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Exclusive: Schools may try to 'lose' vulnerable pupils because of Progress 8

Heads' warning comes as study reveals a single pupil’s poor results can cancel out the achievements of many more classmates under new GCSE accountability measure

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Heads' warning comes as study reveals a single pupil’s poor results can cancel out the achievements of many more classmates under new GCSE accountability measure

Schools could try to “lose” their most vulnerable pupils because their GCSE results could be particularly damaging to league table positions under Progress 8, heads have warned.

School leaders spoke out in the week that the Department for Education published the first official Progress 8 (P8) scores for England’s secondaries.

The system is designed to be fairer by taking into account the achievements of pupils of all abilities, not just those who achieve at least five A*-C grades under the previous performance measure.

However, the new measure means that lower-ability pupils can do far more damage to a school’s overall league table position, increasing the risk of them falling below floor standards.

Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, who has shared her study on the issue exclusively with TES, said: “In the days of five A*-C, all students were equal: each child would contribute a one or a zero to the school’s pass rate.

“For Progress 8, the half a grade positive progress made by 27 students in a form class can get wiped out by three others who, for many reasons, fail to sit any GCSE exams.”

Some heads are concerned they could be judged unfairly within their local community and by Ofsted in new league table scores, as a result of extreme circumstances outside of their control.

Stephen Tierney, chief executive of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic multi academy trust in Blackpool, said the P8 score at one of his schools dropped because of a few students “whose lives imploded” after extreme home events.

“Some schools may worry about accountability and try to lose [the most vulnerable students],” he told TES. “From a statistical basis I can see what the heads are worrying about, but it’s just wrong and it means other schools have more issues.”

Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said the problem must be addressed.

“We don’t want a situation where schools are potentially looking twice at doing their very best to keep those students in the school because of the impact [on the performance measure],” he said.

Dr Allen’s study found that the schools significantly affected by a few students with extremely low scores were overwhelmingly those with more disadvantaged intakes. 

She suggested that P8 could be limited to ensure no student can fall below -2.5 or rise above +2.5. The academic calculated that this could prevent 50 schools falling below the floor standard.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As with any data-based measure, we would encourage those making assessments of school performance to take into account any wider challenges that may impact on performance.

“We are working with the sector to ensure these changes work for everyone.”

For details of how P8 works download our free TES poster

This is an edited article from the 20 January edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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