Progress hate

Paul Woodward
6th September 2016 at 18:01

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Progress hate

A terrible play on words but I’m sure it’s not too far from the truth for teachers of art, design and technology and engineering. If you are new to teaching, or your department are still getting your head around Progress and Attainment 8 measures, let me briefly summarise, everyone else look away for a minute or, better still, put the kettle on.

Under the government’s new initiatives the grades awarded at GCSE will be replaced with a number from 1-8 (now 1-9). Students will need to take 8 subjects if they wish to attain the maximum Attainment 8 score possible. Maths is double weighted as is English if both subject options are taken and who wouldn’t want the added bonus of having their English Language points doubled. Science is compulsory in the EBacc block leaving two options from several other ‘academic’ subjects. Presuming the student has any options remaining after this, all the other remaining curriculum subjects fall into the ‘open group’ of subjects. The points achieved for all the subjects taken are added together then divided by 10 so the students overall score will be a number between 0 and 9 which is the Attainment 8. When this is compared to the score they were predicted at the end of KS2, the difference (which could be positive or negative) is their Progress 8 score.

So, nice and simple but how does this directly affect D&T and why has it caused so much controversy? Well, after the core subjects of maths and English, then the EBacc subjects of which there are another three, the student is realistically left with a maximum of 3 other subjects from the ‘open group’ which is where, yes you guessed it, D&T resides along with all the other non-core/EBacc subjects. An ‘academically’ inclined student may have, at best, just one option left and is unlikely to choose one that they simply ‘enjoy’ especially if there is any chance of it having a negative effect on their overall Attainment 8 score and the school is certainly not going to allow that either. If D&T is not a subject where they could achieve highly, they are not likely to take it. At the opposite end of the scale, an academically weak student who, at one time, may have opted for several practical or creative subjects will only have three of them taken into consideration for their Attainment 8 score so that is unlikely to happen either.

Now it gets political; the school will be judged on its overall attainment score which will be a positive or negative, basically take all the attainment 8 scores of all the students, add them up and divide. If it’s positive then the school has done a good job in making progress; the higher the number the better, but if the number is negative then not so good. To add an additional layer of ‘Fire and Brimstone’, its threatened that a negative Progress 8 score of 0.5 or more will trigger an Ofsted inspection, but keep your number at +1.0 or more and you avoid an inspection!

This is where I actually agree to an extent as students will be encouraged to choose subjects that they are likely to do well in or within departments that get good results. If D&T were not such a department then why would students choose to study? If they somehow need it to progress in their chosen career then surely it would be a subject they have some aptitude for. I am hopeful that it will stop the ‘pushing’ of students into D&T because they aren’t so good at the academic subjects or that it was once considered by some as an ‘easy pass’.

Don’t get me started on the initial lack of support for schools in terms of migrating NC Levels into the new Attainment Levels. While I applaud the freedom for schools to use their own assessment methods, a little more guidance might be helpful, especially with the additional pressure of changing to the reformed GCSE and A Level subjects. Like many teachers, I had to produce my own assessment criteria in light of this and I thought I had a nice 8 point system in place before the level 9 was announced….my burgeoning OCD really doesn’t do well with odd numbers. The problem here could be inconsistency between schools and their interpretation of levels into points but that’s probably a discussion for another time.

So, is there really any need to worry if your department is forward thinking, innovative and successful? Many might say not but bear in mind that many schools strive for the Ofsted rating of ‘Outstanding’ and it has been made clear that a school may not be able to achieve that rating if all its students don’t take the full set of EBacc subjects so to gain that status schools will have to enter students for a full set of EBacc GCSE’s when they begin key stage 4 in 2018; another hit on the numbers opting for creative subject options.

Love it or hate it, Progress 8 is here for the foreseeable future and with some students having just one option remaining its worth giving careful consideration to how you, as a teacher, department head or faculty leader, will make D&T the subject students want to choose. How can you also ensure that it not only educates and prepares them for the technological world ahead, be that through study or work, but also gets the grades (points) necessary to make the subject viable for the school within the Progress 8 system? It’s a big ask but I suspect that departments are going to be competing with each other more than ever to make this subject a popular choice in order to ensure its longevity. If we cannot do that, then D&T will be under real threat of extinction and it’s already been discussed in great detail how detrimental that would be to the future of creative and technical industries.



Paul taught Design and Technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty as well as teaching Art, ICT, Photography and Media Studies. He is currently taking a break from education to return to the design industry.

His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.