Progress 8 and Attainment 8 are now two of the most important ways that a school's performance is measured. You can still judge a school using the percentage of 7-9s at English and maths GCSE (and The Good Schools Guide provides this information for all schools we review) but Progress 8 and Attainment 8 aim to provide a more rounded picture. Designed to encourage schools to focus on improving the performance of all pupils (not just those pushing for top grades), they are based on students' attainment in their best eight subjects at GCSE and the progress made from the end of year 6, when the Key Stage 2 Sats in reading and maths are taken. They were designed to encourage schools to focus on improving the performance of all pupils not just those pushing for the top bracket of grades.
What is Attainment 8?
Attainment 8 is a measure of academic performance in a secondary school. It is calculated by adding together a pupil's highest scores across eight government approved school subjects. While these numbers are not made publicly available on a pupil-by-pupil basis, scores taken from across a school year group are averaged to produce a school's overall score.
How is the Attainment 8 score calculated?
The eight subjects are divided into three categories, called “buckets”:
- Bucket 1 - English and maths, which are worth double marks, but English will only count for double marks if both English literature and English (ie English language) are taken. The higher grade of the two is used;
- Bucket 2 – The top three scores from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) subjects taken, ie sciences, computer science, history, geography and languages;
- Bucket 3 – The top three scores from remaining EBacc subjects or other government approved qualifications (eg other GCSEs or Level 2 Certificates in some technical subjects).
The grades are converted into points, put through a formula and finally out comes the school's Attainment 8 score.
What is Progress 8?
Progress 8 is a type of 'value-added' measure that indicates how much pupils at a secondary school have improved over a five year period when compared to a government-calculated expected level of improvement. Confused? It requires a moment to get your head round but essentially it takes a pupil's performance in relation to their peers at primary school level, compares it with their performance at GCSEs (their Attainment 8 score) and then, after some mental arithmetic, establishes whether the individual has progressed at, above or below the expected level. As before, the scores for individuals are not published but they are grouped together to get an average for a school's overall score.
How is the Progress 8 score calculated?
For example, the Department for Education looks at a Child A's GCSE results in eight subjects (Attainment 8) and then compares them to the GCSE results of all children across the country who, five years earlier, performed similarly to Child A in Key Stage 2 reading and writing. From here, numbers are crunched to work out the average expected level of progress for pupils nationwide, as well as how Child A has performed in comparison and the school's overall score.
- A score of zero means that, on average, pupils in this school perform as well at GCSEs as other pupils across the country who achieved similar results at the end of Key Stage 2.
- A score above zero means that, on average, pupils made more academic progress than pupils across the country who achieved similar results at the end of Key Stage 2.
- A score below zero means that, on average, pupils made less progress than pupils across the country who achieved similar results at the end of Key Stage 2.
If a school has a negative score it does not mean there was no progress, but rather that pupils made less progress than other pupils across the country who achieved similar results at the end of Key Stage 2.
Should you care about Attainment 8 and Progress 8?
On results day, what still matters for students is the actual grades they receive, as these will determine where they go next (sixth form courses, apprenticeships...etc). Individual students’ scores are not made public as these are only used in order to work out scores for the school as a whole. It is the headteachers who have sleepless nights until their school's scores are published in the autumn as weak ones can result in the school coming under pressure.
Progress 8 and Attainment 8 scores are, however, useful for parents researching state secondary schools for their children. After all, when weighing up one’s options, it is helpful to know whether the schools you're looking at are not only good at a spread of subjects but also at helping pupils obtain higher GCSE grades than might have been expected given their performance at Key Stage 2. As with any indicator of 'value added', it is always worth remembering that academically selective schools may not always have the best scores. This is because, in selecting children at year 7 who are already of a high academic level, the opportunity for relative progress before GCSEs is limited.