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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

#Progress 8, Decisions and Options

Progress 8 is fast becoming the new accountability currency in secondary education in England.  There is actually much to commend this measure and schools are slowly but surely beginning to understand the benefits of it over many that have gone before.  In a previous post, Update #Progress 8 May Just be a #Gamechanger, I looked at the potential ways in which the new measure could fundamentally change how we view accountability within our education system.

From the Department for Education - February 2014 Factsheet

From the Department for Education – February 2014 Factsheet

This post is a much more operational, bread and butter one, about how we have decided to respond to the new accountability measures.

I’ve always taken the view, as a school leader, that whilst external forces may restrict what I do, 

they will never define me or the school I am fortunate to lead.

The Progress 8 Measure

Progress 8 is one of a suite of measures and by far the best which also includes an Attainment 8 measure, an EBacc measure and an English & Maths measure.  The Progress 8 measure (and also the Attainment 8) consists of the best eight grades a student attains within the following limits:

  • A double weight English element.  This can be either GCSE English Language or English Literature whichever is the better grade, as long as a student is entered for both, with the other – if one of the best 8 – being included in the Open Group of subjects.
  • A double weighted GCSE Mathematics element.  Be aware that the GCSE Mathematic syllabus is just about to get “fatter”.
  • Three best grades from the EBacc suite of subjects – separate Sciences, Computer Science, Geography, History & Languages.  Don’t get confused with BTEC Science as it won’t count in this EBacc section but could count in the Open Option Group below.
  • The best three grades from any of the remaining subjects.  This could be three vocational subjects, EBacc subjects, creative arts, technology, in fact anything on the approved list.  There are some subjects which will be discounted against each other – this means you can’t count them both as they are considered the same – but this is a moving feast.  Until recently Dance & Drama were discounted against each other but now they count as two subjects in the Open Group.

Where To Now?

Photo Credit: Will Ockenden via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Will Ockenden via Compfight cc

We have decided to retain out two pathways approach with the General Pathway and a Specialised Pathway, in which students have the option of going to Blackpool & Fylde College to do high quality vocational courses.  We are not equipped to deliver these specialised courses and with the quality of the courses on offer at Blackpool & Fylde College we are happy to continue our on-going partnership.  This has been built over a number of years and provides an added dimension to our curriculum offer.

We did quite a bit of curriculum thinking last year on the back of an envelope – quite literally – about half an hour before Y9 Options Evening.  We had just received the Department for Education’s Consultation document on the new accountability measures and felt there was a lot to commend in it and felt that changes following consultation had tended to be rather limited over the past few years.  It was time to act.

The basic change made was moving from four “Open Option Groups” to three with an EBacc Option Group.  We also moved all students to GCSE Science rather than the split GCSE/BTEC Science options we had been running.  Students would do either GCSE Double Science plus a choice of one EBacc subject or the three Separate Sciences.

EBacc Option Choices at St. Mary's Catholic College

EBacc Option Choices at St. Mary’s Catholic College

This basic structure remains in place for this year.

What Would I Want for My Child?

This question has been a key touch stone for me, throughout my headship, when making some difficult decisions.  In discussions as a senior leadership team, this year about the Key Stage 4 Curriculum we would offer, we returned to this basic question.  Deciding what we would embrace in the new measures and what we would reject was difficult – apart from the EBacc measure which I’m developing a pathological hatred of.

Options Evening 2014 - St. Mary's Catholic College

Options Evening 2014 – St. Mary’s Catholic College

The discussions centred around whether to retain three open option choices for student or move to two with extra time for English, Maths & Science.  This would take English & Maths up to 16.6% of curriculum time and Double Science up to 20%.  Since nearly all our students do English Literature, the introduction of the new “fatter” GCSE Maths and the need to find 20% time for GCSE Double Science we decided to move to the latter.

So in addition to English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Religious Education, PSHE, General PE and the three EBacc subjects students have two options from the group below.

Open Option Block (Choose Two) St. Mary's Catholic College

Open Option Block (Choose Two) St. Mary’s Catholic College

The subjects are always divided into the final two option blocks after choices have been made so we can maximise the number of students who get their first two choices.

The Specialised Pathway

We all know that our students are individual and talented in different ways.  As well as the wide range of option choices for the General Pathway we have for many years provided an alternative for those students whose ability and interests are much more practical in nature.

