Half of 'underperforming' schools do better when progress 8 includes pupil background

More than half of schools currently classed as ‘underperforming’ would no longer fall into this category if pupil background was taken into account in progress measures, new research has claimed.

The Fair Secondary School Index, published today by the University of Bristol and Northern Powerhouse Partnership, also shows that a fifth of schools would see their place in national league tables change by over 500 places if factors including deprivation, ethnicity and special needs were taken into account.

The Department for Education uses progress 8 to assess the progress made by pupils during their time at secondary schools, but the measure has faced strong criticism for not doing enough to take the circumstances of different cohorts into account. Last year, the DfE said it “recognises” the performance measure can drive perverse incentives for schools with challenging intakes.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership report said today progress 8 has “punished schools teaching high proportions of disadvantaged pupils for the national underperformance of these groups”.

“Progress 8 can therefore be argued to give too much emphasis to schools, rather than government or society, as primarily responsible for the national underperformance of these groups.”

See how your school fares under the adjusted progress 8 measure here

The report said the government and Ofsted should “place far less emphasis on progress 8 when holding schools to account”, and repeated its calls for the DfE to include an adjusted progress 8 measure in its school league tables along with greater insight about the limitations of using the data for accountability purposes.

However critics say using contextual value added measures entrenches low aspirations for children because of their background, with concerns also over which factors would be included in any such measure.

Researchers analysed the 2018 data from all 3,165 state-maintained secondary schools in England to create a new adjusted progress 8 measure, which adjusts scores to take into account pupil age, gender, ethnicity, English as another language, special needs, free school meals and residential deprivation.

This new measure found that 51 per cent of schools currently judged to be ‘underperforming’ by progress 8 would move out of this banding. The number of schools described as ‘well below average’ and performing below the DfE’s floor standard would also drop by almost half, from 449 to 244.

However, the number of schools assigned to the ‘well above average’ banding would fall by around one third, from 415 to 284 schools. In total, 37 per cent of all secondary schools (1,184) would change bandings under the new measure.

Under the changes, 658 schools (21 per cent of all schools in the country) would move up or down in national league tables by 500 or more ranks, with 110 schools (3.5 per cent) moving over 1,000 ranks.

The adjusted measure would have a big impact on London schools, which would see their progress halved from scoring 0.26 grades higher than other pupils to just 0.13. The report said that although London schools have relatively poor intakes, they are advantaged “to a much greater extent” by teaching ethnic groups who tend to make higher progress – including Bangladeshi, Indian and black African pupils – as well as pupils who speak English as an additional language, who tend to make high progress.

In contrast, schools in the North East are “doubly disadvantaged” under progress 8 by teaching relatively poor intakes which are disproportionately made up of white British pupils – a low progress group. Under the adjusted measure, the North East’s progress would climb from -0.19 to -0.01.

Grammar schools would see their ratings fall under the new measure. The report said that pupils in grammar schools currently score 0.56 grades higher per subject than pupils nationally with the same prior attainment. However, under adjusted progress 8 this would drop to 0.41 per cent, due to the low proportion of disadvantaged and special needs pupils.

A spokesperson for the DfE said progress 8 was introduced “to provide a fairer measure on how schools are supporting pupils to achieve their best”.

“Progress 8 helps parents choose the right school for their child, specifically recognising those schools that make good progress with lower attaining pupils, and identifying those schools not doing enough with a high performing intake.”