Progress 8 fails to reward inclusive schools

Janet Downs's picture

Previously low-attaining pupils lower Progress 8 score

It was supposed to be fairer: judging school outcomes on progress made since Key Stage 2 (KS2) tests rather than GCSE results.

But Progress 8 (P8) is flawed.  Leave aside the arguments about the reliability of KS2 results or the bizarre belief that it’s possible to judge progress in a wide range of GCSEs against tests which only measure reading, writing and maths.  The glaring flaw in P8 is that it fails to reward inclusive schools.

Schools accepting struggling pupils are disadvantaged

Schools accepting pupils who’ve struggled elsewhere are ‘clobbered’ after the Department for Education tightened rules about which pupils’ GCSE results could be removed from the school’s data, Schools Week reports.   In one case, the DfE refused to remove data for a pupil who’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Progress 8 disadvantages schools with large proportion of previously low achievers

But it isn’t just these exceptional cases which makes P8 unsuitable as a guide to school quality.   P8 discriminates against schools with a large proportion of previously low attaining and special educational needs (SEND) pupils while rewarding those schools which have few of them. 

Previously low-attaining pupils and SEND pupils are less likely to take exams eligible for P8.  If schools with many of these pupils also have few previously high attainers, then P8 is likely to be below or even well-below the average for all schools.

Non-selective schools in selective areas suffer the worst

Nowhere is this more evident than in areas of England which have retained selection.  Provisional GCSE data  shows that grammar schools have the highest average P8 scores (0.57) while non-selective schools in selective areas have the lowest average P8 (-0.13).  Non-selective schools in non-selective areas have an average P8 score of -0.1, in line with the national average.

Non-selective schools in highly selective areas had an average of 16% of their pupils below the expected level at the end of KS2.  In non-selective areas, this falls to 13.1% in non-selective schools.  It’s clear that selection disadvantages non-selective schools in selective areas.  Grammar schools increase their P8 scores simply by admitting only previously high-achieving pupils.  But this is at the expense of local non-selective schools.

Using ‘strong pass’ measure further disadvantages inclusive schools

At the same time, school accountability recognises only a so-called ‘strong pass’ – a grade 5 or above – in English and maths.  Schools are judged on the grade 5 measure rather than the ‘standard’ pass (Grade 4).  This gives an advantage to schools with a large number of previously high attaining pupils.  These are more likely to achieve a grade 5.   Mixed messages about what constitutes a pass have caused the ASCL to launch an inquiry

Perverse incentives

Accountability measures have perverse incentives.  Schools gain advantage by discouraging SEND pupils or previously low-achieving pupils.  But schools which accept such pupils are disadvantaged.

An education system should work for all – yet the accountability regime in England ensures it does not do so.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 23/10/2018 - 18:00

You are right again Janet, as was I when I wrote about Progress 8 back in 2016.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 24/10/2018 - 21:30

I found this, by Becky Allen, a very thoughtprovoking treatment of this vexed subject. Not to ignore your remarks about Progress 8 - it is of course unfair - the problem has more to do with the notion of measurement of progress under any circumstances. That so much effort is expended on seeking this particular Holy Grail is distorting teaching and the allocation of funding in schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/10/2018 - 08:49

John - thank you for the link.  It shows that stats around 'closing the gap' are meaningless (albeit very useful for boasting ministers and the DfE media machine).  Allen argues that PP money doesn't reach all disadvantaged children, ie those not eligible for FSM but still have an educational disadvantage (environomental, cognitive or both).  It would be better, therefore, if PP could be bundled into general school expenditure to help provide a rich educational experience. 

Unfortunately, PP effectiveness is judged merely by test results supposed to show a school is closing the gap.  The easiest way for a school to close the gap, therefore, is to discourage disadvantaged, previously low-attaining pupils.  In selective schools, hyped as being the most effective in closing the gap, this means accepting only previously high-attaining pupils whatever their FSM eligibility.  There is no attainment gap to close.

I'll leave the final words to Allen: 'When we teach children from households that are educationally disengaged there is a lot we can do to help by way of pastoral and cultural support. This costs money and monitoring test scores isn’t the right way to check this provision is appropriate.'

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