More implications of Progress 8 for schools


In his third article on the implications of the move to Progress 8, school leader Ben Solly identifies some key curriculum decisions that schools must be taking in order to be prepared.

Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”

Considering this classic Einstein quote, no-one in education could ever accuse the coalition government of asking schools to improve results by continuing with the same practices and using the same frameworks.

What we are being tasked with, though, is improving standards each year while getting to grips with an unprecedented level of educational reform, and this has been a real challenge for all of us in education.

Of these reforms, the biggest game-changer is likely to be the Progress 8 performance measure, which has been met with quiet approval from the profession.

Progress 8 will have significant implications for all secondary schools across the country, particularly where curriculum design, staffing structures and teachers’ mindsets are concerned. But before we look at the wider implications, how do we actually calculate what a Progress 8 score will look like?

If you are new to Progress 8, I have written previously in SecEd about the new measure, including in more depth on its structure and the reasons behind the move away from the current five A* to C GCSE benchmark (see further information for links).

However, the table below shows the basic framework for how Progress 8 is structured in terms of the combinations of subjects that are permitted/eligible within it.

If you have done your Progress 8 homework then you know that among a student’s eight subjects, English and maths are double-weighted (as long as a student takes both English language and literature – the best score is double-weighted and the other can feature in “basket 3”). 

You will also understand that the subjects that can fill “basket 2” can come from any of the following: core and additional science, biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, history, geography or foreign languages.

Additionally, students now have the option of taking up to three vocational qualifications as GCSE equivalents and having all three feature in the headline figures (as opposed to the current system where only two can count). These vocational qualifications all feature in “basket 3” but must be taken from the approved list.

For school leaders, it is useful to think about what students might have scored in 2013 if Progress 8 had been the performance measure, as this will allow schools to ascertain how their current curriculum structures are set up to meet these new demands.

So how is the Progress 8 score calculated? First we need to work out the Attainment 8 score using the table below.

The next table is an example student who has taken eight qualifications that fill all of the Progress 8 “baskets”. So the Attainment 8 for this student is a score of 52.

Let’s then imagine that this student’s key stage 2 Average Points Score (APS) was 27 (Level 4b). This would (probably) mean that their expected Attainment 8 score would be 50 points (under the new system these projected target grades will be issued by the Department for Education using data from similar ability students from three years previous – see previous articles for more details on this aspect).

To calculate Progress 8, we have to subtract the student’s expected Attainment 8 score from their actual Attainment 8 score and then divide this number by 10 (the eight subjects taken, with maths and English counting as double). This means the calculation for this student would be: 52–50 = 2. And divided by 10, this brings us to “0.2”. 

The whole-school Progress 8 score would then be calculated by adding all the individual Progress 8 scores of year 11 students and dividing it by the number in the cohort. If schools dip below –0.5 then this will probably trigger an inspection as this is the anticipated level of the new floor standard.

So why is the introduction of Progress 8 so important to a school’s curriculum model? 

The most significant aspect that school leaders will need to consider is the English Baccalaureate subjects that fall within basket 2. If a school implements a curriculum where students take qualifications that do not feature in basket 2 then zero will be scored in these slots. The same will happen if a student only takes six or seven qualifications in total. However, in these circumstances, the Attainment 8 score will still be divided by 10.

As a result, students scoring zero in any of the slots will have a significant impact on not only their individual Progress 8 score, but that of the whole school as well.

So in real terms what do schools need to look out for? To take an example, if a vocational qualification in science is delivered for a significant group of students and, at the same time, these students are not taking three other subjects that fall within basket 2, then they will have empty slots and therefore a lower Progress 8 score.

This means that across the country schools will need to carefully consider whether they will continue to offer vocational science qualifications for students,  or whether they will go back to a more traditional core and/or additional science offer. 

Schools will also need to decide how they arrange their options processes for key stage 4. If this process enables students to select a group of subjects that does not include any of the EBacc subjects in basket 2, then the risk is that students will score zero in these slots and therefore their Progress 8 score will be lower.

By structuring the main accountability measure from 2016 in this way, the government has ensured that the vast majority of schools will have to deliver an “academic core” for all students which includes English and maths along with at least three further EBacc subjects.

This may well be the aspect of this accountability measure that some educationalists disagree with, given that it limits the subjects students are able to opt for as they progress into key stage 4.

Others would argue that by enabling students to study three vocational subjects (and let’s not forget how challenging these are post-Wolf Report), then they still have the opportunity to study a broad range of subjects.

Some school leaders will inevitably find themselves having some difficult conversations with parents of students currently in year 9, especially if they were expecting to be able to have a completely free choice of key stage 4 qualifications.

There will be equally difficult decisions for schools to make if they have already embarked on a three-year key stage 4 for students. Many schools will have started key stage 4 qualifications with current year 9 students from September 2013 and these curriculum models may well include vocational science courses, for example, and might not include any of the EBacc subjects from basket 2.

These schools will be facing the dilemma of whether to continue on these courses and potentially score a lower Progress 8 score in 2016 when the reforms come into effect, or whether to try and adapt their curriculum models mid-year. 

Rightly or wrongly, many of us in education have been preoccupied with getting students over the crucial C to D grade borderline in order to service the requirements of the current five A* to C accountability system. 

We all need to shed this obsession with the C borderline and ensure that we are devoting an equitable amount of time and resources to every student achieving the very best grade possible. 

Whether we wholeheartedly agree with these most recent accountability reforms or not, there is an undeniable shift towards a system that is more equitable towards all students and that encourages schools to squeeze every last drop of potential from our students – and surely that must be seen as a good thing.

  • Ben Solly is acting principal of Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray. Follow him on Twitter @ben_solly

Further information
  • Ben Solly’s previous articles for SecEd discuss the structure and make-up of Progress 8 and the reasons behind the reforms. You can read Preparing for Progress 8 at and Accounting for Every Child at
  • You can download the DfE’s Progress 8 Factsheet at 


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