Students in the Specialised Pathway study a core of English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Religious Education, GCSE Double Science, PSHE and General PE.  They also have the option of spending a day a week at the College studying a combination of Motor Vehicle Mechanics, Construction, Child Development or Hair & Beauty.  They will complete one course in Year 10 and the other in Y11 leading to two qualifications.  There is an in-school option available to them which is akin to the “Open Option Block” for the General Pathway but with fewer subjects in as there are fewer students.  These students may only have seven subjects included in their Progress 8 Measure depending on whether they open option block choice is an Ebacc subject.  For many it won’t be.

Children’s needs and aspirations come before any accountability measure.

We hope this gives all students the opportunity to follow a challenging curriculum with a rich variety of courses in that will allow the fish to swim, the monkeys to climb trees and the birds to fly.  Nurturing and developing each child’s talents must be our goal.

Jack of All Trades, Masters of None

Photo Credit: AuntieP via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: AuntieP via Compfight cc

Another change we made last year which we obviously thought would be a good idea, we just didn’t realise how good, was to rethink Year 9.  From all indications over the first six months it looks like a moment of unforeseen genius.  Students in our Year 9 tend to do a lot of subjects for a small amount of time, similar to many schools up and down the country.

In addition to a core set of subjects we took the curriculum time normally allocated to history, geography and the creative & technology subjects – 30% at St. Mary’s – and divided it differently.  Instead of giving between 3-6% to lots of subjects we gave the following options to our Year 8 students to study in Year 9.  Needless to say they were delighted.  They have to choose one from each block – part of retaining a breadth off curriculum in Key Stage 3 – and study it for 10% of curriculum time before doing their “real options” in the middle of Year 9.

The impact has been great to see:

  • Attendance for Year 9 has never been higher and behaviour incidents have plummeted.
  • Relationships with teachers appear to be improved.  They are working in subjects they enjoy and spend longer with fewer teachers which really helps with consistency.
  • Students are reaching levels of attainment in Year 9 due to both the extra time and the greater challenge that we haven’t been able to reach before.  In short they have moved from jacks of all trades to masters of a few.
  • The potential baseline, at the end of Year 9, with which they will start GCSE is likely to be significantly enhanced.

If you want to read more about the different accountability measures the latest two documents from the Department for Education are below:

Update on Progress 8 Measure – January 2014

Department for Education – Progress 8 Factsheet – February 2014

With thanks to Mick Kay for directing me to these, more information from the Department for Education is here:

Progress 8 School Performance Measure – Info for Govs & Leaders – March 2014

Progress 8 Measure in 2016 – Technical Guide – March 2014



8 thoughts on “#Progress 8, Decisions and Options

  1. How many option subjects do Year 8 choose? Thanks

    Posted by Ben Warrender | March 8, 2014, 9:21 am
  2. This is are ally interesting read and dovetails nicely with conversations we have been having here at my school. We decided to move to a 3 year KS4 but this will take a degree of transitioning, and we were thinking about the upcoming year 9 in particular. This helps me to consider a different model so thank you for sharing this idea. Can I ask though, do you envisage an issue with students opting for a subject in Y9, discovering it’s not to their liking, but then some subjects saying they “can’t start my subject in Year 10 if they did not do it in Year 9”. I have this in my new school and find it really frustrating and counter-productive. I think some staff may be surprised when we get to the year 8 “mini options” later this year.

    Posted by Graeme | March 10, 2014, 12:16 pm
    • Dear Graeme,

      Thanks for the comment

      In setting up the different Y9 Curriculum we had the discussion, with HoDs and senior leaders, around students actually choosing GCSE options for studying in Y10 as a “fresh start”. Many options are new to students in Y10 and everyone bought into the idea that students options are not limited by or dictated by what they did in Y9.

      Hope this helps.



      Posted by ExecutiveHT | March 10, 2014, 12:56 pm
  3. Thank you for this update. I understand that the E bacc will be set as a floor target from 2016. Do you know at what %? If this is allowed to go ahead the choices for our current y9 will be severely restricted as we still allow all students to choose His or Geo in three option blocks from another 10 subjects in each block. Some of our students don’t want to do yet another arbitrarily chosen academically demanding subject on top of 6/7 compulsory ones. Where will this end?

    Posted by Svetlana Raymond | March 10, 2014, 10:10 pm
    • If you check the technical papers you can get all the details. The EBacc isn’t going to be the basis of the target setting rather the Progress 8 measure. We won’t have this information until 2016.



      Posted by ExecutiveHT | March 10, 2014, 10:22 pm


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