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
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 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.