Attainment methodology and changes since 2019


Throughout our analysis we use the National Pupil Database (NPD)1 which captures pupils in state schools in England. We include all state-funded schools except for those whose sole, or main, registration was in alternative provision, a pupil referral unit or a hospital school. Independent schools are not included. Here we set out which attainment measures we use for each phase, as well as a little detail on the changes in overall attainment since 2019. 

Our analysis was carried out in the Secure Research Service, part of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It contains statistical data from ONS which is Crown Copyright. The use of the ONS statistical data in this work does not imply the endorsement of the ONS in relation to the interpretation or analysis of the statistical data. This work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.  

Early years foundation stage 

To measure children’s development at age 5, we use the statutory teacher-led assessments against the early years foundation stage (EYFS) profile. Specifically, we use a pupil’s total point score across the 12 (of 17) early learning goals which correspond to the Department for Education’s ‘good level of development’ measure.2 Although the EYFS was reformed in 2021 affecting both the goals themselves and how these are assessed, we have adjusted our time series to allow us to compare 2022 attainment to earlier years. 

In 2022, the average EYFSP total point score was 21.8 (compared to a maximum possible score of 24 for pupils meeting the expected standard in all 12 early learning goals), and slightly below the 2019 score of 22.0. 

Primary school 

At the end of primary school pupil attainment is measured by statutory key stage 2 assessments. Specifically we base our attainment measure on pupils’ average scaled score in reading and maths. 

In 2022, the average scaled score was 102.5. This is a reduction of 0.8 scaled score points from 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year when pupils sat key stage 2 assessments. Prior to 2019, average attainment at the end of primary school had been improving since the introduction of the new key stage 2 tests in 2016. The decline in attainment in 2022 highlights the on-going educational challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic, with these pupils having experienced disruption to their earlier learning, particularly at the end of year 4 and in year 5. 

Secondary school 

To assess overall attainment at the end of secondary school – known as key stage 4 – we measure pupils’ average GCSE grade across English and maths. Achieving good grades in these core subjects is often a prerequisite for progressing to further study and, unlike a measure based on all GCSE subjects, it is not distorted by changes in subject entry over time (which can affect the distribution of exam results in any given year). We use the 9 to 1 grading system which was introduced in 2017.  

In 2022, the average GCSE grade across English and maths was 4.8. As intended, this is the midpoint between the average grade in 2019 (of 4.6) and 2021 (5.0), as policymakers sought to gradually return grades towards pre-pandemic levels.