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Attainment 8 & Progress 8

Our guidance introduces all the basics of the government's school performance measures Attainment 8 and Progress 8. Research behind the Sutton Trust's Parent Power 2018 report found that "just one in five parents (20%) reported that they were familiar with Progress 8", so please share our summary of the essential information with any parent who may find it useful. 

What are Attainment 8 and Progress 8?

Attainment 8 and Progress 8 comprise the government’s secondary school accountability system that was introduced to state-funded schools in England in 2016. They measure how well a child does at school, how much progress they make at secondary school by the time they take their GCSEs, and how well overall the school is doing compared to other schools. 

These scores are only measures of how well schools and individual pupils are performing compared to other schools, judged by the government’s baseline level. They are not qualifications, and nor do they affect a child’s qualifications, which remain the grades they achieve at GCSE, AS-level, A-level or equivalent.

They replace the previous baseline method of monitoring the success of children and schools by the numbers of pupils achieving five good GCSEs (between A* and C under the old alphabetical grading system).

How is a pupil's Attainment 8 score calculated?

All pupils are placed in prior attainment groups based on the results of their KS2 tests, which are taken at the end of their primary school education. How much progress they make in secondary school can then be fairly compared and contrasted against other students within the same prior attainment category, both in their school and in other schools. In this way, a child’s progress in monitored in comparison to others of broadly the same academic ability.

First, it’s necessary to know how well children have done, and this is determined by their Attainment 8 score. 
As pupils reach the end of their secondary school education, their Attainment 8 score is calculated from their GCSE results in eight key subjects. The points are added together (a greater number of points are bagged for each correspondingly better grade) to arrive at the pupil’s Attainment 8 score.

However, the complication is that not all of their scores in each subject count toward a student's Attainment 8 score. The subjects that count towards the Attainment 8 score are set by government in four main sections, or "baskets".

  • Basket 1: English. Pupils' scores are double-weighted*.
  • Basket 2: Maths. Pupils' scores are double-weighted. 
  • Basket 3: This is calculated as a total of the student's three highest scores in any combination of EBacc subjects (English, mathematics, history, geography, the sciences, languages).
  • Basket 4: Any other EBacc subjects or approved qualifications. This is the sum of the pupil's three best scores from EBacc subjects not already used, or other relevant qualifications set by government. 

The results are then compared to the national average of pupils with similar academic starting positions going into KS3.

* The Basket 1 score is based on the highest point score in a pupil's English language or English literature qualifications. This score is only double-weighted (based on the higher of the two scores) if pupils take both literature and language, where the lower score is then eligible to be counted in Basket 4. If only language or literature is taken, the score will not be double-weighted, but averaged out by other scores (because it is always calculated as eight scores divided by 10).

How is a pupil's Progress 8 score calculated?

Having calculated the pupil’s Attainment 8 score, their Progress 8 score can now be arrived at.

Note that Progress 8 scores are calculated for individual pupils solely to determine the school’s overall Progress 8 score (see below) and there is no need for schools to share pupils’ Progress 8 scores with them – their GCSE results remain the qualifications and only significant outcome for the individual child.

The calculation

The government arrives at a pupil's Progress 8 score by working out the points difference between their score (see above) and the average Attainment 8 score of pupils in the same prior attainment group (taken nationally, not just from the school’s pool of pupils). The difference is then divided by 10.

For example, Janet's Attainment 8 score is 60 (the sum of 8 of her GCSE results added together where English and maths are double-weighted). The average Attainment 8 score for pupils in Janet's national prior attainment group is 55. Therefore, Janet's progress is 60-55 = +5. This figure is divided by 10 to arrive at 0.5. This means that Janet's results show that she has, compared to the national average of others in her prior attainment group, scored an average of half a grade better than her equivalent peers.

