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Accountability, Leadership

Don’t Rush to Calculate Progress 8 and Other Results Day Bits

There are now three results days in my calendar each year; arguably four but Key Stage 1 drifts in over a number of weeks rather than being a set day.  Starting in early July with Key Stage 2 with A-levels in mid-August followed a week later by GCSEs.  They have been a mixture of individual pupil and organisational triumphs and disasters, over the year.

This year sees one of the most radical shake ups of GCSE we have seen for years.  It follows on from last Thursday’s positive AS level results which, for the first time in over a decade, count for nothing in terms of final A-level marks.  That was odd.

The Necessary Confusion

Photo Credit: Acearchie via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Acearchie via Flickr cc

With Progress 8 arguably becoming the new measure of school effectiveness at GCSE, results day is likely to see a lot of people scratching their heads and essentially ignoring it in terms of the much more familiar and easy to understand 5+A*-C including English & Mathematics measure.  Even Attainment 8, the simpler of the two new measures, has a level of technical understanding around double weighting and baskets for school leaders, teachers, pupils, parents and journalists to get their head around.  Change always has a level of confusion associated with it.  For pupils and parents they can forget the school measures on results day; just looking at the grades will be stressful enough.  Similarly for teachers, progress measures can wait.  They are important but are for another day.  That will leave school leaders and journalists desperately trying to make some kind of sense, some kind of statement, some kind of judgement about how a school has performed on Attainment and Progress 8.

Attainment 8 is relatively easy if you remember: we’re now on a 1-8 with G=1 and A*=8; your double weighting rules for Maths (simple) and double weight the best of English or English Literature as long as both have been sat; then sort out your E-Bacc and Open baskets and you’re done.  Most results software will do this for you.  The latest technical paper from the Department for Education is here.

If you want to test yourself on working out Attainment 8 I created an exercise, it’s at the bottom of the post, The Implications of GCSE Changes to School Accountability

Progress 8

Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr cc

Progress 8 is a different matter; school leaders will be desperate to get a handle on this.  The level of desperation and anxiety increases if you work in a school with a large number of disadvantaged pupils as statistically attainment data doesn’t work in your favour.  Progress is your lifeline in demonstrating the great work you do.  The levels of desperation, anxiety and stress increase if attainment data doesn’t look great.  I’ve already spoken with headteachers who fear, if this year’s results aren’t good, they will be out of a job.

Progress 8 is the difference between pupils’ actual Attainment 8 and the estimated Attainment 8.  The latter is based upon their prior attainment at Key Stage 2 and how pupils, on average, with the same Key Stage 2 fine score, attained in their GCSEs this year.  Because the estimated Attainment 8 won’t be determined until after grades have been awarded don’t expect it before the start of the Autumn Term.  (Update: Progress 8 data for schools and nationally will be released on the 13th October 2016).

Schools will be tempted to use the Progress 8 calculators from last year but here are a few words of warning.  Firstly, what might not change much.  Nationally, the estimated Attainment 8 may not be affected too much by Mathematics and the open basket.  I’d expect a bit more of a change in the impact from the open basket element with schools moving away from a “narrowing of the curriculum approach” that involved some pupils or pupils in some schools being entered for GCSE English and Mathematics plus three others.

The biggest change in the estimated attainment 8 is likely to come from curriculum changes associated with the E-Bacc basket.  Schools will increasingly seek to ensure as many pupils as possible complete three E-Bacc subjects.  Some schools will have always had an E-Bacc type curriculum, others will have been early movers and many, many more will have moved or be moving in the years ahead.

The potentially interesting one is whether the English element of the estimated 8 will move significantly.  Historically about 75% of the GCSE cohort sat English Literature.  I’d guess many lower attaining pupils either didn’t follow the course of followed it but didn’t sit the examination in order to focus on English.  Apart from one trial year, which was a bit of a disaster, we’ve always entered practically all pupils for English Literature.  My view is that English Literature is part of a young person’s educational entitlement.  Either way, with the better of the two English scores will be double weighted as long as both are sat.  I’m left wondering how many schools may try to game the system by entering pupils for English Literature, with minimal or no teaching of the course, just to ensure their U grade allows English to be double weighted.  Either way it’s likely to push up the estimated Attainment 8.

If you do decide to use last year’s Progress 8 calculations please remember to take it with a big pinch of salt and give the same message to anyone you relay it to.

The Emotional Cost

This will be my 30th GCSE Result Day.  They don’t get any easier; no longer the headteacher of St. Mary’s I’m still experiencing the annual stomach churning cycle.  I’ve metaphorically sat in the car with John Tomsett and cried.  There have been other years when you feel like all the effort was worth it.  It’s always worth it for the young people who you are called to educate.


