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School life

Introduction

Reading has a diverse school age population with a much higher than average proportion of children from black and minority ethnicities and a higher proportion whose first language is not English. Most primary age children attend a school within Reading Borough that is rated 'outstanding' or 'good' by Ofsted. Secondary school aged children are less likely to attend an 'outstanding' or 'good' school and more likely to attend a school outside of Reading Borough. Although performance against key performance indicators on attainment at Key Stage 4 show that overall attainment in Reading is better than the England average, this does not reflect the wide disparity in attainment levels for children at this stage of their education in Reading. In particular, children from more deprived families appear to be much less likely to achieve in line with their peers. 
National and local policies focus on setting higher expectations for all pupils, improving school and teaching quality. In its strategy, Reading Borough Council has set out clear ambitions for strong leadership, high quality teaching, a wide-ranging curriculum meeting a broad range of needs, and an inclusive approach that values the diversity of its pupils and supports the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

What do we know?

In 2015/16, Reading provided 13,597 places at 39 primary schools, 7,202 places at 10 secondary schools, 244 places at 4 special schools and 94 places at a pupil referral unit. In addition, there are 10 independent schools within Reading borough, attended by 2,887 pupils. Most secondary places were in academies (5,707 pupils 79% of the total, attending eight academy schools), while most primary places were in community schools (9,212 pupils, 68% of the total, attending 23 community schools). 

On 31st August 2016, 87% of primary school places and 59% of secondary school places were in a school with an Ofsted ranking of 'Outstanding' or 'Good'. 12% of primary school places and 41% of secondary school places were ranked 'Requires Improvement' or 'Inadequate'. While rankings for primary schools have improved in the last 5 years (55% of places were in schools ranked 'Outstanding' or 'Good' in 2011), rankings for secondary schools have got worse in the last five years (77% of places were in schools ranked 'Outstanding' or 'Good' in 2011) (published on Tableau, accessed December 2016).

School Census data published in January 2016 indicate that 87% of primary school age residents in Reading were attending a primary school within the Borough. 97% of those attending primary schools in Reading also lived in the borough, with only 385 pupils travelling to Reading primary schools from neighbouring areas. The picture is different for secondary schools, where only 63% of secondary school age residents attended a school in the borough and 37% (2,733 pupils) attended schools in neighbouring areas. 82% of those attending schools in Reading also lived in the borough, with 995 pupils travelling to Reading secondary schools from neighbouring areas. 

Where parents of school aged children are in receipt of certain benefits, their children may be eligible for free school meals. The level of achievement by children who are eligible for free school meals is often used as a proxy indicator to show how well schools support children from lower income families. In January 2016 around 15% of primary school pupils and 13% of secondary school pupils were eligible for free school meals, a similar percentage to the national average. Almost 50% of those in special schools and 55% of those in Reading's pupil referral unit were eligible for free school meals, these percentages were both higher than the national averages of 37% and 41%. 

54% of pupils in primary schools in Reading and 49% of secondary pupils were from a minority ethnic group, compared to national averages of 31% in primary school and 28% in secondary school. 35% of primary school pupils and 26% of secondary school pupils in Reading were identified as speaking a language other than English as their first language, compared to national averages of 20% and 16%. 

Figure 1: Ethnic group of primary school children in Reading (January 2016)

Figure 1
Table showing the ethinc groups of primary school children in Reading compared to the rest of the UK

Source: Department for Education (2016); Schools, pupils and their characteristics (January 2016). 

Figure 2: Ethnic group of secondary school children in Reading (January 2016)

Figure 2
Table showing the ethnic group of secondary school children in Reading compared to the rest of England

Source: Department for Education (2016); Schools, pupils and their characteristics (January 2016). 
                                
In January 2016 average class sizes in Key Stages 1 and 2 were similar to the national average at around 28 pupils per class. 

