Right, this blog is for a new page I’m setting up on the site which will be concerned with the use of Fischer Family Trust data in schools.

This is an area that I’ve been trying to get to grips with over the last year, amid tales from teachers and others which point to concerns about the workings of this data system, which makes estimates of pupils’ future exam performance based on their previous test scores and other information.

Many of the underlying issues with the use of FFT data in schools seem to have links with wider concerns about the implications of England’s test-driven education system. These include the dangers of using information for purposes for which it was never designed, the problems with over-interpreting data and the inherent conflict between using information on pupils’ exam performance to help that child improve, and also to hold their teacher to account.

I wrote a piece for the TES on this shortly before I left the paper, which would be a good starting point, I guess, for those interested in this subject. It’s available here.

Since then, I’ve had contact from a teacher and, separately, a parent, who both have made the interesting observation that FFT data can actually act to demotivate children.

The teacher said that she teaches in a school where many children are from poorer backgrounds and arrive with low predictions under the Fischer Family Trust’s “D” indicator – often F or G grades at GCSE.

The teacher adds:  “Firstly, I don’t have to do much to meet my targets for these groups of children and wonder if FFT data therefore helps to maintain the status quo – ie we are not expected to achieve much with the most socially deprived pupils we teach.  Secondly, my experience shows that pupils at this end of the spectrum often have far more ability than is predicted by FFT.  In my first year of using FFT data, a pupil predicted grade F achieved grade B and pupils have regularly exceeded targets in these groups – quite often pupils achieve two or three grades higher than predictions.  This tells me that poverty is not necessarily correlated with ability and we do pupils a disservice if we use data based on this assumption (FFT use of post code and FSM).”

The teacher goes on: “My school (and I suspect many others) uses FFT data not only with teachers but in setting pupil targets.  On target setting day, an individual pupil’s FFT data is published for them and parent’s/carers to see and this is expected to be their aspirational target.  At the top end of ability that may be appropriate but at the bottom end – is an E, F or G at GCSE meant to be aspirational – it is certainly demotivating for the pupil. I find myself telling pupils and parents to ignore it, that the data is irrelevant and not applicable to the child – as indeed it often is not.”

Recently, a parent got in contact about the way FFT data was being used in her son’s school. Her son is in year 10. She said:

“He achieved level 4’s at KS2 and level 6’s at KS3, and he has just had the result of the first part of his GCSE double science award in which he achieved a grade ‘A.’ [Yet] his target grades based on Fischer Family Trust analysis done by the school are for grade ‘D’s in every single subject. I have asked the school how this can be so given that he managed level 4’s and 6’s in key stage tests. I was always led to believe that a level 6 would equate to a grade B at GCSE. He is currently attaining grade B level grades in most subjects but he has not had his target grades increased to match his performance and hard work. I am incensed that his diligence and the good teaching he is having are not being recognised by the school as an institution.”

I would welcome any comments on this, particularly as it seems to me that Fischer Family Trust data is increasingly influential in terms of how teachers and even pupils are judged.

I will also shortly be introducing another new category, called Data watch: Ofsted, which will look at the use of statistics in inspections.



  1. If there’s one thing that makes me seethe with anger on a regular basis, it’s the “belief” and reliance on data like the FFT. I prefer to think of it as the Fs standing for very rude words…

  2. In my school FFT estimates are treated as having the status of divine revelation, rather worrying in a Catholic institution! When mixed with an obsession with ‘tracking’ based on very dubious data, which no one seems to think critically about, we get an inhuman data driven monstrosity that has nothing to do with education or the welfare of the pupils.
    I hope Michael Gove has read your book, and starts changing the system to something that is humane and focussed on high quality education for all.

  3. I have just spent a few hours writing a sef after being shown a huge excel file.
    I was origninally quite satisfied with my GCSE results this year. They are bang on the national average for Geography this year. My concern is that according to FFt (D)90% of them should have got and A*-C and not the 69% reality! I have just marked my Y7 tests and found that only 34% can name and label the countries which make up the UK. For many of them I would not give them level 4. Many say they dont even do Geography in Primary school. So here I am relating my KS4 results back to FFT data based on KS2 scores which have no geographical basis what so ever! IF anyone can offer me any tips, I’d really appreciate it!
    Thank you!

  4. As a parent perhaps seen by data provided by the Fischer Family Trust to be from a less priviledged socio economic background, did a little internet research on Mike Fischer and found a little gem by Douglas Hague of the Said Business School, University of Oxford, entitled Mike Fischer, Serial Entrepreneur. We learn that his Father worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, he spent time in Rhodesia before studying physics at Oxford. In 1997 he bought a cattle farm in South Africa with his cousin and turned it into a game park. His latest venture is also non-profit making, working with a team in Oxford, in the area of cancer research looking at the immune system and DNA repair. God help us if this proves to be as successful at the FFT.

  5. Just become aware of your blog and glad to see folk thinking through this morass. You may be interested in my recent Grove Booklet in their education series, namely REASSESSING THE CULTURE OF ASSESSMENT: WEIGHING PIGS DOES NOT MAKE THEM HEAVIER, Grove Books, Cambridge, ISBN 978-1-85174-790-0. I suspect there is some not inconsiderable resonance with your ongoing concerns.
    Best wishes,
    Adrian Brown

  6. I have a son in Year 9 who is obviously starting his GCSE years next year. He had a very difficult last 18 months on Primary School as we moved area and he was bullied by both staff and students at his new school. Being the character he is he said he wouldn’t let them beat him and completed primary school regardless. Unfortunately, though it had a big impact on his Key Stage 2 SATs scores. He was very happy when he moved on to secondary school and in the 3 years he has been there he has been in top sets and loved it, he has really risen to the challenge and restored his belief in himself. Well, now we learn he is being put down into lower sets mostly on the FFT predictions for his GCSE grades. Despite talking to the school there is not hope that they will reconsider, they seem to think the FFT predictions come from some Oracle. So my son is now set back 3 years demoralised, depressed and demotivated because of this bald statistical analysis. It makes me so angry I just want to scream but no one will listen – there is no forum to contest these figures. The old saying ‘there are lies, damn lies and statistics’ seems all too relevant here.

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