Schools’ provisional Progress 8 scores for 2017 were published today, having already been released to schools over a fortnight ago.

This would have been a chastening experience for those falling below the floor standard of -0.5.

On the surface, there are more of them this year than last. But is this fair?

Changes to GCSE points

This year’s scores are based on a mash-up of reformed GCSEs (graded 9-1) and legacy GCSEs (graded A*-G).

To bridge the divide, the Department for Education introduced an “interim” points scale for legacy grades, which we wrote about here.

Crucially, these scores are not directly comparable with last year’s published figures, hence a fair amount of head scratching in some schools wondering whether they have improved (or not) compared to last year.

This year’s P8 scores are more difficult to interpret than last year’s (as will be next year’s, for the same reason).

A score of 0.5 in 2016, for example, meant that pupils at a school achieved on average half a grade per subject (on the A*-G scale) more than pupils nationally with similar prior attainment.

This year it doesn’t have quite the same meaning.

Notionally, it still means half a grade per subject, but it’s now on the new 9-1 scale. However, this requires making a heroic assumption that A*-G grades have been adequately aligned with 9-1 grades using the new points scale.

The impact of these changes

In a previous blogpost, we warned that the interim scale would result in a) more schools falling below the floor, and b) a widening of the P8 gap between the most advantaged and least advantaged schools in terms of pupil intakes. And lo, it has come to pass.

The number of schools officially below the floor standard is only announced when performance tables are published in January. Last year, there were 282. But based on this year’s provisional data there are 366 (not including those flagged as closed). One or two might avoid the floor as a result of data amendments (and indeed one or two might slip below the bar). In addition, data for around 20 FE colleges which admit pupils at age 14 does not appear to have been published for 2017 and most of these will be below the floor.

As was the case last year, university technical colleges and studio schools are over-represented among schools below the floor. There are more of them in this year’s data as well[1].  As we wrote here, we wonder whether Progress 8 really is a suitable metric for studio schools and FE colleges given that by design they offer a different curriculum to that explicitly encouraged (and rewarded) by Progress 8.

Number of schools with P8 scores below -0.5 (excluding closed schools)

It is not necessarily the case that there are more poorly-performing establishments this year. The change in points scale was always going to affect the number of schools below the floor.

We showed previously how applying the old and new points scales for A*-G GCSEs to exactly the same data led to more schools falling below the floor standard when the new scale was used. In other words, the new scale raises the bar (or, more accurately, raises the floor).

Meanwhile, the P8 scores of grammar schools have superficially “improved” but again, this is a consequence of applying a points scale that stretches out the scores of higher attainers while narrowing the range of scores for lower attainers. Surprisingly, three Grammar schools were below the provisional 2017 floor although it appears that none of their pupils achieved the basics (English and maths), which suggests there may be some missing data (or they entered pupils for IGCSE).

Average P8 score by school type (excluding closed schools)

As a result of the new points scale, there is a wider spread of school P8 scores this year.

Given that the Department for Education provided schools with “shadow” data for 2016 that gave an indication of the impact of the changes in GCSE points awarded (as per our blogpost mentioned earlier), I can only assume that not only were the DfE aware that more schools would fall below the floor if it remained at -0.5, but also that they considered this justifiable. I suspect some will disagree.

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1. The increase in number is due to the first intake completing Key Stage 4 at a number of recently established institutions.