Our work tracking a cohort of primary pupils through to A-levels or equivalent found that a primary school’s performance at Key Stage 2 (KS2) often does not equate to success of those pupils in their secondary school. To improve the life chances of their pupils, primary and secondary schools need to understand the combined impact of their education.
Background to the review
We have undertaken a review of longitudinal data from the National Pupil Database (NPD) in partnership with Southwark Council and the Southwark Teaching Schools Alliance (STSA).
A number of Southwark primary schools wanted to understand their impact on the outcomes of pupils after they left. The STSA wanted to know if there were any lessons to support the sharing of best practice, particularly in pupils’ transition between primary and secondary.
Liz Robinson, Head at Surrey Square Primary School, explains:
‘As a school, we understand that a huge part of our purpose is to prepare our pupils both personally and academically for success at secondary school and beyond. We HOPE that we do a good job of that, but don’t really know. That’s why we are really excited about, and committed to, deepening our understanding about how our pupils do at the next stages of their lives. We hope to be able to use this additional data to enhance our understanding of our pupils and their needs, and hopefully to begin a more focused dialogue with our secondary colleagues about what else we can be doing to give our pupils the very best chance of success beyond our doors.’
We have tracked individual pupil attainment through their school career. We looked at 3 cohorts completing year 6 in 2007/08 to 2009/10 across all Southwark primary schools. We tracked them from KS2 through to KS4 in 2012/13 to 2014/15. We tracked the first cohort year (ie Year 6 in 2007/08) through to Key Stage 5 (KS5) in 2014/15. We tracked pupils wherever they went, as long as they stayed in England.
Performance at KS2 often does not equate to success at KS4
We found that there was only a weak correlation between a primary school’s performance at KS2 and the performance of their pupils at KS4. We compared the percentage of pupils in each primary school achieving the expected standard at KS2 against the percentage of pupils from that primary school achieving the expected standard at KS4. In statistical terms, at the school to school level, about 20% of the variation in the cohorts’ outcomes at KS4 can be explained by their feeder schools KS2 outcomes.
You can see this in the diagram below.
Each dot represents a primary school in Southwark. The solid line across the middle shows the best line of fit with the data. It shows two important results:
- It was harder to achieve the expected standard at KS4 than at KS2. This will have changed along with the revision in expected standards defined by the DfE since these cohorts
- Many of the dots are quite far away from the line of best fit. We explore this further below.
Huge variation in outcomes between feeder schools and secondary schools attended
From a secondary school perspective, there is a huge variation in outcomes between feeder primary schools. This diagram shows attainment of the expected standard at KS4 of the primary schools pupils for one secondary school in Southwark:
The same is true for primary schools. There is a wide range of outcomes depending on the secondary school attended.
These differences cannot always be explained by the prior attainment of the primary school. We found that many of the highest performing schools at KS2 had lower KS4 achievement than the lowest performing primaries.
It is important to note that these results won’t be true of every primary and secondary school. Nevertheless, there are some interesting messages here and it provides a useful starting point for discussion between primary and secondary school heads.
Understanding the reasons
We are in the early stages of exploring with schools what is behind these findings. We believe that the reasons might include the following:
- Embedding of learning – Some primary schools are good at getting their pupils over the threshold for the test at KS2 but the learning is not embedded. So as the child progresses through secondary school, they are unable to keep up with the increasing expectations. We found clear trends for this in school cohorts in both English and maths
- Transition support – There is better transition support between some primary and secondary schools, particularly where there is an established route between the schools. We found that outcomes improved from 55% to 69% achieving the expected standard at KS4 when the cohort of pupils moving together increased from 1 to 11 or more
- Compatibility of teaching methods – There may be issues of compatibility of curriculum or teaching methods between some primary and secondary schools
- Disadvantaged pupils – the challenging circumstances of many disadvantaged families in the schools we looked at makes it hard to sustain good outcomes through secondary. Our initial investigation found that for disadvantaged pupils, primary outcomes were a less good indicator of secondary outcomes than they were for other pupils.
In partnership with STSA we plan to do further sessions with schools to explore these findings in more detail. We hope to draw out any lessons of best practice that can be shared. The analysis continues to be a useful tool to encourage dialogue between primary and secondary schools with the aim of improving the combined outcomes.
Find out more
For more information, please see our website here or to talk about how we can support your primary or secondary school, or schools in your local authority or area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
 The Data Controller of NPD is the Department for Education (DfE). The DfE does not accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the NPD Data by third parties
 For the cohorts studied, the DfE’s expected standard at KS2 was to achieve Level 4C or above. This was later changed to 4B and subsequently to scaled scores but in 2008 was as shown.
 For the cohorts studied, the DfE’s expected standard at KS4 was to achieve 5 or more A*-C grade at GCSE including English and maths. This was later changed to Progress 8 but in 2012/13 was as shown.