "expected" standard were too low.

Indeed the most recent figures show that 23% of 11-year-olds fell short of Level 4 in the national tests.

Yet is this really a cause for concern? What exactly does the "expected" level mean?

This week I tried to find out. I asked Miriam Rosen, Ofsted's director of inspections, whether it was the level "expected" of all 11-year-olds or only of the average 11-year-old.

She could not tell me.

I tried again. Did Ofsted interpret Level 4 as the minimum standard for all children or only for the typical pupil?

"I don't think we interpret it in any particular way," was the reply.

She did add, however, that it was "a target to aim for".

So could the Schools Minister, Lord Adonis, enlighten us? He was asked whether the government's aim was to get 100% of 11-year-olds to this level.

"Whether you can get up to 100% is debatable," he said, "but let's get closer to it first and then see if we can eradicate that final group who're not reading up to standard."

The Department for Education website was my next call. It said that "at the age of 11, most children are expected to achieve Level 4".

So, we are not much clearer. Is that most as in "just over half" or as in "nearly all"? In short, is Level 4 a minimum or an average standard?

This is what happens when spin doctors run the country. Of course if the general public was more comfortable with probability and statistics, then we would be able to see through all the smoke and mirrors promulgated by government and its quangos. The only real certainty in all of this is that Ofsted has to continually justify its existence and that is bound to bias how it reports on anything.

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