Caleb's Attainment 8 score is 45. The average Attainment 8 score for pupils in his national prior attainment group is 50. His score is -5. Divide by 10 to arrive at -0.5. This negative result shows that, compared to the national average of his peers of the same academic ability, Caleb has scored on average half a grade lower.

Why is Progress 8 different to the previous measure?

Progress 8 compares pupils’ results to those of other pupils nationally with the same prior attainment.

Consequently, the Progress 8 score is a measure of an individual pupil’s improvement in comparison to others of a similar academic level. Therefore pupils with the greatest ‘progress’ will score the highest on this measure, rather than pupils who simply achieve the best results. 

The school's Progress 8 score

The school’s overall Progress 8 score will be published in October every year (with national comparisons coming later). It is calculated from an average of every pupil in the school’s Progress 8 score.

Schools in England break down into the following categories based on their Progress 8 performance: 

  • Well above average (currently 5% of schools)
  • Above average (currently 25% of schools)
  • Average (currently 40% of schools)
  • Below average (currently 20% of schools)
  • Well below average (currently 10% of schools).

What the school's Progress 8 score means

As previously noted, individual pupils’ Progress 8 scores do not impact on their qualifications, and schools do not need to give these results to children. However, they are calculated in order to piece together the overall picture of how well each school is performing and how successfully it is helping children of all academic abilities to thrive. 

The baseline score for schools is zero (where a school is neither performing better nor worse than other schools), and most schools will score between -1 and +1. An overall +1 score would mean that pupils in the school are progressing, on average, one grade more in each qualification compared to pupils in other schools. Conversely, a school's Progress 8 score of -1 would show that on average, pupils in the school achieve one grade lower per subject compared to pupils in other schools, showing that their progress in the school is not as good. 

When is a school's Progress 8 score too low?

Schools with a Progress 8 score of -0.5 or less are not achieving the minimum standard set by the government, and will be more closely monitored by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate.

Why were Attainment 8 and Progress 8 introduced?

They were brought in as a response to a longstanding problem created by the previous headline measure of five good GCSE grades (at A* to C). Educators argued that this led to schools targeting disproportionate resources – the best teachers, the best tools and extra interventions – at pupils on the cusp of scoring C grades. High achievers were left to their own resources, and low achievers did not receive the extra support they needed. Progress 8 aims to give scores based on how well pupils of all abilities have done, and whether pupils in one school overall get better or worse grades than pupils in another – rather than as a flat measure of the examination results. It’s a measure not just on the results that pupils achieve, but on how much progress they have made.

Measuring the school’s Progress 8 score is an incentive for schools to treat all pupils equally, and not prioritise improving the scores of any particular demographic of students.

The old measure was also said to give an advantage to selective schools and those in affluent areas. The new measure should mean that will no longer be the case.

In the government’s words, “Progress 8 aims to capture the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school.”

What are the criticisms of Progress 8?

Because Progress 8 focusses on individual pupils achieving better than the average score of their KS2 peers, it can lead to high-achievers who tail off a little being part way through their secondary school education being told they risk a negative Progress 8 score, putting them under unfair pressure. This may not reflect how well they ultimately do at GCSE compared to the national average rather than when measured against their prior attainment group.

It has also been said that when children are selecting their options for GCSEs, more emphasis goes on filling the relevant Progress 8 buckets than ensuring a broad and suitable selection of subjects, or if qualifications such as a BTEC in horticulture are good for pupils but bad for the overall Progress 8 score.

What does Progress 8 mean for parents?

Progress 8 is a measure of how well schools are doing in helping children of all academic capabilities learn, achieve and experience a meaningful school life. If you’re looking for a secondary school for your child, finding out the school’s Progress 8 score will help you to judge if you think it’s the right choice for them. Ask teachers at open days and evenings about the school’s Progress 8 score, and their view on whether or not they believe it accurately reflects their attempts to support the education of every child equally.

Where can I see the results?

To see how your child's school has performed, or any other school in England, see the Find and compare schools in England section of the government website.

Reviewed: September 2018

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