In January 2016 there were a smaller percentage of children with SEN in Reading schools than the national average - 20% of all pupils in Reading (including 244 in special schools, 1.8% of the total), compared to 24% (of whom 2.3% went to special schools). In primary school aged children, more than a third in Reading (35.6%) primarily require support with speech, language and communication and around a quarter (23%) have a specific, moderate or severe learning disability. In secondary school aged children, the most significant primary needs were related to social, emotional and mental health (28%) and specific, moderate or severe learning disability (32%). For those attending special schools, most had a severe learning disability (40%), social, emotional or mental health (33%), or an autistic spectrum disorder (16.8%) as their primary need (figure 3).

Figure 3: Primary type of need for Reading pupils with identified SEN needs (January 2016)

Figure 3
Table showing the primary need type for primary and secondary school pupils in Reading with identified SEN needs

Source: Department for Education (2016); Schools, pupils and their characteristics (January 2016). 

The overall absence rate for the year in both primary and secondary schools in Reading decreased from 4.2% in Autumn 2014 to 4.0% in Autumn 2015. This is similar to the national rate of 4.1% in the same period. Rates of absence have been published for the Autumn 2015 and Spring 2015 terms (two thirds of the year), that can be benchmarked against similar areas.

Table 1: % Pupil Absence in Reading and Statistical Neighbours Schools - Autumn 2014 and Spring 2015

Local AuthorityOverall absenceAuthorisedUnauthorisedPersistent absence
Reading4.43.41.04.0
Barnet4.43.60.83.0
Bedford4.53.70.83.7
Brighton and Hove4.93.91.04.2
Bristol, City of4.93.71.24.6
Derby4.63.31.34.2
Hillingdon4.73.80.93.9
Milton Keynes4.53.70.74.0
Sheffield5.03.51.45.1
Southampton5.03.51.45.2
Sutton4.43.60.83.2
SN Average4.73.61.04.1
SN Top Quartile4.53.50.83.9
SN Bottom Quartile5.03.91.45.2

Source: Department for Education, Pupil absence in schools in England: Autumn 2014 and Spring 2015

Reading is one of two boroughs in the group who shared the smallest percentage of 'overall absence' or missed school sessions. In Reading this is driven by a low percentage of 'authorised' absence (this could include absence because of illness, medical or dental appointments, religious observance, or study leave; absence of children by gypsy and traveller families when they are known to be travelling; and, in exception circumstances, children who have been excluded but not yet able to continue their education elsewhere). The level of 'unauthorised absence' (where no reason is provided or the school is not satisfied with the reason provided, where holiday has been taken without the agreement of the school, or where pupils have arrived in school after registration has closed) (see figure 4) was similar to the average for the group. 'Persistent absence' (the percentage of pupils who missed more than 38 sessions in the Autumn and Spring terms) was also similar to the average (4.0% in Reading compared to 4.1% overall)

Figure 4: Comparison of absence rates in Reading and similar areas

Figure 4
Table showing the comparison of school absence rate in Reading and Barnet, Bedford, Brighton sand Hove, Bristol, Derby, Hillingdon, Milton Keynes, Sheffield, Southampton and Sutton

Source: Department for Education, Pupil absence in schools in England: Autumn 2014 and Spring 2015

In 2016, 2039 pupils at Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) were assessed by teacher assessment and 69% (1047 pupils) were considered to have reached at least the expected standard, slightly higher than the national average of 67%. A higher percentage of girls (76%, compared to 63% of boys) and higher percentages of pupils from Black and White ethnic groups (73% of pupils from Black ethnic groups and 71% of White ethnic groups) achieved the expected standard. We should consider that, when broken down in this way, the number of pupils in each group may be too small to be sure that the trends have not occurred by chance. In addition, each ethnic grouping is likely to include children from a range of different ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds, and overall performance may reflect other factors not described in these data. 

The percentage of early years pupils with a first language other than English achieving the expected standard is higher than the national average (70% in Reading compared to 61% nationally) and almost equal to the percentage of pupils with English as a first language (71%). 
The percentage of early years pupils eligible for free school meals achieving the expected standard is much lower than the average in Reading (55%), but slightly higher than the national average for this group (52%). Similarly, the number of pupils receiving SEN support is much lower than the Reading average (28%), but equal to the national average for this group (28%). 

