Skip to main content

Exclusive: Progress 8 ‘penalises’ schools with lower ability intakes

Research raises doubts about whether Progress 8 is a fair accountability measure because it mainly reflects "the student make-up of the school”

Progress 8

Research raises doubts about whether Progress 8 is a fair accountability measure because it mainly reflects "the student make-up of the school”

Schools with lower performing intakes are “systematically penalised” by Progress 8 – despite the measure supposedly taking prior attainment into account – a new study has found.

Researchers at Cambridge Assessment found that schools’ Progress 8 scores “mainly reflected the student make-up of the school”, raising doubts about whether it is a fair way to hold schools to account.

A paper presented this week at the annual conference of the British Educational Research Association in Newcastle looks at Progress 8 scores for different types of pupils and schools.

The research found a “distinct positive relationship” between the mean prior attainment in a school and their Progress 8 score, with an increase of 1 in a school’s mean Key Stage 2 Sats leading to on average an increase of 0.48 in its Progress 8 score.

“Despite the measure taking account of prior attainment at the student level, Progress 8 systematically penalised schools with a lower performing intake,” the paper states, noting that “the size of the effect was substantial”.

This meant that the difference between a school with a prior attainment average of 4.25 at KS2 and a school with an average of 4.75 would equate to a Progress 8 difference of 0.24 – or one GCSE grade in every fourth qualification.

Progress 8 was introduced by the government because it was supposed to be a fairer way of holding schools to account than the old 5 A*-C measure.

The analysis also found other pupil-level differences in Progress 8 scores. For example, there was a “small, but statistically significant, negative relationship” between receiving free school meals and Progress 8, which indicated that “more deprived students had lower Progress 8 scores on average”.

There were also differences based on ethnicity, with white students having the lowest Progress 8 scores. Non-English speakers had a much higher mean Progress 8 score (0.42) than English speakers (-0.06).

These findings tally with claims reported by Tes earlier this year, that Progress 8 penalises schools in disadvantaged areas where there are few pupils who speak English as an additional language.

The paper notes that differences in schools’ Progress 8 scores “mainly reflected the student make-up of the school”.

“Schools with higher percentages of FSM, special educational needs or white students tended to have lower Progress 8 scores on average.”

The paper goes on: “These results suggest that some schools are penalised for factors which are beyond their control, and therefore, it is questionable that Progress 8 should be used as a measure for comparing schools, or for bringing them to the attention of the Ofsted (if they are below the floor standard).”

“It could be argued that a fairer way of judging schools would be to take account of some of these factors when calculating school performance measures.”

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you