How are schools responding to Progress 8?
The new accountability measure, reported for the first time in 2016, uses progress from KS2 to GCSE in eight blocks of subjects, with English and Maths counting double. The main issue at the moment is that schools are finding it very difficult to anticipate how well they are going to perform. P8 also means that schools can no longer focus more attention on students whose performance suggests they are at a ‘pass’ grade boundary: it’s important to get as many students over the next boundary as possible, in the right subject areas, if a school is to boost its P8 score.
Two main P8 strategies
Schools are using two main strategies: reconfigured options choices and targeted intervention.
Reconfigured option choices
The P8 model is very specific about what subjects can count towards performance. Schools are looking at every possibility to ensure their P8 score is maximised by restricting option choices. For example, by entering all students for certain subjects, paying careful attention to discount codes (use of similar subjects may be penalised), use of ECDL as a vocational course (seen as an easy option), and so on. However these strategies aren’t without problems:
‘We have in the past ensured that students are on the most appropriate curriculum provision. This is being compromised by the need to meet P8 requirements.’
‘We are ending up with a lot more students in my subject working at very low levels – including those who have completely switched off and whose parents are equally uninterested in them completing the course.’
‘There is a significant worry as to how it might impact upon staff employed.’
A typical strategy is to target groups of students with additional support. This is either on the basis of assessment data or less targeted – for example, middle-achieving boys (in English/Humanities) or girls (in Maths/Technology). Others target low achievers and still others high performers as ‘the movement from A to A* is worth three times the movement from G to F’.
However, many schools are adopting the more targeted model, with assessment being carried out to baseline students in Y7 and then using a progress tracker or ‘flight path’ model. Those who are picked up as falling behind then receive extra help: ‘We focus on a select group of students (approx 20) from each year group which are called “the critical list”. Departments then have a particular focus – in Science this is upper and potentially high achievers who are not achieving as well as they should and means
that the percentage of students who are achieving their average target grade is less.’
Use of these strategies is still new in some schools and clearly has not always worked well: ‘We introduced a flight path model, based on old APP, which I have found significantly counterproductive. The main effect seems to have been to lower student, and teacher, confidence.’
Schools are developing more creative ways of achieving this, too. One described having a self- evaluation week where ‘pupils effectively write their own action plans to review as they look to improve attainment.’
Others are being more strategic, for example identifying three main delivery stages for intervention: ‘We have separated out intervention strategies into stages dependent on the point of delivery. (1= classroom based, 2= departmental 3= whole school). These stages are decided by individual teams and their impact is monitored to decide on the next step.’
As English and Maths are double-weighted in P8, these subjects tend to get most attention, which is not always well received through the school: ‘Pupil Premium money is used for extra lessons and to pay an LSA to do specialised Maths and English. There’s not enough focus on the other subjects though.’
A typical model for this is summarised by one school as: ‘We put in a lot of personalised one-to-one intervention for Y11 students – which is, realistically, small groups of students working with a tutor in Maths, English and Science to ensure that basket 1 and 2 performance is as high as possible.’
Identifying students to target
The strategies described in this research are being developed now. As P8 is still so new, schools are still experimenting: they are mostly adapting strategies which were developed for the previous, attainment-based accountability system, rather than re-thinking on the basis of progress. Of course, it’s difficult to predict grades now, when no new GCSEs have been sat, but even as schools become more familiar with the new grades, P8 seems to necessitate more careful monitoring of pupils and more intervention targeted at students identified in the process. The trick is to make sure that schools identify the students who threaten to undermine their P8 scores and to put in place effective strategies to support them. Assumptions about traditional underperforming groups are not enough to inform these strategies, as schools are beginning to realise.
‘The type of intervention hasn’t necessarily changed as a result of Progress 8; however, the way students are selected has. They are chosen much more forensically to ensure that there is an impact on P8 outcomes.’
About this research: SchoolZone consulted with 50 secondary schools in December 2016 to ask them what issues they faced in adjusting to the new accountability measure Progress 8 and ensuring students could be targeted effectively to achieve progress. Research was commissioned by SAM Learning, who provide a cost-effective framework for Targeted Intervention. Click here to find out more.