Schools will have known for weeks how they fared under the Progress 8 accountability measure. But yesterday, their provisional scores were made public for all to see in the government’s league tables.
Supporters of the free school policy were quick to praise the schools for helping pupils to make more progress than the national average. But is a certain type of school or a region more likely to do well?
Six of the top 10 schools for Progress 8 performance, which all had scores above +1, are in London – which was the highest performing region under the measure, with an average score of +0.22.School name Local authority Progress 8 score Tauheedul Islam Girls' High School Blackburn +1.82 Wembley High Technology College Brent +1.66 Tauheedul Islam Boys' High School Blackburn +1.57 Harris Academy Battersea Wandsworth +1.49 The Steiner Academy Hereford Herefordshire +1.37 Forest Gate Community School Newham +1.27 Menorah High School for Girls Barnet +1.26 Dixons Trinity Academy Bradford +1.22 The Tiffin Girls' School Kingston-Upon-Thames +1.22 Brampton Manor Academy Newham +1.21
But success isn’t limited to the south. Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School – an academy – and Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School – a free school – both in Blackburn, came first and third for a second year running. And Dixons Trinity Academy, a free school in Bradford, came eighth for its first set of GCSE results.
Is there something about free schools that gives them a boost when it comes to Progress 8?
Schools minister Nick Gibb has applauded free schools for achieving “some outstanding” Progress 8 scores, and he argues that the results of the high-performing schools show that “a rigorous curriculum and a strong behaviour ethos” drive up academic standards across the country.
And, unsurprisingly, Toby Young, director of charity New Schools Network, has concluded that the scores show that free schools are “the most effective way of transforming children’s life chances in England’s most disadvantaged areas.”
But running a free school isn’t a “foregone conclusion” that you are going to do well, says Luke Sparkes, head of Dixons Trinity Academy, which is based in one of the government’s opportunity areas.
"It is not a given that you are going to be successful just because you are a free school, and it’s also very possible to be just as successful if you are not a free school,” Sparkes says. “Anything we do here could be applied to any size school or context.”
However, a free school has its advantages, continues Sparkes. For example, it can be easier to embed social norms from the start with one year group and a small group of staff. But there are also challenges. “You don’t have a lot of capacity and you have got to write everything from scratch," he adds.
'Public school spirit'
So how can a school achieve a high Progress 8 score? There isn’t one simple answer – but having a culture where all staff and pupils have high ambitions is a common feature cited by headteachers at the top of the league table. This may well involve working longer hours - both on the part of pupils and staff.
Simon Elliott is head of Forest Gate Community School, which came sixth for Progress 8 and is based in the economically disadvantaged London borough of Newham. He says: “We have a culture where the staff here go above and beyond. They are here from 8am to late at night and they set the bar really high for children.”
And four years’ ago, pupils in Year 11 at the academy were made to stay behind for an extra hour, every night of the week. “It takes a lot of group effort to make that happen,” Mr Elliott adds. “We have worked with the parents here to get the same sort of spirit that you’d get at a public school.”
Yesterday was a day of celebration for the 30 schools, including Forest Gate and Dixons Trinity, that achieved a score above +1, but many schools across the country will be concerned about how their negative scores will be judged by parents, governors, Ofsted and regional school cCommissioners.
Analysis from Education Datalab has found that this year, 366 secondary schools appear to be below the floor standard of a Progress 8 score of -0.5, which is a rise of 30 per cent on last year. The number of schools deemed to be coasting could similarly rise if the theshold stays the same as last year: a Progress 8 score of less than -0.25.
'Anxious, sick and stressed'
It is understood that the lower Progress 8 scores are as a result of changes made by the Department for Education’s calculations in compiling league tables.
And critics claim that a new points scheme, introduced to encompass the new grading scale running from 9 to 1 in the new format GCSEs, is unfairly weighted towards those gaining top grades – as the bottom grades of the A* to G scale are not worth as many points as they were last year.
Stephen Tierney, chair of the Headteachers' Roundtable, says: “Schools with lower-attaining pupils will have seen their Progress 8 go backwards even though they might have been just as effective, or even more effective, just because of the way it is measured. So that is a concern.”
A headteacher, who wished to remain anonymous, is concerned about his job in light of the school’s provisional Progress 8 score – which they say has dropped significantly due to the points system.
“I don’t think I have ever felt this anxious, sick and stressed as I have done in the last few months,” they say. “I don’t think I would push people to go into leadership now.”
'Significant' changes lie ahead
The provisional data has been released to the public just weeks before the admissions deadline – but some secondary schools are expecting their final scores to look quite different after exam re-marks.
Malcolm Trobe, director of public affairs at the Association of School and College Leaders, says: "It looks on the surface that there has been a little bit more adjustment this year than in previous years.”
A number of schools have had “quite significant” changes to the new English GCSE grades, Trobe adds. For example, one head had a 15 per cent upgrade in 4s and above in English language in re-marks."
"Schools with a significant number of re-marks and upgrades then obviously it will impact on the data," he adds.“Publishing data in league tables at this stage is a concern."