It was always easy to work out how well a school had performed when it came to GCSEs.
You took the latest batch of A*s and compared them to last year’s results. Simple.
Things have changed now, and this year’s youngsters were the last to have their results rated at A*-G.
They will also be the last to take re-sits in November and were the first to have their progress examined under a tough new government system, which will see under-performing schools facing the wrath of Ofsted.
It’s all a little confusing and a lot to take in in one go, but let’s look at the changes one by one.
First, the grade changes. Next year’s results will be graded 9-1 rather than A*-G, with 9 being the highest.
At the top of the pile, grades 9, 8 and 7 will be the equivalent of the current A*/A. The top 20 per cent of those students will receive a grade 9, which has been described as something akin to an A**.
There’s a new top target to aim for.
At the other end of the scale, grade 4 will be the equivalent of scraping a C pass, with grade 5 likely to be the standard set for what is now called a ‘good’ pass.
When it comes to re-sits, students will only be able to retake maths and English in November. No other subject re-sits will be allowed.
There had become something of a culture of re-sits over the past few years. If a child failed an exam, they could retake it until they got the result they wanted – and the result that looked best in the school’s league tables.
It was a bit like messing up a battle when playing a computer game then reloading and reloading until the battle was won. The end result was good but it didn’t really demonstrate any skill – just the ability to avoid making the same mistakes.
Finally we come to Progress 8, which is something of a headache to understand but has been well received by Sussex headteachers.
It’s also the important score when it comes to meeting the government’s required standards.
As one spokesman from the Department for Education put it: “It’s entirely up to the schools what they publish but the only thing that counts from this year is Progress 8.”
To put it simply, it’s a way of measuring the progress made by pupils from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school.
Each child’s progress is measured across eight subjects and then compared to the progress made by children all over the country who started with the same attainment level.
For example, if Anna started secondary school with high Key Stage 2 SATs results, her progress at the end of Year 11 would be judged against children who started from an equally high point.
If she entered secondary school with low SATs results, her progress would be measured against others who had an equally low starting point.
Children who attend independent schools, special schools, pupil referral units, alternative provision or hospital schools are not included in this system.
Anna’s Key Stage 2 score would have been used to predict her results in eight subject areas. Whether or nor she meets those expectations determines her Progress 8 score.
A score of zero means Anna performed exactly as predicted – all is well, progress has been made. Anything above zero means she made better than expected progress – which is good news for her school.
Anything below zero means her progress was not as high as expected.
That would be worrying for Anna’s school, because its overall Progress 8 score is calculated using the mean average of all its pupils’ scores.
The government has set a baseline standard of -0.5 for schools. If a school fails to reach that standard, an Ofsted inspection will be triggered.
As for the eight subjects which give Progress 8 its name, there is a heavy focus on core areas.
Each child must take maths and English plus three English Baccalaureate subjects such as science, computer science, history, geography and languages.
The maths is worth double points as is the English if the students takes both English language and English literature.
They can then include three subjects of choice – which must come from an approved list of qualifications if they are to count towards their score.
As mentioned, Progress 8 has been welcomed by many headteachers in Sussex.
Jules White, head of Tanbridge House School, said the new system was “much fairer”.
He added: “It ensures that a broader basket of subjects are counted but maths and English are still weighted - quite rightly - more heavily than other subjects.
“The old thresholds made a ‘C’ too important and now every grade counts. There still remains a problem that progress is measured from Key Stage 2 results which are far too variable at the moment.”
Dr Alison Lodwick, head of Millais School, agreed. She said: “I consider that measuring progress is a far more accurate method of judging achievement. Attainment can give a false impression of progress and therefore the starting point must be the baseline data for each child if progress is be accurately assessed.
“Therefore, when parents, employers, the press and the public in general gets used to the new way of looking and reporting results - as it sounds a bit complicated to many at the moment - it will be a fairer judgement on how much actual progress has been made by students and schools.”
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