At Key Stage 1 in the same period, the percentages of pupils reaching the expected standards were similar to the national average for reading, writing and mathematics, but slightly below the national average for science. The percentages of pupils reaching the higher standards were higher than the national average in reading, writing and mathematics. Higher percentages of girls than boys met both the expected and higher levels, with a particularly low percentage of boys achieving either level in writing compared to girls. These trends are also reflected in the national picture. Breaking down achievement of expected standards by gender and ethnic group (Figure 5) indicates lower numbers of boys from White ethnic groups achieving expected standards, especially in writing. There were also lower percentages of boys and girls with mixed ethnic heritage who met the expected standard for writing. As above, great care needs to be taken when considering results broken down by ethnic group. 

Figure 5: % of pupils achieving expected levels of achievement at Key Stage 1 by gender and ethnic group in Reading in 2016

Figure 5
Graph showing the percentage of Reading school pupils achieving expected levels of achievement at Key Stage 1, by gender and ethic group in 2016

GCSE attainment by pupil cohort groupReading - % achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, including English and mathsReading - Attainment gap with other pupilsEngland - % achieved 5 or more A*-C GCSEs or equivalent, including English and mathsEngland - Attainment gap with other pupils
All57.5%-53.8%-
Disadvantaged (eligible for free school meals in the previous 6 years or looked after by the Local Authority for more than 6 months)37.5%37.5%36.8%28.3%
Eligible for free school meals23.8%40.1%33.3%27.9%
Receiving SEN support27.3%40.8%23.5%44.1%
SEN support with statement13.6%54.5%8.8%55.8%
English as an additional language58.00%-0.6%57.5%1.0%

Source: Department for Education (2016); Revised GCSE and equivalent results: 2014 to 2015

Figure 6: Percentage of pupils in key groups at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more A*-C grades for GCSE or equivalent, including English and Maths GCSEs.

Figure 6
Percentage of Reading pupils in key groups at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more A*-C grades for GCSE or equivalent, including Maths and English

Source: Department for Education (2016), Revised GCSE and equivalent results: 2014 to 2015.

Attainment by pupils entitled to free school meals (a proxy indicator used to measure attainment of those who are more deprived) is lower in Reading than elsewhere. The gap in attainment between those eligible for free school meals and all pupils increased slightly between 2013/14 and 2014/15 both in Reading and nationally. In Reading the percentage of children eligible for free school meals who attained 5 or more GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English fell from 30.7% in 2013/14 to 23.7% in 2014/15. The gap in attainment between this group and all other pupils is also wider in Reading than nationally. This has been identified as a priority area for local improvement. Attainment by pupils categorised as disadvantaged using the broader definition (eligible for free school meals in the previous 6 years or looked after by the Local Authority for more than 6 months) is slightly higher than the national average, but, again, the attainment gap between this group and all other pupils is wider than nationally. 

Figure 7: No of all pupils and disadvantaged pupils at Key Stage 4 by school type and admission policy 2014/15.

Figure 7
Number of all Reading pupils and Reading disadvantaged pupils at Key Stage 4 by school type and admission policy 2014/15

Source: KS4 Attainment 1, Department for Education

In 2014/15 the largest number of pupils attended schools with comprehensive admission policies (922 pupils, 61% of all pupils in Reading schools and 80% of those supported by the Local Authority), of whom the majority attended mainstream academies (48%, 439 pupils). 322 Key Stage 4 pupils were classified as disadvantaged, of whom 303 (94%) attended schools with comprehensive admission policies. 127 (39%) disadvantaged pupils attended mainstream academies (including 4 who attended a school with selective admission policy), 76 (24%) attended a sponsor-led academy, 45 (14%) attended a foundation school, 42 (13%) attended a voluntary-aided Roman Catholic school, 17 (5%) attended a UTC and 13 (4%) attended special schools. 

