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Leadership & innovation., Teaching & Learning

Every Child, Every Grade – the problem with progress 8

As we are all too aware, turbulence and frequent changes in accountability measures are creating a culture of uncertainty in education in recent times, and here lies the inherent problem. This academic year will see yet another significant change in how the Government’s new “fairer” progress 8 accountability measure is calculated, meaning more shifting goalposts. Yes, like us all, I get the principle behind progress 8; that it’s designed to measure how well a schools pupils have progressed between the ages of 11 and 16, but it also has significant flaws. As research has suggested, the system has the potential to distort results, meaning that some pupils who significantly under perform, many of which could be as a consequence of extenuating circumstances outside of a schools control, could have a “disproportionate impact” and “cause a considerable drop in results” for schools. In today’s expendability culture, one that I can only compare to that of a premiership football manager, this could mean that heads may literally roll!

“My moral compass stays firmly fixed and always will do, unquestionably I believe EVERY child matters and therefore EVERY grade that they achieve”


My moral compass stays firmly fixed and always will do, unquestionably I believe EVERY child matters and therefore EVERY grade that they achieve. Schools now face a painful dilemma, I fear that as the grade weighting has changed so will the bias towards the more academic pupils, bringing us back to a similar situation to which the new “fairer” progress 8 measure was to negate against. Let me explain:

In 2016 every student who improved by a grade would equate to a value of 1, this makes total sense and an absolutely fair measure of progress in my opinion. Yet from 2017 onwards this is no longer the case. For example, it would require 3 students to move from a F/2 to an E/3 compared to just one student moving from a B/6 to an A/7. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the focus is on the more academic students then a schools overall potential to appear stronger in terms of progress is far greater.

“Some students are equal but some students are more equal than others”


Some students are equal but some students are more equal than others, or that would be what the 2017 Progress 8 weighting would suggest to me.  So, what do schools do? With progress 8 being so high stakes, it takes a brave head and school to hold dear their moral purpose; every child, every grade, when the reputation of a school is judged so critically on their progress score. My concerns are not unfounded, recent research by the The Education Policy Institute (EPI), who have analysed government data on this accountability measure supports this hypothesis. This research has found schools with a large intake of disadvantaged pupils do not stand any better of a chance than they did under the old five A* to C GCSE measure.

I know there will be critics out there and some who may suggest that actually, schools with a higher ability intake face an equally tough challenge, meaning that if those higher ability students don’t achieve then the cliff face they fall off as a school will significantly impact upon their progress score too.

My belief is that for every individual student every grade matters and will definitely bear an impact on the rest of their life, but will the ‘thresholds of inequality’ in the new Progress 8 weighting bias force schools to prioritise higher ability students over others? only time will tell but this is my biggest worry. My plea to all schools, all schools leaders and teachers; please do not marginalise any student, intentionally or unintentionally because of this unfair accountability system. Every child matters, their future depends on us.


About garysking

Deputy Headteacher - leader of Teaching & Learning. Change maker and believer in quality first teaching.


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