Progress 8 is the ‘value added’ measure by which secondary schools are now being judged – it came into play from the 2015/16 academic year.
Such value added measures look at the progress which a child has made from some previous point – in this case, since Key Stage 2 tests taken at age 11 – compared to other children at the same starting point.
The accountability system for secondary schools is now largely designed around Progress 8, with schools at risk of falling below floor standards set by the Department for Education or being labelled ‘coasting’ if their Progress 8 scores are below certain levels.
The use of a value added measure at the heart of the accountability system is in contrast to what went before it, when an assessment measure – five A*-C passes in GCSEs or equivalents, including English and maths – that was based purely on attainment was in place.
One outcome of this change is that the C/D grade boundary assumes less significance.
Under the previous system, schools responded rationally to the importance given to getting children to a grade C, diverted resources to those who might be working just below this level in the hope of getting them up to this standard – as it was this result which would have the greatest significance in league tables, and determine whether a school was considered to be below the DfE’s floor standards.
But under Progress 8, increasing the grade of any pupil – whether that be from an G to an F, or an A to an A* – contributes equally to the main measure by which schools are being judged.
Therefore, if gaming is something that has gone on, with schools previously most strongly incentivised to lose pupils who would not achieve five A*-C GCSEs, schools will now not have the same incentive to lose these pupils – they will count no more than any other child.
There would, though, still be an incentive to lose certain pupils. The emphasis would just switch in fact – with pupils who are likely to have made poor progress those who there would be an incentive to lose, in the small number of cases where a school was motivated to try to boost its performance.
And, in fact, there is a slightly inconvenient fact. In some ways, the results of individual pupils are more important under Progress 8 than they are under the previous system, and as such the incentives to manage out a pupil are greater.
If a school had reason to foresee that a child would undershoot what was expected of them by a significant amount we would obviously hope that they would intervene to help the child through whatever circumstances were leading them to perform worse than their peers. But there would obviously be a large incentive to see the child leave the school and not feature in their results, which a minority might be inclined to take advantage of.