220 pupils attended academies with selective admission policies, accounting for 15% of all pupils in Reading and 19% of those supported by the Local Authority. Of these, only a very small number were classified as disadvantaged. A further 346 pupils (23% of all pupils in Reading) attended independent schools not supported by the Local Authority. None met the criteria for classification as disadvantaged. 

Figure 8: Total No. Key Stage 4 pupils, No. attaining 5 A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English by School Type and Admission Policy

Figure 8
Total number of key stage 4 pupils attaining 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths by school type and admission policy - In Reading and England

Source: KS4 Attainment 1, Department for Education

60% of all KS4 pupils and 68% of KS4 pupils who attended schools supported by the Local Authority who attained 5 or more GCSEs graded A*-C including Maths and English attended mainstream academies (454 pupils). About half of these attended a school with a selective admission policy and about half attended a school with a comprehensive admission policy. 346 Key Stage 4 pupils attended an independent school. Although only 26% of Key Stage 4 pupils in independent schools attained 5 or more GCSEs graded A*-C including Maths and English, this reflects a mixed picture. A higher than average number of pupils at two independent schools attained 5 or more A*-C GCSEs including Maths and English (82%), a number of schools did not enter pupils for GCSE or equivalent qualifications and are therefore reported as 0%, and in some cases the numbers are too small to be published without risk of pupils being identified. Other than independent schools that did not enter pupils for GCSEs or equivalent, schools with the lowest percentage attainment also had the highest number of disadvantaged pupils (figure 9).

Figure 9: No. disadvantaged pupils by quartile of school performance against % of all pupils in school that attained 5 or more GCSEs including Maths and English, Reading, 2015. 

Figure 9
Number of disadvantaged pupils by quartile of school performance against percentage of all pupils in school that attained 5 or more GCSEs including Maths and English in Reading in 2015

Source: KS4 Attainment 1, Department for Education (excludes schools with numbers too small to be shared and those independent schools that did not enter pupils for GCSEs or equivalents. Other independent schools ARE included). 

Table 3: GCSE Attainment by Ethnic Group

GCSE attainment by ethnic groupReading - % achieved 5 or more A*-C GSCEs or equivalent, including English and MathsEngland - % achieved 5 or more A*-C GSCEs or equivalent, including English and Maths
White55.6%57.0%
Mixed50.5%58.3%
Asian67.5%61.9%
Black49.5%52.6%
Chinese100.0%78.3%

Source: KS4 Attainment 1, Department for Education

When analysed by ethnicity, it appears that higher than average attainment at Key Stage 4 in Reading is primarily driven by the attainment of pupils from Asian and Chinese ethnic groups, with attainment by those in all other ethnic groups falling below national averages. The number of children in each ethnicity grouping is relatively small and it is not clear whether the comparison with national attainment is statistically robust. (For example, the analysis above includes the results of just 19 Chinese pupils.) These trends are likely to be related to an external factor that may be more common amongst certain people in Reading with an Asian ethnicity (this could be something like higher average income, for example, or parents' level of education). It should be noted that similar trends in attainment by ethnic group were seen nationally.  

Figure 10: Percentage of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more A*-C grades for GCSE or equivalent, including English and Maths GCSEs.

Figure 10
Graph showing percentage of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 achieving 5 or more A*-C grades for GCSE or equivalent, including English and Maths in Reading and England

Source: Department for Education (2016), Revised GCSE and equivalent results: 2014 to 2015.

The percentage of KS4 pupils attaining 5 or more GCSEs A*-C or equivalent in Reading has remained slightly above the national average since 2012/13, and was similar to the average in the previous three years. However, this overall picture represents a diverse range of experiences and attainment levels for children at this stage of their education in Reading. In particular, children from more deprived families appear to be much less likely to achieve in line with their peers. Performance against indicators of GCSE attainment is much lower amongst schools with a higher proportion of pupils classified as disadvantaged. This performance does not reflect attainment by pupils who attend independent schools in Reading, many of which have selective admission policies and charge termly fees. 