There has to be a better way, more ethical and informed, than this.  The Headteachers’ RoundTable Alternative White Paper is nearing completion.  It will bring forward a number of radical suggestions including a policy for holding schools to account using a three year, contextualised value added measure within set threshold levels.  Secondary schools could move to this relatively quickly.  For primary schools, well that is such a mess it may take the best part of a decade.

Whatever Thursday brings good luck to everyone.  Don’t believe the prevailing accountability culture that you are only as good as your last set of GCSE results.  You are so much more than that.



7 thoughts on “Don’t Rush to Calculate Progress 8 and Other Results Day Bits

  1. I quite like the idea of students having to achieve a pre-determined, albeit data-generated target grade (however if they are good at Maths and English, they may not be so capable in MFL, but that’s a different argument!) as progress 8 has made me consider student learning in a more personalised manner ie. how does this particular student achieve grade B (their progress 8 target within my subject) when they a) have trouble spelling b) are not fully motivated etc. It can be a good driver from that point of view and I really enjoy the challenge. I think this was an inevitable development as the 5 A* to C measure could be construed as vague. (I remember being top dog at Abbey College in Birmingham because of 100% A* to C back in the 1990s, trouble was I was erring on the side of caution and aiming for C as a main cut-off point. Darwin was right: as the environment gets tougher we need to adapt, evolve and get better.

    Posted by Stuart Robathan | August 29, 2016, 7:34 am
  2. First of all, let me put my cards on the table here as I have a background in measuring service delivery effectiveness (and indeed efficiency) outside of education and I am undoubtedly a novice in the educational arena so perhaps my perspective lacks relevant experience.

    If we consider schools to be the point of education service delivery, then it follows that it is appropriate to measure effectiveness of that delivery. If we go one step further we can also say that students (parents are arguably also in this category), as the recipients of that service, are to all intent and purposes the customer. On that basis Progress 8, like its predecessors, could be considered as fundamentally flawed as it does not seek to measure customer satisfaction. The Progress 8 metric certainly is as elegant as it is complicated and has merit on the basis that it uses objective data in its calculation. However, it measures what it can measure as oppose to trying to measure perhaps what it should measure. This is not a challenge unique to education by any means but whereas elsewhere, where delivery of a service is concerned, what can be measured objectively is tempered by what the customer feels about the service they receive (absolutely subjective), no such balacing measure appears to exist in Progress 8 (nor has it been included as far as I’m aware in previous school effectiveness measures).

    Second point, ably articulated here, is the bias introduced when any ‘scoring system’ is introduced. It has been well documented that balanced scorecard content for business executives (Progress 8 scores will undoubtedly be pivotal in assessing School Leadership Team performance) drives behaviours and I can attest to this as bonuses are directly linked to your score. Progress 8 will probably be ‘gamed’ in order to make sure school performance is optimised (the ‘English Stalking Horse’ is a great example here as is the ‘E-Bacc Tendency’). If subject choice is a proxy for customer requirements it must be unconscionable for schools to meddle with it for their own purposes. I accept the notion that the provenance of E-Bacc is to ensure students have a wider career choice as possible but this feels suspiciously like standardisation and last time I looked students are unique as opposed to standardised!

    In my naivety I would like school performance to be linked to student satisfaction and career goal achievement and I’m not convinced Progress 8 moves us closer to this goal!

    Posted by Richard Crawshay | August 31, 2016, 9:05 am
    • I would be interested to know how a customer satisfaction model could be implemented in a measurable way into school progress management and how it would impact on learning. Student voice surveys are often a desired by OFSTED and their conversations with students during inspection visits are a key element. Is the customer satisfaction strategy a new path?

      Posted by Stuart Robathan | September 1, 2016, 12:43 pm
      • You are right to emphasise ‘measurable’, sometimes a synonym for quantifiable, which tends to lead us to what can be measured and away from what should be measured. I have seen customer satisfaction models that also use subjective inputs alogside ‘hard data’ on the premise that there is a direct relationship between how clients feel about a service and the quality of that service. The key with models such as these is to combine both quantifiable and qualitative elements in order to give greater confidence to the results.

        I am not aware of any strategy that includes a customer satisfaction model but I have an aspiration to define and operate one. My interest is more about making learning outcomes relevant to what each student wants to do when they complete a phase of their education and using a customer satisfaction model to validate the success of that relevancy. It strikes me that abstracting individual data in order to assess overall satisfaction at a school level, anonymised as appropriate, would be a missed opportunity if ignored. Your observation about potential impact on learning demands careful thought and consideration.

        If OFSTED truly value student comments, then continuing to fail to mine that rich seam of school performance data would seem imprudent. In my experience getting hold of client opinion is paramount to ensure they are getting the service they require and has never been a waste of time!

        Posted by Richard Crawshay | September 1, 2016, 1:53 pm


  1. Pingback: Do you really need to wait to calculate Progress 8? – Education Datalab - August 25, 2016

  2. Pingback: Making sense of progress 8 - SIMS Assessment Manager Blog - September 13, 2016

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