Progress 8, reforming the curriculum and Let's Think

Written by

Schools’ provisional Progress 8 scores for 2018 were published in October and the full scores will be published in January. In the light of Ofsted’s new interest in the curriculum that schools provide, these will take on an even greater importance. Some schools will be under pressure from Ofsted to improve their English, Maths and/or EBacc P8 scores to match their Open score and Let’s Think can help with this.

As background, Progress 8 (P8) was introduced as a measure of the value added by secondary schools between the KS2 tests in Year 6 and GCSE in Year 11. It is the average of a school’s Year 11 students’ personal P8 scores in eight subjects. These derive from their best GCSE grades in four elements known as ‘slots’ or ‘buckets’: English, Maths, three EBacc subjects and three other subjects.

Since October 2017 Ofsted’s priority has been schools’ awareness of the need to provide an appropriate curriculum. This is a significant change of focus – previously Ofsted accepted what schools provided and commented only on delivery. From September 2019 the focus will be explicitly on what schools choose to teach and their rationale for teaching it.

There will be far less interest in data collection and progress tracking – Amanda Spielman has been scathing about “byzantine number systems”. This change of focus from data collection to the reality of teaching and learning is only possible because of Progress 8 which provides a consistent, nationally referenced value-added figure for all schools.

Progress 8 will therefore be central in assessing schools’ curricular provision and this deeper significance is only gradually being realised. As an example of this, in September 2018 Emma Ing, one of Ofsted’s Regional Directors, pointed out that many schools do much better in the Open slot of Progress 8 than in English, Maths or the EBacc slot. She reported that, in 2017, 209 schools had entered more than 95 per cent of their Year 11 for the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and 2240 schools had used this qualification to some extent. She writes: “The average points score for ECDL in 2017 was 52 (equal to a grade A) and schools with high levels of entry, not coincidentally, tended to have very rosy Open P8 scores.”

Progress 8 overall English element Maths element EBacc element Open element +0.23 -0.09 +0.01 -0.06 +0.88

Ofqual has now discontinued ECDL as a possible GCSE, but Emma Ing implies that there are other ‘vocational’ subjects with similar potential high Progress 8 scores. She concludes: “I would want to know, if a school is doing so well at ensuring pupils gain great grades in the Open subjects, why leaders and teachers are not able to make the same difference to their learning in English and mathematics.”

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director for Schools, has now indicated that discrepancies of this kind will now be investigated during inspections. If a school’s English, Maths and/or EBacc P8 score is significantly lower than its Open score, it will be asked to explain why and, if a convincing explanation isn’t available, this will appear in Ofsted’s report and be reflected in the school’s Ofsted grade.

It would be prudent for schools in the situation identified by Emma Ing to start planning on how to raise their scores (as appropriate) in English, Maths and/or Science as Science always appears in the EBacc slot.

For this, schools will need help. Most Local Authorities no longer have subject advisors, so schools and MATs will need to buy in advice. Rather than a one-off session with a consultant, it would be safer for schools to consider programmes which (a) have a long track-record of success, (b) provide at least 30 model lessons for teachers to use over time, and (c) provide both initial and ongoing teacher support.

The Let’s Think programmes in English, Maths and Science have all these features. If you want to find out about how secondary schools are using Let’s Think to raise attainment in the core subjects, visit Ruislip High, a Let’s Think accredited secondary school on 23 January or 14 May to observe Let’s Think lessons and talk to school leaders about the approach. The school has taught Let’s Think lessons in English, mathematics and science since 2011. Read more about this opportunity on the home page of our website.