On Thursday 19 January, we published new-look school performance tables based on last summer’s key stage 4 exam results. This Q&A sets out what has changed in the tables, and seeks to answer some of the questions raised by the media coverage of the results.
What has changed?
In the past, the main measure of school performance was based on how many pupils achieved five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths.
The problem with this measure was that it inevitably led schools to focus on pupils who were on the C/D borderline, rather than every pupil. To address this, we introduced Progress 8, a much fairer method which judges schools on how much progress they make for all their pupils across eight subjects.
How does Progress 8 work?
Progress 8 measures how much progress schools help their pupils to make from the end of primary school to their GCSEs, compared to pupils of similar ability in other schools. The national average score for state-funded mainstream schools is 0, so any school which is above 0 is making above average progress, and any under 0 is making below average progress. Most schools will have a score between -0.5 and 0.5, and anything below or above these levels is generally considered ‘well below’ or ‘well above’ average.
A Progress 8 score is derived by comparing a pupil’s estimated Attainment 8 score – based on the results achieved by pupils with the same prior attainment at key stage 2 – to their actual Attainment 8 score. The maximum Attainment 8 score for a pupil taking GCSEs is 80, with an A* worth eight points and an A worth seven, and so on down to G, worth one point. English and maths scores are double-weighted. A higher Attainment 8 score can be achieved if some pupils sit AS levels. Progress 8 is calculated for individual pupils solely to calculate a school’s Progress 8 score, and there is no need for schools to share individual Progress 8 scores with their pupils.
There were conflicting media reports about how grammar schools fared. Some outlets said the results showed grammar schools make most progress for their pupils, while others said grammars were falling behind in the new rankings. Which version is right?
Some of the coverage focused on the fact that grammar schools did not feature in the top ten schools for progress. This is unsurprising – the schools in the top ten have taken low-attaining pupils and significantly raised their performance, and for this they should be congratulated.
Grammar schools by their nature take pupils with a higher attainment, so it is less likely you will see individual examples of grammars at the very top of the media’s progress charts. This does nothing to alter the fact that almost all grammar schools make good progress compared to non-selective schools, so the headlines about how well grammars do in helping pupils progress are right.
There were some reports that 1,500 schools were ‘falling behind’ the average. Is this correct?
No. To say something is ‘falling behind average’ is a contradiction in terms. The average is not fixed – it changes depending on how the overall cohort performs. However well schools perform overall each year, the number above and below the average will remain roughly the same, so it is essentially meaningless to talk about numbers above and below the average.
Some commentators in the media have argued that Progress 8 is too complicated for parents to understand. Is this fair?
This is a big change, and the process to attain the score is detailed. What’s important though is that parents are given a simple score where above 0 means their child’s school is making above average progress compared to other schools with pupils with similar starting points. The DfE also makes clear on its performance tables site whether a school is making well below, below, average, above average, or well above average progress.
For further information on Progress 8, please click here.
To see the secondary school performance tables, please click here.