Progress 8 was supposed to be fair. It has become just another way of hammering schools with the most disadvantaged students.
Its designers clearly took care to avoid some of the problems with counting 5 A*-Cs, which often led to a concentration on C-to-D borderline students. It also led to curriculum narrowing because it required very few subjects. With Progress 8, every student counts, and it involves a broader span of subjects.
Progress 8 doesn’t assume all students making the same amount of progress. Progress 8 calculations are based on average progress for all students with the same starting point. This is sensible: students who have progressed faster to age 11 generally tend to make good progress in secondary school, and vice versa.
Despite this, Progress 8 continues to discriminate against schools with the most disadvantaged students. It has not established a level playing field. Why?
Children affected by poverty tend to make less progress
It’s as basic as that.
Even among children with high attainment at age 11, those whose lives are damaged by poverty tend to fall back. This has been known to government statisticians since 2008. A Sutton Trust report Wasted Talent showed that, of children in the poorest fifth of the population but with the top fifth of attainment at age 11, only 1 in 7 reached university.
There are many reasons for this, including poor quality housing, poor health, family stress or troubled neighbourhoods. Many become disillusioned when they see other young people in their town unable to find work.
There’s no point pretending this isn’t the case, but it is grossly unfair to blame their teachers for underachievement caused by economic injustice. And that is precisely what Progress 8 does. It judges the teachers and schools to be “ineffective”.
Progress 8 is proving particularly damaging to schools in de-industrialised parts of the North and Midlands. The exception is schools with large numbers of students speaking English as an additional language: they have a slower start and their KS2 scores are often fairly modest, but with good support they take off during KS3. Consequently, their Progress 8 scores are quite positive.
It is no surprise that Progress 8 favours grammar schools. The reasons are fairly obvious.
i) Hardly any children on free schools meals get through their doors.
ii) Many grammar school students may be even more advanced at age 11 than their KS2 scores indicate
iii) They will mainly have ambitious parents who can pay for private tutors to get them through GCSEs if need be, just as they did for the 11 plus.
The list of “coasting schools”
None of this would matter if evaluations such as Progress 8 were used discretely to help education authorities identify schools needing extra support. But that is not what happens.
England’s education system is built on competition, public naming and shaming, banners at the gate boasting Good and Outstanding… and, for the losers, harassment from Ofsted and regional commissioners to force them into academy chains. It is a punitive system, driven by fear.
The irony is that many of these “coasting schools” already are sponsored academies, but rather than return them to local authorities, they will be shifted to a different MAT. They will become pawns in the dog-eats-dog empire-building among academy chain CEOs.
The new system deliberately protects schools in more affluent areas, including grammar schools and schools with covert selection. That is because a second criterion comes into play: schools are only put on the hit list if their five A*-C scores in the previous two years fell below 60%. This is fairly easy for schools in affluent neighbourhoods, even if the teaching is uninspiring.
When coasting feels like paddling hard to keep your head above water
This is the headline of the Education Datalab blog, and well put. The blog post shows that nearly a quarter of schools in the most disadvantaged areas are listed “coasting” but almost none in the least disadvantaged.
Education Datalab have been warning of problems for nearly two years. They have shown clearly that the system will not work fairly, and indeed that it misses schools that really need some help.
Another recent post also shows that just a few problem students can negate the good Progress 8 scores of a whole year group. For example if just 3 students in a class fail to sit any GCSE exams, for any reason, this will wipe out the half-grade positive progress made by the other 27 in their class. Needless to say, this is more likely to be a problem in particularly troubled areas.