In the past, the government judged a schools performance on the proportion of pupils gaining C grades or higher in five GCSE subjects including English and maths. The problem was, children on the borderline between getting a grade C or grade D were given more attention. Those below a D or comfortably above a C received less focus. That is the problem with performance measures, they encourage organisations to meet their target at all costs, narrowing focus to a single measure and ignoring the wider needs.
The government recognised that the existing system was being played and therefore the results were no longer fit for purpose and at the same time, large swathes of pupils were not receiving the education they deserved. The government therefore wanted a new way of ensuring that a school could be measured based on the achievements of all pupils. In 2015, Progress 8 was introduced as a trial in a group of volunteer schools, followed by all schools* in 2016.
In a nutshell, Progress 8 measures how much a pupil matches or exceeds their expected rate of progress while at secondary school. When a child enters secondary school, they are given a forecast grade for their GCSE results based on their key stage 2 results from primary school. If they meet those expected grades, the school is considered to have done well. If they exceed those expected grades, the school is deemed to have done very well.
You can now see the difference between the old measure and the new Progress 8. Under the old system, a pupil achieving a grade D was seen as a failure. But if that pupil had an expected result of grade E based on their key stage 2 score, then a grade D is a great achievement. The greater difference between achievement and expected result means a larger difference in the Progress 8 score for that pupil.
The opposite is also true. If all pupils in a school were expected to achieve a grade A, but some only achieved a grade B, then the Progress 8 of a school would reflect the fact that some pupils were underachieving, pushing down their Progress 8 score to a negative value.
The above example shows how just a few pupils can affect the overall score. In a small school, this can give a misleading Progress 8 score. This is where confidence levels come in. Each Progress 8 score comes with a confidence level that tries to take a host of variables into account. It is basically a measure of how confident they are in the Progress 8 score given. How the confidence score is measured is fiendishly complicated. If you are suitably minded, try Appendix D of the governments guide to Progress 8.
Progress 8 is all about ensuring pupils reach their full potential. Will this work and lead to higher standards in all schools, including those in disadvantaged areas? Time will tell, but this article in the Guardian is an interesting read on the new system.
This article rather glosses over just how complicated calculating a pupils Progress 8 score is. It includes something called Attainment 8 and involves many calculations that don’t need to be understood by most teachers and parents. But if you want to know more, the government provides a guide to Progress 8 that you can find here.
*Some schools are not included if for example they have fewer than 5 pupils entered at KS4. See here for the criteria of excluded schools.