The Department for Education (DfE) has recently made some significant changes to the way that secondary school performance is measured, changes which will have an impact on schools up and down the country.
The aim is to reform the way that schools and colleges are assessed so that all pupils, regardless of background, can make progress and find success across a broad choice of subjects and study programmes.
The government’s vision was to reward schools that set high expectations for the attainment and progress of all their pupils, provide high value qualifications, and teach a wide variety of subjects across a balanced curriculum.
The focus was to ensure that accountability became “the servant, not the master, of excellent teaching”. In other words, the accountability system should work with and not against teachers’ main objective – to help their pupils gain the skills and qualifications they need to succeed in their future.
The DfE has expressed that schools will improve the most when teaching professionals have the autonomy to decide how best to teach their pupils – a fact that will come as no surprise to those in the teaching profession.
It is with this in mind that a consultation was launched last year with secondary schools to ensure the proposed accountability measures were fit-for-purpose, giving headteachers, teaching staff, parents and other key stakeholders the opportunity to contribute their valuable opinions.
Following the end of the consultation process, the government published Reforming the Accountability System for Secondary Schools, a document which outlines the proposed changes, taking into consideration the feedback from the consultation.
What do we need to know?
While these changes are not yet live, there are two new measures that could well have an impact on the delivery of your school curriculum from as early as 2015. These measures are:
Progress 8: this “will show whether pupils have performed better than expected at the end of key stage 4 across eight key subjects”.
Attainment 8: this “will show the school’s average grade across the same suite of eight subjects”.
The focus on progress
Looking particularly at the progress side of things, eight key subject areas will count in this measure, rather than the five in the current headline measure of school performance. The eight are:
One slot for double weighted English.
One slot for double weighted maths.
Three slots for other English Baccalaureate subjects (sciences, computer science, geography, history and languages).
Three remaining slots which can be taken up by further qualifications, including EBacc subjects, other high value arts, academic and/or vocational qualifications.
How is progress to be measured?
It has been proposed that the progress measure should be created using a value added (VA) methodology. This method will take the progress each pupil makes between key stage 2 and 4 and compare that with the progress that is expected to be made by pupils nationally who had the same level of attainment at key stage 2.
The government is still considering the nuances of this methodology, to ensure that it works as well as it can do. For example, at present, the method compares pupils with the same prior attainment within the same cohort. This means that the grades needed for each pupil to achieve a positive progress score are worked out after exams have been taken. Instead, the expectations could be set using the results of pupils who completed key stage 4 three years previously. This would have the benefit of pupils and schools knowing in advance what grades they need in order to achieve a positive progress score, enabling them to set suitably challenging targets.
The DfE has also confirmed that it plans to move to a simple, linear 1 to 8 point scale (such as 1 point for a G grade up to 8 for an A*), allowing them to plot grades on the same scale for current and reformed GCSEs and vocational qualifications. This is a clearer way of doing things, helping with ease of comparison and giving more credit to schools when pupils achieve high results.
Following the feedback received during the consultation, the DfE has committed to looking at further aspects of the Progress 8 measure in more detail before finalising the methods of calculation. More details on this will be available soon.
What are the benefits?
Ultimately, the idea is that using a progress measure helps to make judgements about schools fair. Under the point score progress measure, each pupil’s achievements will count equally, which rewards schools for their work with all pupils, whatever their starting point. This will be particularly useful for schools who have a high intake of disadvantaged students.
The new measures will help to celebrate those schools that help children with low prior attainment to achieve some worthwhile qualifications, and will encourage schools to stretch and challenge those pupils who are high achievers.
The progress measures also give schools the opportunity to be credited for their work in vocational areas of study – vocational options can make up three of the eight subject areas that will be assessed.
In learning, one size does not fit all. For every aspiring scientist, there is a talented artist. For every pupil who is academically gifted, there is another who shines and flourishes through practical, creative learning. The new measures allow schools to explore this and truly nurture and develop all of the pupils in their care.
There are many high-quality vocational qualifications available which hold equality with GCSE subjects. For example, NCFE V Certs (available in creative studies, business and enterprise and computer technology) are one possible addition to a key stage 4 curriculum, offering the same performance points as GCSEs and an alternative way of engaging your pupils, helping them to progress and achieve.
What is the timescale?
Progress 8 will be introduced for all schools in 2016 (based on 2016 exam results, with the Progress 8 score showing in performance tables published in early 2017).
However, the DfE has said that schools may be able to opt into the new system as early as 2015 so that they are held to account based on new performance measures one year early (based on 2015 exam results).
Catherine Mastaglio is 14 to 16 project lead with awarding body NCFE.
- You can find out more information about the new Progress 8 measure and the wider accountability reforms at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/secondary-school-accountability-consultation
- If you would like to know more about NCFE V Certs and how these vocational options could help contribute to your curriculum and improve your students’ progress, then call 0191 239 8000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the NCFE blog to comment on the new measures. Visit www.ncfe.org.uk