School performance tables: deciphering the code

The government’s school performance tables can be a useful tool for families looking for a new school in England, but unravelling the information available can take some skill. We provide some helpful tips.

Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20

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 When judging which school is best for their child, parents often rely on word of mouth, local reputation and school visits in order to find out what a school is really like and how well its students perform.This is where relocating families, who are likely to have to make these judgements with little local knowledge and from a distance, can be at a real disadvantage. The facts and figures from school inspection reports and government performance tables become vital tools when creating a shortlist. However, performance tables can be hard to decipher, and, to complicate the process further, Progress 8 and Attainment 8 are measures that were only introduced in 2016. School search and education advice - connect with our in-country experts

Progress 8 and Attainment 8

These new measures were introduced to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus on academic achievement in Key Stage 4. A school’s Progress 8 score is designed to give parents an indication of whether pupils, as a group, have made above- or below-average progress compared with similar pupils in other schools.Progress 8 measures the achievement a pupil makes from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school (the end of Key Stage 2 to the end of Key Stage 4).Attainment 8 measures the achievement of a pupil across eight qualifications, divided into three categories:
  1. Maths and English, both of which are given double weighting.
  2. Three qualifications from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc): the best grades from sciences, languages, geography or history.
  3. Three qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any non-GCSE qualification on the Department for Education (DfE) approved list. 
All pupils who started Year 7 in September 2015 must take the EBacc subjects when they sit their GCSEs. The EBacc subjects are English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language.

How Attainment 8 is calculated

Below is how sample pupil Jack’s Attainment 8 score will be calculated. From 2019, all GCSEs will be graded from 9–1 (English and maths transferred to the new numbered system in 2017). If a pupil achieves grade 9, he is awarded nine attainment points; a grade 8 is awarded eight attainment points, and so on. To simplify things, let’s assume Jack has taken his GCSEs in 2019.

How Progress 8 is calculated

A pupil’s Progress 8 score is only calculated as a means of assessing the school’s Progress 8 score. It is arrived at by comparing the pupil’s Attainment 8 score with the average Attainment 8 score of all pupils who had the same level of achievement at the end of primary school.The greater the Progress 8 score, the greater the progress the pupil has made compared with other pupils of a similar ability.Our sample pupil, Jack, achieved 77 in his Key Stage 2 English test and 74 in his maths test. These numbers are used to calculate Jack’s fine point scores – 31.38 in English and 29.46 in maths. Jack’s fine point scores are averaged (30.42) and divided by six, to give an average fine level of 5.1.
SubjectGradeAttainment 8
English language88Yes16
Additional science66No6
Core science77No7
English literature66No6

The average Attainment 8 score of all pupils with an average fine grade level of 5.1 at Key Stage 2 is 59.8. Jack’s actual Attainment 8 score is 67 (see table above). Jack’s Progress 8 score is the difference between his actual Attainment 8 score and the estimated Attainment 8 score, divided by ten (67 – 59.8 = 7.2/10 = 0.72).This means that Jack has achieved an average of just under three-quarters of a grade better per subject than other pupils with the same prior level of attainment at the end of Key Stage 2. Jack has progressed well during his time at secondary school. However, the key to the new system is that students’ progress is more important than their actual grades. A Progress 8 score can improve even if a pupil who is working below his or her estimated grade moves up one grade.For mainstream pupils nationally, the average Progress 8 score will be 0. However, if pupils do not progress so well, and in fact fall beneath the average Attainment 8 score for similar-achieving students, their Progress 8 score can be a negative number. This will have a detrimental effect on the school’s final Progress 8 score.Schools are not expected to share individual Progress 8 scores with their pupils. In 2016, the government introduced new Key Stage 2 tests with scaled scores ranging from 80–120, so the way in which a child’s Progress 8 score is calculated will change when this cohort of students takes their GCSEs in 2021.A school’s Progress 8 score will be calculated as the average of its pupils’ Progress 8 scores. Jack is one of 142 pupils in his school year. Every pupil’s Progress 8 score is added up, in this case making a total of 36.5. This figure is then divided by the number of students (36.5/142 = 0.26).Provisional figures for 2017, the second year in which Progress 8 scores have been published, show that Progress 8 scores for mainstream schools run from -2.5 to +1.8, with approximately 99 per cent of schools’ scores ranging from -1.6 to +1.2. A Progress 8 score of above 0 means a school is making above-average progress. Due to complications as the GCSE grading system changes to a numerical system via a phased approach, it is difficult to accurately compare the results to those from 2016.While it’s important to remember that performance data is only part of the story, it looks as if the new information will indeed go some way to breaking down the real differences between schools, offering relocating parents a clearer picture of whether a new school in a new location will be right for their child.This article was refreshed on 25 July 2019.
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