The Impact of Progress 8

Anybody involved in secondary school performance over the past dozen years or more will be well aware of the C/D borderline at GCSE. Local and national media annually pounce on the headline figure of 5 A* to C including English and Maths. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate by the incoming Coalition Government in 2010 was an attempt to ensure that GCSE exams taken were in line with a more academic curriculum. But the EBacc hasn't supplanted the 5 A* to C measure in journalists' heads.

Despite children peaking at different times during their school career, it has been recognised for some considerable time that how a child does on entry into Year 7 is a good predictor for how they will do at GCSEs.

The difficulty with the raw A* to C measure is that it takes no account of the academic intake into the school. Schools with high achieving intakes will obviously have an advantage when it comes to publishing GCSE results. And in a newly competitive environment, where schools are wanting to attract pupils and parents, the emphasis on exam results is key.

Those involved with schools will be aware of the value-added idea, where a school's performance is boiled down to a number around 1,000 - those below 1,000 have let their pupils slip from where the national average for equivalent pupils would have been, and those above 1,000 have ensure that their pupils have generally better results than their peers on entry. Progress 8 is another value-added measure, which aims to focus more on both core skills and an academic curriculum.

The new Conservative Government has introduced the idea of coasting schools. While the exact definition hasn't yet been supplied, it's very likely to be tied into Progress 8 and other value-added measures.

Why does all this matter to schools? Well, apart from the obvious threat of Ofsted inspections and special measures, now every child and every grade matters. It's no longer appropriate to throw all your intervention resources at the C/D borderline. If your high achieving students aren't getting A or A* grades, then your Progress 8 measure will suffer.

So there's a huge amount more data to process and understand, and it needs to be done at a pupil level. You need to be able to quickly identify those students who are under-achieving compared to their equivalents, and you can't assume that none of your top set students are under-achieving.

We've looked before at how time-consuming calculating Attainment 8 and Progress 8 measures are. Obviously Calcul:8 can speed up this process, but the ability to identify which pupils need assistance is core, and Calcul:8 provides a wealth of information here too - from ranking students to identifying which subjects may be considered as excess for individual students.

Helen Belcher, 29 October 2015


How is Progress 8 calculated?

In the first blog we looked at what underpinned Progress 8 as a calculation measure. We outlined that it's a value-added measure looking at various subjects biased towards the English Baccalaureate. This blog will go into detail about how it's calculated, and what the imperative was for developing Calcul:8 in the first place.

Progress 8 works on the basis of placing qualifications attained into one of three "buckets". The first looks at core skills - literacy and numeracy. One Maths qualification and one English qualification counts here. Generally, if two (or more) English exams have been taken (most commonly English Language and English Literature), the one with the highest grade counts. The second bucket covers the remaining EBacc subjects - sciences, humanities and languages. The best three exams out of this subset count. The third bucket covers any remaining subjects, including those not allocated to buckets 1 or 2. So, if a student gains A grades in English Language, English Literature, French, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geography and Maths, then bucket 2 contains three of French, Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Geography, and the two remaining subjects together with one of the English exams are allocated into bucket 3.

In February 2015, the DfE clarified some issues and changed some rules. One clarification was that only one subject per discount code (which we refer to as an exam family) can count - so if a student has taken three Drama exams, only one of them can count. This has a particular resonance with Music exams, which can be GCSEs, graded exams in instruments, BTECs and performance exams. The other rule change was that any grade attained in AS Maths automatically overrules the GCSE Maths grade, even if the AS level grade scores fewer points.

Immediately you can see that we need to be able to determine what subjects count towards which bucket, how to convert grades into points, how to determine which qualification for which subject counts, and how to cope with "overspills" such as the example set of results above. Dealing with straight A grades is straightforwards, but most students get a variety of grades, and some students take qualifications that aren't GCSEs. Fortunately the DfE has published tables on how to convert grades for different kinds of qualifications (GCSEs, BTECs, AS levels and so on) into points.

Just determining the points for each student's qualifications can take some time. We then need to place the subjects into the relevant buckets, and then need to determine the total points. Again, there are complications here. Any Maths exam in bucket 1 automatically has its points doubled. An English exam in bucket 1 has its points doubled if the student has taken a second English exam, irrespective of whether that second English exam has been allocated to bucket 3 or not.

