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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Updated #Progress8 May Just Be A #Gamechanger

It’s not often that I get excited by another release from the Department for Education.  Thinking about it I’m not sure that I have ever previously got excited about a Department for Education release but the recent changes to the Progress 8 measure at GCSE has the potential to set in chain a set of thinking that could be a real game changer for education in England.

DfE Update

The Technical Bit  

The updated paper gives the current and proposed model for calculating Progress 8.  Basically in the current model waits until after the examinations have been done by a certain cohort before it calculates the average and then compares how a student has attained relative to this – half above half below kind of thinking.

The proposed model for the progress 8 measure will work out the average for a cohort, which has been delayed until the 2016 cohort sit their examinations and set this as a standard for three years hence – every student sitting her/his examinations in 2019 who gets over this mean achieves a positive progress 8 measure.  Since the “average point” has been fixed potentially all students could get over this “average” though I accept this is unlikely in such a short timescale.

What would happen if the 2016 average was fixed for ten years and the challenge is firstly to get all schools over this average and then to attempt to get all students over it.  That’s the game changer for me.

Removing the Long Tail of Underachievement

In a recent post “Ofsted Get It Right for Once … Oh No They Didn’t”, I made the following statement:

“A national minimum benchmark needs to be set about what is acceptable and the system needs to work to ensure all schools reach this standard within a five to ten year time period, at which time the bar can be raised.  Genuine improvements in learning and standards need to be reflected in improved examination outcomes – no artificial raising, lowering or maintaining of pass rates.  Remember the 100 metres hasn’t got shorter, people are just running it faster and the same can be true in education.”

My thinking has two strands to it that have the potential to radically improve education with England by changing our drivers and approach.

Firstly, if we set a national standard, there is the potential that all schools could be defined as successful.  In the current system where we use averages, usually the mean, approximately half the schools are above and half below.  The ones below are considered failures and the ones above successful.  This becomes even more perverse when attainment is used rather than a progress or value added measure but the outcome is the same.  By setting a standard, in advance, we can all work to get every student and every school above this baseline, success is no longer rationed.

Secondly, this would only be achieved by “real” improvements within the education system for the many.  The principle of equality for all children becomes a driver within the system and actually can be achieved because the baseline is set, we just need to collectively work out and work at getting everyone over it.  This genuinely excites me.

English Literature is In the English Bacc … then Out Again

It’s a bit like the hokey cokey for English Literature as the rules change announced just brings more confusion around the importance of this essential subject in the league table measure.

Statement from the Updated Progress 8 paper

Statement from the Updated Progress 8 paper

Basically the change seems to be, if a student gets a higher grade in their English Literature examination than their English Language, the English Literature will be double weighted and count as one of the five English Baccalaureate subjects.  The English Language qualification, if one of a student’s best eight, is relegated to one of the open group of subjects.

However, if a student’s higher grade is in English Language then this is double weighted and counts as one of the five English Baccalaureate subjects with English Literature, again if one of a student’s best eight, relegated to the open subject slots.

Either English Language and Literature are English Baccalaureate subjects or their not, alternatively, you can go with Department for Education thinking yes they are and no they’re not.  Clear as mud and equally bonkers!

Both English Language and Literature, and I might add Religious Studies, are included in the Russell Report as high quality A-level subjects (two of the three A-level subjects a student is studying) preferred by this group of Universities – just check the small print under the list of facilitating subjects in the report.

English Baccalaureate

I can’t resist ending this quick post with my usual dig at the English Baccalaureate, which with the proposed change to English Literature, is looking even more nonsensical as the days go by.  It’s an exclusive measure in stark contrast to Progress 8 and Attainment 8

  • As a student has to get a C in five subjects to be counted in.  A D grade in any one automatically excludes them from the measure.
  • It excludes English Literature and Religious Studies with absolutely no rationale at all.
  • It excludes the Arts, Creative, Technological and Enterprise subjects which can all form part of a child’s education.

Time for it to go.

Thanks to @ChrisHildrew for alerting us to this:

Chris Hildrew



10 thoughts on “Updated #Progress8 May Just Be A #Gamechanger

  1. Thanks for the credit, Stephen! One slight clarification is that the lower grade from English Language or Literature will only count in the “open group” of subjects if it’s one of the best 8. If a student gets a B in Lit and a D in Language, but has enough other C and B grades in the right combinations (e.g. Maths, Double Science, History, Art, Drama, Music), then the D in Language wouldn’t count in the 8 at all.

    There doesn’t seem to be any change to the inclusion of English Language in the other aspects of the performance table measures, however – the percentage of students achieving A*-C in English *and* Maths will be a performance measure and, as far as I can see, this still means English Language.

    Overall, though, I share your positive attitude to this news – it seems, on the whole, like a good thing.

    Posted by chrishildrew | January 7, 2014, 10:44 pm
  2. Interestingly I think it does seem to say that A*-C Maths&English could be English Lit (?)

    ‘We will also give English Literature parity with English Language in other headline
    performance tables measures in 2016 tables. Therefore:

     In the measure showing the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade or better in
    English and maths, a pupil would have to achieve a C in either English Literature
    of English Language to satisfy the English requirement (in 2016, a C in Combined
    English would be sufficient). ‘ – and in the Ebacc also?

    Implications for curriculum time? Prioritise one over another or both equally? Any subjects set to loose out even more so?

    I also really hope that we do have a fixed benchmark for 5 to 10 years and not a rolling ‘average’ of some sort that insists on year on year improvement to stay above.

    Posted by Ian White | January 7, 2014, 10:53 pm
  3. Thanks for this Stephen. One query though; your final comment in the bullet points about Literature seems to contradict the rest of your piece.

    Posted by RachelT | January 7, 2014, 11:02 pm


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