Numeric GCSE grades system pushing down results

The shift to a numeric scoring system for GCSEs is playing havoc with this year’s results, as Attainment 8 results drop and more schools fall below the Progress 8 floor standard.

The number of schools that will fall below a Progress 8 score of -0.5 has grown by 30 per cent this year, while headline Attainment 8 figures have dropped by four points for all schools.

This is being blamed on the Department for Education’s “interim” points scale for 2017 and 2018, during which time certain subjects will be graded from 9 to 1 while others still use A* to G.

What is clear is that a notional floor standard serves no purpose

The DfE claimed the fall in Attainment 8 was “expected from when we applied the 2017 point score scale to the 2016 data”.

Analysis by Education Datalab concurs that the increase in schools below the floor standard is likely to be a result of this change. Dave Thomson, the author of the research, told Schools Week the increase is “not necessarily a deterioration in performance”.

For exams in 2016, Attainment 8 and Progress 8 headline measures were calculated by awarding one point per grade rise – for example an A was worth seven points and a B six, while a G grade was worth one and an F was worth two.

But this year pupils jumping from an A to an A*, a B to an A, or a C to a B are awarded 1.5 points, while the difference between a G and an F is just 0.5. All other grades are separated by one point.

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the headteachers’ union NAHT, said year-on-year changes to qualifications and the way scores are calculated had made it “extremely difficult” to compare the performance of schools over time.

“What is clear is that a notional floor standard serves no purpose, other than to heap more pressure on schools already at breaking point, and to drive good people from the profession,” he said.

“This will keep on happening unless we adopt fairer methods to hold schools to account, recognising that test and exam data are only part of the picture when judging a school’s effectiveness.”

Duncan Baldwin, the Association of School and College Leader’s deputy director of policy, claimed the Progress 8 number alone “clearly does not tell the story about the school”.

“This is a recalibration exercise rather more than it’s a statement about standards, and against really a rather arbitrary line in the sand,” he said.

Thomson warned in 2016 that Progress 8 scores this year would “widen the gap” between selective and non-selective schools.

He now believes that this has in fact happened, and that Progress 8 scores at grammar schools have “superficially” improved.

Thomson assumed “that not only was the DfE aware that more schools would fall below the floor if it remained at -0.5, but also that it considered this justifiable”.

“I suspect some will disagree,” he said.

The DfE said schools would not be judged on this data alone, but it may be used to target additional support.

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