One headteacher faced with a few severely ill pupils bringing down his Progress 8 score described the current system as “absurd”.
The leader spoke to TES but wished to remain anonymous to maximise his chances of convincing the Department for Education to allow sick pupils to be removed or “disapplied” from P8 scores.
“You’re being held accountable for the results of a kid about whom you receive a letter every month from their consultant saying that they can’t get out of bed,” he said.
The head explained that last year one sick pupil who had not been in classes for four years had a significant impact on the secondary’s P8 score. And the head fears the same thing will happen again this year with several other pupils who have missed nearly all their lessons over the past few years because of illness.
“The reality of the mental health situation is that in every year group, at every secondary school, there are going to be kids who are really, really struggling,” he said. “And they have medical notes that say they can’t do exams, and many of them struggle to attend school. I am a huge supporter of Progress 8 but it’s very flawed. As a matter of fairness, the measure should deal with how someone can be disapplied.”
Currently, DfE guidelines state that students who have “suffered long or short-term illness and failed to sit all or some exams” cannot be removed from performance measures despite their negative impact on the school’s score. But TES understands that this is allowed to happen in extreme circumstances.
The head warned that a failure to change the rule for children with long-term illness would tempt schools to game the system by removing them altogether.
“Children who are ill will be removed from rolls at a pace you will not believe,” he said. “That will be the consequence. As a head, it puts you in a massive ethical dilemma.”
The DfE refused to comment on the rules. The head said: “If we cannot solve the issue of medical and mental health disapplication and have transparent systems for that – or a cap on the impact that one pupil can have on a total score – then Progress 8 will be a laughing stock.”