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Progress 8 pause: Heads call for wider review

A two-year hiatus from Progress 8 should be used to “rethink performance tables”, school leaders have said.

But some warned we could now see the creep back to GCSE pass grades being the “king of accountability”.

Officials had been exploring alternative progress options due to the lack of SATs data for the cohorts taking their GCSEs next year and in 2025-26.

However, on Thursday they concluded there was “no replacement”. Remaining headline attainment measures, such as English baccalaureate entries, attainment 8 and grade 5 passes in English and maths, will be published.

A time-series of three years of data will also return.

‘Improving schools hard done by’

Tom Middlehurst, qualifications specialist at ASCL school leaders’ union, said going without a progress measure was “far from ideal” and “means we are stuck with schools being judged in performance tables on exam attainment regardless of context”.

“Schools where progress is improving will feel particularly hard done by,” he said.

However, he added it was the “least-bad” approach.

Government was also “right not to rush to create an interim measure that has not been properly tested”, added Steve Rollett, deputy chief executive at the Confederation of School Trusts. 

Michael Gosling, chief executive at Trinity MAT, is concerned about the unintended consequences of grade 4s and 5s becoming “the King and Queen [again]. And we are going to lose that push where all students are involved, all grades are important and there’s much more of a wider perspective about pupil outcomes”. 

Progress 8 was introduced to move away from the previous 5 A*-C including English and maths, seen by many as a “cliff-edge” measure. 

In roundtable discussions with officials, Gosling had proposed using a three-year average of the most recent key stage 2 data as a baseline.

He said a cap could have been added for schools where their cohorts’ demographics have changed overtime. 

Trusts look at own progress measure

His trust will now look at whether this model could be used to measure progress. 

Dan Moynihan, chief executive at Harris Federation, said the remaining “absolute” measures will be “tough for schools in disadvantaged circumstances”.

One solution he pointed to was grouping schools by similar characteristics, as done under the London Challenge, as a “potentially fairer way” to present results. 

Harris will “do some experimenting” with data to see if they can find its own progress measure, but “the problem is you can’t benchmark it easily against a wider pool,” Moynihan said. 

Moynihan

Greenshaw Learning Trust proposed four solutions, one of which schools in the trust may use to calculate progress. 

Joe Ambrose, school improvement leader, said the absence of such a measure “could make it increasingly challenging for schools to show how much they add to pupils’ lives”. 

Government added Ofsted will continue to consider a range of data provided in the inspection data summary report, including about the school’s cohort. There is “no single piece of data will determine the outcome of any Ofsted judgement”. 

Calls for wider review

The Department for Education said it intends for Progress 8 to return in 2026-17, when it will again have key stage 2 test data – which acts as a baseline for progress scores.

But this will likely be a decision for a new government. Labour has already pledged to “update” the progress measure to hold schools to account for at least one creative or vocational subject, with a wider curriculum and assessment review.

Several leading academy trust chief executives and sector leaders have said the hiatus should prompt a review of the measure, first introduced in 2016. 

Wayne Norrie, chief executive at Greenwood Academies Trust, said the sector and DfE should now “work together to see if there is a better and fairer way to measure” progress and attainment. 

While John Barneby, Oasis chief executive, said there needs to be an “overhaul of how school performance is measured and which successes we celebrate”. 

Middlehurst said going back to Progress 8 would be “a missed opportunity to rethink performance tables”. 

Rollett added: “These metrics need to be part of an intelligent and compassionate approach to accountability, and be carefully designed to avoid penalising schools for doing the best thing for their pupils.”

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