Progress 8 and the North East

Schools in North East England are under attack again. According to Progress 8 scores, its schools are the least effective in the country, with the highest percentage coming ‘below the floor’.

But Progress 8 is a flawed and misleading measure. It assumes that social factors make no difference. Once again, the Government are in denial about poverty and the economy. It’s so much easier to attack teachers again.

According to official data, 21% of schools are ‘below the floor’, compared with 12% nationally. Consequently, 31 secondary schools will be targeted for urgent Ofsted inspections. They are likely to receive negative judgements, however good the teaching is: that is how the system works. They will be forced to become academies … those that aren’t already!

Researchers have pointed out the  flaws in Progress 8 very clearly, but the Government has ignored the warnings. Actually it isn’t difficult to show why the North East is scoring particularly low, and the reasons are beyond schools’ control.

i) The new scoring system has resulted in a third more schools being classed as ‘below the floor’. This is true across England, but affects some schools more than others.

ii) Poverty has a big impact on pupils’ progress: on average, students on free school meals score -0.5 on Progress 8. (-0.5 is also the threshold for ‘below the floor’.) Schools with large numbers of FSM students are far more likely to score below. In the North East, 17% of students are FSM (13% nationally). In some places it’s worse:

  • 24% Middlesbrough
  • 23% Newcastle
  • 20% Sunderland
  • 19% South Tyneside
  • 19% Hartlepool.

Not surprisingly, all these areas have large numbers of schools ‘below the floor’.

iii) The region is one of the worst affected by deindustrialisation. Many young people get a sense that, however hard they try, they might never get a decent job. They just give up on school. Demoralisation will also affect many young people who don’t qualify for free meals.

Even areas which aren’t the worst for FSM, such as Darlington or Redcar and Cleveland, suffer heavily. It is not surprising that 43% of schools in Darlington, 33% in Redcar and Cleveland, 20% in Hartlepool and in Gateshead are under attack.

iv) Speaking another language at home is actually an advantage for Progress 8. There are intellectual advantages to being bilingual, and if your English is still limited at age 11, you can make accelerated progress during secondary school with the right kind of support.

Across the country EAL students have an average score of +0.5. They are even more successful in the North East – but there are few of them. In fact, only 4% of the school population – compared with 9.5 for the North West, 15% for the West Midlands, and nearly 40% for London.

A large proportion of EAL students in the population tends to mitigate the negative effects of poverty.

v) It can be a big advantage having parents who are well qualified: they tend to pass on a wide vocabulary, formal styles of speaking, can help you with homework, and know what you need to get into a particular university course or career.

Across the North East, 29% of adults are graduates. This is only slightly less than other northern and midland regions, but in the South East it is 40%, and 45% in Outer London, 60% in Inner London.

Incidentally this is not because few young people get to university from the North East, it results from a movement south for graduate work.

When you take all these factors into account, there is no reason to believe schools in the North East are less effective than elsewhere.

This is not special pleading or complacency. Teachers strive to improve their students’ life chances and help them overcome the effects of poverty. But it is invidious to blame them.

Time to hold the Government to account.

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