Pupil destinations will trump Progress 8 as headline measure for UTCs

The Department for Education is changing the way it judges the success of university technical colleges and studio schools, by moving its focus from the Progress 8 accountability measures to pupil destinations.

In a letter to the Office for Statistics Regulation, Neil McIvor, chief data officer and chief statistician at the DfE, explained changes that will be made to the performance tables from October this year for institutions that focus on professional education and an atypical age-range.

This includes UTCs and studio schools, which offer technical education to 14- to 19-year-olds, and therefore do not cover the full five years measured by Progress 8, which is designed to show the progress a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of key stage 4.

The letter also highlights middle schools, upper schools, and further education colleges providing education for 14- to 16-year-olds – some of which have already dropped provision for this age-band following concerns about the extent to which Progress 8 scores are comparable across different types of institution.

“Since the last publication of results in January 2018, the department has had representations from a range of stakeholders about the challenges that Progress 8 presents to these institutions,” McIvor said.

“While our position remains that Progress 8 is a critical measure and it would not be right to exempt these institutions from the measure, there are steps we can take to make much clearer the special considerations that apply in the case of these institutions, with respect to Progress 8.”

The DfE plans to “strengthen and increase” the prominence of the current “caveat statement” for all schools with an atypical age, with effect from the next publication of performance tables in October 2018.

The statement will say the following: “Some schools start educating pupils partway through the five-year period covered by Progress 8, which should be taken into account when comparing their results with schools that start at Key Stage 3.

“Progress 8 is not the most appropriate performance measure for university technical colleges, studio schools and some further education colleges.

“These establishments typically start educating pupils at age 14, with a focus on preparing pupils for their future careers by providing an integrated academic and professional education.

“Other headline measures, particularly pupil destinations, are more important for these establishments.”

To highlight the professional focus of UTCs, studio schools and 14-16 colleges, the DfE will also remove the descriptive bandings from the Progress 8 scores on performance tables for these schools from October.

These bandings normally use colour coding to highlight whether a school is ‘below average’, ‘average’ or ‘above average’ compared to other schools.

“Removing them, alongside greater prominence of the caveat above, will emphasis that Progress 8 is not the most appropriate measure for these institutions,” McIvor said.

From January the DfE will also exempt UTCs, studio schools and 14-16 colleges from the headline figures in its statistics that show the percentage of schools meeting the floor and coasting standards.

Instead it will publish further information to highlight how the floor and coasting standards are specifically relevant to these institutions, “to ensure transparency”.

McIvor’s letter adds that while this is the position for the 2018 results, “it should be noted that the Department is consulting in the autumn on a replacement for the floor and coasting standards for all schools”.

Dave Thomson, chief statistician with research organisation FFT Education Datalab, said: “We think the changes to performance measures for schools and colleges that admit at age 14 proposed by DfE are sensible.

“We would go further, however, and make the case that mainstream schools should retain accountability for pupils who move to UTCs, studio schools and FE colleges, particularly where a pupil is remaining within the same academy trust.”