The government is introducing new measures to determine Progress and Attainment in schools. These are called Attainment 8 and Progress 8, with the latter being based on the former. The measures fit nicely into the current reforms of qualifications and grading structure, and will make it easier, for parents anyway, to judge the attainment of, and progress by, a school.
They will be fully introduced in 2016, but some schools have opted in for 2015, so the scores are already available on the Government Performance Data site.
The current GCSE measure of attainment (performance) is the percentage of pupils gaining 5+ A*-C grades (incl Maths & English). The current measure of progress is the value-added score. Progress is the amount a pupil improves (or not) in comparison to what would be expected from their starting position (KS2 results). The current measure of using values either side of 1000 doesn’t really give the reader a sense of what is good or bad. Progress 8 (P8) will rectify this.
Attainment 8 (A8) is a new way of measuring the attainment of a pupil at GCSE level. It is not a threshold measure like the current one, so each pupil will have an A8 score. A school’s A8 score is the average of all the pupils.
As the government is trying to steer pupils back to a more old-school set of subjects then the A8 calculation is based on this.
The grading reforms mean that GCSE results will be numerical instead of alphabetical. Until the new structure is introduced the alphabetical grades will be converted into their numeric equivalent in order for A8 and P8 to work.
There are 8 slots used in the A8 calculation:
Maths (counts double)
English (counts double *)
* Higher result of English Language or English Literature, only counts double if both subjects are taken.
The ‘Ebacc’ subjects are broadly the Sciences, Computer Science, Geography, History and Modern Foreign Languages.
The ‘Other’ group is any remaining GCSE or equivalents, including Ebacc and including the lower scoring English subject.
There are a number of other criteria used in the slots above but what is mentioned is the general calculation.
The highest-scoring subject which qualifies for a slot will count. The A8 score is then the total of all the filled slots (unfilled slots count zero).
So, the main problem with A8 is that it is skewed in favour of higher performing pupils (and therefore of schools with a higher proportion of those pupils).
Let’s start with the number of slots a pupil could fill. The average number of exams taken by pupils is:
|Low attainer (below L4 at KS2)||5.8|
|Middle attainer (at or around L4 at KS2)||8.4|
|High attainer (above L4 at KS2)||9.8|
To put this into context, 17% of pupils (around 90,000 pupils using the 2015 Performance data) are low attainers, with half being middle and just over a third being high.
Let’s look at an example.
Jonny takes Maths, both English subjects, Physics, Geography, French, Computer Science, Music and Drama. Let’s say he’s a middle attainer and takes 9 subjects.
Billy takes the same, but not English Literature or Music. He is a low attainer and takes 7 subjects.
Jonny fills all the A8 slots, and he gets a double-counted English slot as he took both English subjects. However, Billy doesn’t fill all the slots, as he only took 7 subjects (obviously he can’t) and his English slot is not double-counted as he only took English Language.
Let’s assume each boy attained a Grade 4 (in new money) in every subject.
Jonny gets an A8 score of (2×4) + (2×4) + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 = 40 (average 4.0)
Billy gets an A8 score of (2×4) + (1×4) + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 0 = 32 (average 3.2)
As we can see, Billy is averaging almost a whole grade lower, but only because he didn’t fill all the available slots. His average score of actual subjects taken is the same as Jonny’s, though, at 4.0.
So, the calculation doesn’t favour low attainers (or more importantly, schools with a higher than average proportion of them). Low attainers are less likely to take 8 or more subjects and they are less likely to be advised to take English Literature (about 10% of all pupils do not take it).
If we now look at the other end of the scale. Bobby takes 13 subjects and gets Grade 8 in all of them. Gemma takes 9 subjects and gets Grade 8 in eight and one Grade 6. Let’s assume they take similar subjects and fill all the A8 slots. Both pupils will attain an A8 score of 80 (10 x 8), but you may say Bobby has performed better.
The calculation benefits pupils who take more (or a lot more) than 8 subjects (the high attainers), as only their highest-scoring eight subjects count.
Progress 8 is calculated as the Actual A8 score – Estimated A8 score.
The Estimated A8 score is derived from the pupil’s KS2 results in English and Maths (from 2017 it will be just Reading and Maths, and not including Level 6 tests).
If Jonny had an estimated score of 4.4 then his P8 score would be 4.0 – 4.4 = -0.4. If Billy had an estimated score of 3.2 then his P8 score would be 4.0 – 3.2 = +0.8.
So, Jonny hasn’t progressed as well as expected by about half a grade, but Billy has progressed better than expected by about a grade.
As with A8, the school’s P8 score is the average of all the pupils.
As you can see, the P8 value is more meaningful (than the 1000 value-added score) as it is expressed in grades.
The Government is proposing to base the frequency of Ofsted inspections on the school’s P8 score. And ‘a school will be below the floor standard if it’s P8 score is below -0.5’ (‘floor standard for a school is the minimum standard for pupil achievement and/or progress that the Government expects schools to meet’).