The total points attained by a student is called the Attainment 8 score. We then look at the student's Key Stage 2 average score, and this gives us the expected Attainment 8 score for the student. The difference is then divided by 10, and we call that the student's Progress 8 score. If the student doesn't have a Key Stage 2 average score (for example, they were absent for the tests, or have moved into the country after the age of 11), then the student doesn't have an expected Attainment 8 score, and so can't have a Progress 8 score.

The Progress 8 score for the school is the arithmetic mean of the counting student's individual scores. Confidence intervals are also worked out based on the number of students in the cohort. The expected spread is supplied by DfE - currently this uses a factor of 1.14.

Why does this matter? Well, DfE and Ofsted will expect all schools to have a positive Progress 8 score. Any Progress 8 score below a certain threshold (expected to be -0.5) will trigger an automatic inspection and could result in the school being placed into special measures.

You can see that the calculation is time-consuming and, if done manually, very prone to errors. The beauty of Calcul:8 is, once you have the exams set up and the report template from your MIS defined, it takes literally seconds for the computer to do all of this processing - and it gets it right every time.

Helen Belcher, 25 September 2015


What is Progress 8?

Progress 8 was announced in 2013 as a way of measuring the performance of secondary schools in England.

Over the past couple of decades, schools, parents and the media have become used to looking at the percentage of Year 11 students who achieve 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C including English and Maths. Michael Gove, when he was Secretary of State for Education, introduced the English Baccalaureate (or EBacc) which was English, Maths, a science, a humanities subject and a modern foreign language. The idea was to ensure that secondary school students studied a rounded academic curriculum. It was intended that the percentage of students achieving an EBacc would become the main published result for a secondary school.

The problem with these raw percentage measures is that it depends greatly (although not exclusively) on the standard achieved by the students when they enter the school. Students with low Key Stage 2 attainment results tend not to achieve many GCSEs at grade C or above. So this meant that schools with good feeder schools tended to do better on these raw measures than schools whose students were at a lower level on intake.

Another measure used internally by schools and the DfE was the Best 8 GCSEs - where a pupil's eight highest scoring grades were converted into points. In theory, this measured the spread of education - although there was nothing to stop schools entering pupils for two or even three GCSEs in a subject the pupil did well in, and counting all of them.

Schools are familiar with the concept of measuring value-added education - the difference in attainment between when the student arrived at the school and when they departed. RaiseOnline uses this quite extensively in their school performance reports. They give a school a measure, using 1000 as the "expected progress" - so scores above 1000 mean that the school has added more value (the students have achieved more than they would have been expected to) and scores below 1000 mean that the students have gone backwards compared to their peers in other schools.

Value-added measures, like that used by RaiseOnline, work on the basis of giving points to qualifications achieved, and points to the Key Stage 2 attainment, and working out the difference. The benefit is that you can see whether a school is achieving great things with a low ability intake, or is just coasting with a high ability intake. But this measure has not been taken up in any meaningful way by either press or parents, presumably on the basis that employers are looking at raw grades when employing students.

With that in mind, the DfE announced that, from the summer of 2016, all secondary schools in England would be accountable under the new Progress 8 value-added measure they had designed. This means that pupils who sat GCSEs in May and June 2016 would have their results compared to their Key Stage 2 scores, and a value-added measure calculated based on three categories of exams - core skills, EBacc subjects and the rest. The difference is that the expected progress would come from all other students who sat GCSEs at the same time.

A later blog, and information elsewhere on this website, will explain exactly how a Progress 8 score is calculated. Because of the nature of how a Progress 8 score is calculated, and also to allow for re-marks of papers, it is unlikely that the existing press-friendly measures will disappear - but there is no doubt that Progress 8 is becoming the primary assessment criteria of the quality of a school for the DfE (and, hence, Ofsted). Forward-looking schools are already assessing the impact of Progress 8 on the curriculum they offer students. It will also change intervention strategies. While the C/D borderline will remain important, most grades attained will count - if a pupil who should achieve an A actually gets a B or a C, that will be a negative for the school. It should mean that every pupil matters, and this means that good quality data and information is essential for a school to ensure that no student is left behind.

Helen Belcher, 26 August 2015


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The Impact of Progress 8
How is Progress 8 calculated?
What is Progress 8?