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Gareth D Morewood

GCSE results day: will Progress 8 make a difference?

Now results are in, Gareth D Morewood explores how the new measure of performance, Progress 8, may affect how we value success.

As we get towards the end of the of the summer break there is a mixture of feelings for teachers across the UK and indeed further afield. Not only the trepidation of returning for the new school year, but also, it’s time for results!  Last week A-level results were published and this week is the turn of GCSEs.

There can be considerable stress associated with these results, not only for students but for staff as well. Recently there appears to have been an increasing trend of the hiring and firing of headteachers as a result of this collective numerical output. This all means that results day has a range of emotional and personal responses like no other in the educational system, not least for young people with SEND and their parents and carers as well.

Progress 8 measure

Against this recurring backdrop that is the annual end-of-holidays event for schools, there is a big change this year to how GCSE results are to be measured. We have the addition of the new Progress 8 measure.

This doesn’t necessarily have a direct impact upon individual students and their families, more so for schools and headteachers. But what does it really mean?

This measure is going to become the new standard for measuring schools, so SENCos, teachers, parents and carers and anyone interested in how schools perform will need to develop an understanding of what it means.

Even as a SENCo of some experience I am struggling a little, but have tried to give my view of what it means to us and students with SEND.

A complicated reality

The reality of Progress 8 is that it is quite confusing (well, for me at least!).

The central element of this new measure is about rewarding schools for students who get or exceed predictions with regard to their individual expected rate of progress. A good idea, perhaps?

However, as these predictions are based on Key Stage 2 results from primary school, there may be challenges with regard to the accuracy of these predictions and the complexities associated with even more change in primary curriculums and SATs etc. In short, if students meet these predicated grades, a school has done well.

The DfE’s floor standard is now a school-wide Progress 8 score of below -0.5, which in essence means that a school’s average achievement is half a GCSE grade below the national average of all other students with the same expected progress.

However, as is the nature of education and accountability, scoring below the floor standard may still have consequences: a visit from Ofsted, the prospect of being labelled a failing school, or the loss of jobs among the school leadership and (potentially) staff.

How do results affect us day-to-day?

With all the press about changes in GCSE exams and new accountability measures, I think it is important to retain some sense of reality. I am sure sensationalised headlines and schools self-promoting impressive statistics will cover the internet and papers over the remainder of this week, but in truth, I wonder to what extent this high stakes-day reflects an average school population.

If you’re an inclusive school, then how you define success is an important starting point.

I, possibly naively, thought that Progress 8 would encourage a more inclusive approach. Having read a number of blogs and articles about this, I am now not so sure. I think that there are issues with regard to Progress 8 being unlike previous contextual, value-added measures that were part of historical school measures, as Progress 8 compares student performance with a national picture, rather than matching schools with similar intakes.

Therefore, are those serving challenging areas and schools who wish to maintain an inclusive ethos disadvantaged? Or, more realistically, those high-achieving schools will face little challenge in students meeting predictions.

An inclusive system of accountability and analysis throughout the year

Too often the analysis and progress of students with SEND is abdicated to the SENCo. In my view, this allows for a culture of lowering aspirations and passing on the accountability to a non-subject specialist, the SENCo.

Although in some schools the SENCo may be an experienced English teacher, for example, it is important that the systems are inclusive for all and part of a whole-school approach.

All students should be supported, have their progress measured and results analysed by the specialists in that area –  in English the Head of English, in maths a maths specialist etc. Segregating students with SEND or passing on the analysis of those with EHCPs to the SENCo allows for different expectations – the strength of an inclusive school is through being just that, inclusive.

It is at times like this that I am reminded of my own experiences and those of the numerous young people and their families at schools I have worked with over the last 20 years. Whatever the results on the day, from an individual perspective nothing is closed off or completely lost, there are still many, many options. Often, this time affords the usual ‘well it didn’t do me any harm failing my exams’ comments, which aren’t at all helpful, and everyone’s circumstances and situations are unique to them.

Personalisation is still a key tenant of an inclusive system, even if the reporting of results are not so.

In summary, I suppose that while each set of results coming out this week is individual to that one student, the measures of progress are considered holistically. Contrary to what some people think, you cannot have more than 50% of the population above average, whatever that means!

Useful links

Also read this blog from @LeadingLearner, Stephen Tierney on Don’t Rush to Calculate Progress 8 and Other Results Day Bits

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