National & Local Strategies (Current best practices)

In March 2016, the Department for Education published its strategy for 2015-2020 with three stated overarching goals:

  • Safety and wellbeing of pupils - ensuring that pupils are protected from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, maximising potential for learning, development and growth, focusing on groups of children that face greater challenges - for instance, those in care or with poor mental health. 
  • Education excellence everywhere - improvements in school standards and pupils' achievements, irrespective of location, prior attainment, or economic and social background. 
  • Prepared for adult life - recognising the importance of skills and character (persistence, integrity, curiosity, being able to apply knowledge). 

The strategy sets out plans for 12 strategic priorities to achieve these goals, focusing on driving performance, improving inspection and increasing the number and reach of high quality schools.  

Reading Borough Council's 'Reading First: educational ambition and achievement strategy 2015-2018' sets out specific targets for pupil attainment at each key stage; expectations that all pupils' achievement, including those considered more deprived, who are in care, or who have special educational needs, is better than their peers nationally; and that both the Local Authority and schools make improvements and achieve the highest standards. The strategy includes clear ambitions for strong leadership, high quality teaching, a wide-ranging curriculum meeting a broad range of needs, and an inclusive approach that values the diversity of its pupils and supports the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. 

What are the key inequalities?

Commentators have suggested a number of factors that may affect deprived children's attainment at school. A 2007 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that children in 'advantaged' schools were more likely to enjoy school, with older children starting to talk about going to university and getting a job, while children from 'disadvantaged' schools found school boring, complained about teachers shouting at them and treating them unfairly, and talked about going to school in order to avoid problems in future. Children in the 'advantaged' schools were more likely to take part in after school activities and school trips, while parents of the children in the 'disadvantaged' schools found the costs and necessary travel prohibitive. However, evidence of effectiveness of interventions to raise aspirations and increase access to after school activities is limited. 

A report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (2004) finds that: 

  • While differences in school quality can only explain around a fifth of variation in children's attainment, with the rest more likely to be related to home environment, family background and parenting, there are regional differences in attainment by disadvantaged children that suggests schools may be able to influence performance. 
  • Performance peaks around the C/D borderline for GCSE, reflecting that many schools focus on raising attainment to improve performance against key indicators, at the expense of lower attainers. 
  • Some teachers' expectations are too low and the best teachers are not incentivised to work in schools that perform worse than others.

What is this telling us?

Reading has a diverse school age population with a much higher than average proportion of children from black and minority ethnicities and whose first language is not English. Most primary age children attend a school within Reading Borough that is rated 'outstanding' or 'good' by Ofsted. Secondary school aged children are less likely to attend an 'outstanding' or 'good' school and more likely to attend a school outside of Reading Borough. Although performance against key performance indicators on attainment at Key Stage 4 show that overall attainment in Reading is better than the England average, this does not reflect the wide disparity in attainment levels for children at this stage of their education in Reading. In particular, children from more deprived families appear to be much less likely to achieve in line with their peers. 

National and local policies focus on setting higher expectations for all pupils, improving school and teaching quality. 

This section links to the following sections in the JSNA:

Early Years Foundation Stage Attainment

Children & Young People

References

Department for Education. (2015). Pupil absence in schools in England: autumn 2014 and spring 2015. [Online]. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/pupil-absence-in-schools-in-england-autumn-2014-and-spring-2015

Department for Education. (2016). Expected levels of school and college performance (floor standards). [Online]. Available at: http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/performance/fs_14/index.html [Accessed].

Department for Children, Schools and Families (2010). Breaking the link between disadvantage and low achievement in the early years: everyone's business. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/00207-2010BKT-EN.pdf [Accessed 16th May 2015].
 
Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2007). The impact of poverty on young children's experience of school. (Online. Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/impact-poverty-young-childrens-experience-school  (Accessed 15th December 2016).

 

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