About this research: Schoolzone consulted with 50 secondary schools in December 2016 to ask them what were the issues they faced in addressing the demands of the new school accountability measures.
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.
What are schools doing about P8?
Schools are using two main strategies: reconfigured options choices and targeted interventions.
The P8 model is very specific about what subjects can count towards performance and schools are looking at every possibility as to how to make sure 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 flightpath 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 we 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 flightpath model, based on old APP, which I have found significantly counter-productive. 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:
“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.”
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.”
Timetabling difficulties and lack of staff
“Currently low ks2 attainers are supported by the SEN department by having regular intervention with assigned staff. This tends to affect any of their timetabled lessons over a fortnight and therefore hinders them in other subjects, whereas in previous schools I have worked in with larger SEN departments it focuses on them during language lessons only.”