Co-op Academies Trust slams 'fundamentally flawed' Progress 8

A major academy trust has slammed the “fundamentally flawed” progress 8 performance measure for punishing schools with challenging cohorts – vowing to publish its own value-added progress scores for parents.

The Co-op Academies Trust, which runs 20 schools in the north-west including in some of the country’s most deprived areas, said the performance measure favours schools with more middle-class intakes.

Trust chief executive Frank Norris plans to ask Bristol University researchers, who developed a value-added progress measure in January, to analyse his schools’ performance – and publish this alongside the government’s official progress 8 score each year.

“I would encourage other schools and trusts to do the same, so that parents and carers get a true picture of a school’s academic performance,” Norris added.

He said the “blunt” progress 8 measure was getting good school leaders fired and called upon heads to follow his lead in using the alternative measure. Other trust leaders have also previous raised concerns.

James Eldon, principal of the Manchester Enterprise Academy, told the BBC last year that progress 8 was skewed against schools in serving deprived white communities, adding: “If this was any other ethnic group at the bottom, people would be unsettled.”

Schools Week has also reported that the schools with the best progress 8 scores generally had low proportions of pupils with a statement of special needs. Half of the top ten were all-girls schools, with four having a religious character.

Meanwhile research by the Education Policy Institute found schools with lots of disadvantaged pupils do not fare much better under the Progress 8 measure than they did under the old five A* to C GCSE measure, even though the progress score was intended to to be fairer to these schools.

Norris said his academies had the second lowest attainment on entry of any academy trust in the country, yet despite making good progress with pupils “this is not fully reflected in the Progress 8 analysis”.

Co-op Academy Manchester

The trust’s average progress score is -0.08 or just below the national average, according to latest government data. At primary level, 72 per cent of pupils in the trust are disadvantaged compared to a national average of 31 per cent, and at secondary 56 per cent are compared to a national average of 27 per cent.

Star Academies posted a progress score of 1.42 last year – the highest in the country – but just 26.7 per cent of its secondary pupils are disadvantaged.

Norris said “some very good senior leaders have lost their jobs based on the DfE’s simplistic analysis and that is why it is imperative the data is as accurate as possible, and takes into account every aspect of a school’s performance by applying a contextual element”.

His schools have previously written to MPs with concerns about a move to make Progress 8 award three times more points to pupils moving between top grades than those at the bottom of the scale.

From last year, pupils jumping from a grade B to an A are now awarded 1.5 points extra, while the difference between a G grade and F gets just 0.5. At the time Norris said the change would encourage schools to concentrate on high-achievers at the expense of other pupils.

Some very good senior leaders have lost their jobs based on the DfE’s simplistic analysis

Bristol University researchers George Leckie and Harvey Goldstein have previously called for the government to publish a league table with adjusted progress measure for schools, “side-by-side with the current measure” to present a more informative picture of schools’ performance.

It follows their research “re-weighting” pupils’ progress scores so that factors such as their ethnicity, free school eligibility and gender was accounted for, and could be compared to schools with similar intakes.

Under the adjusted measure, 41 per cent of the 303 schools judged in 2016 to be underperforming, meaning their Progress 8 score fell below the floor standard of -0.5, moved out of that category.

Meanwhile almost one-fifth of schools moved up or down the national league tables by 500 or more ranks.

Progress 8 was introduced in 2016 as a new headline accountability measure, designed to measure the improvement that pupils make between their key stage 2 tests and GCSEs.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We want all pupils, whatever their background, to be able to fulfil their potential.

“That’s why we introduced Progress 8 as a fairer way to assess overall school effectiveness, because it holds schools accountable for the performance of all of their pupils; not just those close to the C/D borderline.”