Preparing for ‘Progress 8’


The new Progress 8 performance measure is on its way, bringing with it new benchmarks, floor standards and new challenges for schools. Ben Solly looks at what we know so far.

Throughout the tenure of the current government, many educational reforms introduced by the secretary of state for education have not always been well-received within the teaching profession.

However, the proposed introduction of the Progress 8 accountability measure from 2016 appears to have created a general consensus of approval from school leaders, following clarifications issued by the Department for Education (DfE) in recent weeks. 

Progress 8 is one measure that schools will be judged against from 2016 and is one of a suite of four proposed indicators for school performance.

Also included within this new suite of performance measures are an Attainment 8 measure, the EBacc measure, and a more traditional threshold measure showing the percentage of pupils achieving A* to C in English and maths.

The Progress 8 measure will be based on students’ progress measured across their eight best subjects within the following criteria:

  • A double weighted GCSE mathematics component.

  • A double weighted English component. This can be either GCSE English language or English literature, whichever grade is higher, as long as the student is entered for both qualifications. The lower score, if one of the eight highest grades, can be included in the “Open Group” (see below).

  • The three highest grades from the EBacc subjects – separate sciences, core and additional science, computer science, geography, history and languages.

  • The best three grades from any of the remaining subjects included within the “Open Group”. This could be three vocational subjects, EBacc subjects, or any others included on the approved list.

An illustration and further explanation of the measure can be found in the DfE’s Progress 8 Factsheet (see further information).

A quick reference should be made here to Attainment 8. This measure will show the school’s average grade across the same suite of eight subjects as the Progress measure. So this will show what grade pupils in a particular school typically average (a high B grade or a low D grade, for example).

Moving back to Progress 8, this will be calculated using a value-added method, using end of key stage 2 results in English and maths as a baseline. However, rather than using average national scores from within the same cohort, the DfE wants to use average scores from three years previously so that schools will know what pupils need to achieve to get a positive Progress 8 score (more on this later).

The Progress 8 Factsheet states: “The predicted results are calculated using the actual performance of other pupils with the same prior attainment. For example, pupils with a point score of 29 on their key stage 2 tests achieve, on average, eight C grades at GCSE. If a pupil with this level of prior attainment achieves eight B grades in a GCSE then she has made an average of one grade more progress than expected. The average of all pupils’ progress scores across eight subjects will create a school’s result.”

From 2016, new floor standards are also to be set using the Progress 8 and also the English and maths attainment measures.

Despite the inclusion of the number eight within the title, it is not compulsory for students to take eight qualifications. If a student has less than eight qualifications, or the qualifications they do sit are not included on the approved list, they will score zero points for these unfilled slots.

The Progress 8 overall score will always be determined by dividing the points total by 10 subjects (English and maths count double), regardless of how many qualifications the student sits or in which subjects. This may well lead schools to consider the number of qualifications that students are entered for, and for less able students a “less is more” approach might be adopted to ensure they are not spread too thinly.

Reaction to Progress 8

When Progress 8 was announced it was welcomed by many as a good way of discouraging schools from targeting a disproportional amount of their resources on C/D borderline students.

This new approach will ensure that students who should achieve higher than a C grade will not be allowed to coast, as schools will be accountable for their progress across a broad suite of subjects.

However, it is likely that there will be much confusion during the initial few years of this performance measure, partly due to the complexity involved in calculating it, but also due to the fact that it will be introduced and officially measured from 2016, which is the year before we will see changes to GCSE grading from the traditional A* to G system to a new numerical scale stretching from 1 to 9 (nine being the highest grade possible).

Given that it is taking most people in the education sector some time to fully digest these changes, it will be interesting to see how parents and carers use this information to select a secondary school for their child. 

The general population is largely comfortable with the current performance measures and schools will need to dedicate time and resources to ensure their local communities understand these new indicators.

Measuring progress

There will be changes to how schools are compared to each other and the national averages.

Currently, schools are compared to national average rates of progress for students who enter at each ability level, from key stage 2 to 4. Consequently, when results are issued in August, we currently have to wait with great anticipation until RAISEonline is published later in the autumn term in order to make comparisons against national averages within the same cohort. This means that schools will set targets, and potentially meet them, only to face the possibility of the national averages increasing.

Under the new target-setting, schools will be informed in advance about the results each student will require to achieve a positive Progress 8 score. This is because, as described, expectations are to be set using the results of pupils who completed key stage 4 three years previously.

This means that all schools will have the opportunity to score higher than the national average given that progress will be measured against that of students of similar ability from the previous three years, and not against an average score of all students nationally within the current cohort.

The method of projecting targets set for students, based on the performance of similar ability students during the three years previous will enable schools to analyse current working levels of students against the national averages and forecast whether the progress that their students are making will be in line, above or below what is expected.

However, the government has rightly recognised that the Progress 8 scores for examinations taken in 2016 should be compared to students of similar ability from within the same national cohort as it would be inappropriate to measure their results against 2013 results, given that schools have not had sufficient time to implement a curriculum that services the requirements of Progress 8 yet.

We will, however, be provided with “shadow data”, derived from 2014 results which will enable schools to “opt-in” to using Progress 8 as a performance indicator early (for 2015’s examination results).

Schools will receive a figure for 2014 Progress 8 scores at some point in the 2014/15 academic year, but this will of course be compared to national averages based on the same cohort and will not be used as an accountability measure.

Going forward, the DfE will use the 2016 results to set expectations for students’ results in 2017 and also 2018. 

From 2019, the expectations of student progress will again be based on 2016 results (three years previous), so schools will receive this information when the cohort of students in question are in year 9, enabling them to plan appropriate key stage 4 pathways. 

In 2020, the targets for students will be based on results from 2017 and this pattern will then continue year-on-year.

Are you ready?

So what do schools need to be doing in response to all of this? The curriculum offer provided for students currently in year 9 needs to be considered carefully. Schools still have the opportunity to deliver a broad curriculum, but it will be important to structure the key stage 4 offer for the current year 9 in a way that enables them a variety of choice, balanced with the requirements of Progress 8.

It will be crucial to review the curriculum offer at key stage 3 and 4 to ensure that students do not study too many or too few subjects and schools will need to balance this with continuing to provide an appropriate curriculum that services their communities appropriately. Schools will need to begin to consider how they will adapt their internal tracking systems to accurately report on student progress across key stage 4 in line with Progress 8 as well as monitoring the three other performance measures rigorously. 

Considering that from September 2014 schools will start delivering the new national curriculum while entering the first review and appraisal cycles for performance-related pay, for all of us in the education sector it will be a very busy and uncertain time. 

Consequently forward-planning, effective consultation and clear communication with key stakeholders will be more important than ever for school leaders as we enter the next stage of this constantly evolving education system.

  • Ben Solly is vice-principal at Long Field Academy in Melton Mowbray. Follow him on Twitter @ben_solly

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