Progress 8 grading system discriminates against less academic pupils, says Stevenage headteacher

Tony Fitzpatrick, Headteacher at Barnwell Middle School in Stevenage

Tony Fitzpatrick, Headteacher at Barnwell Middle School in Stevenage - Credit: Archant

A Stevenage headteacher has spoken out about the new Progress 8 grading system which has led to a radical change in the way schools are judged.

Barnwell School head Tony Fitzpatrick says the new grading system does not recognise the often excellent progress made by lower achieving students and suits a traditional “narrow” curriculum.

Mr Fitzpatrick – who is chair of the Stevenage Educational Trust, which links all 43 Stevenage schools and North Herts College – also said Barnwell’s provisional results released last month by the Department for Education will look more favourable once the final data is published in January.

In a frank interview with the Comet, he said: “The frustrating thing for us is that the numbers published by the DFE are provisional. If you are having exams re-marked, the data doesn’t account for it. Because of the new English and maths qualifications, Barnwell had a large number of papers re-marked this year and 37 of our pupils’ grades have gone up. This will significantly affect our Progress 8 data.

“Also the list they have used for the figures includes students that left the school some time ago and didn’t sit any exams.

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“It means the figures in the public domain don’t reflect the position the school is actually in.”

He continued: “Progress 8 definitely does suit schools which have higher attaining pupils. It’s easier for schools who’ve got more able students on entry to get a much better figure.

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“We’re very much a community school and are still dealing with a legacy of students that have been in the school five years who were well below the national average on entering the school.”

Mr Fitzpatrick says he is also concerned schools are having to adopt narrower curriculums in order to score well in Progress 8 and may not be able to do subjects that are often well-suited to less academic students. This links to the way Progress 8 is graded, in that subjects are categorised into four distinct ‘buckets’ or groups.

He said: “The big question is whether you do a curriculum that is right for your pupils and will help them go on and achieve their potential, or whether you adopt a small narrow curriculum which will score well at Progress 8.

“We want to offer the right subjects for students. It’s not right every pupil should do a language if it’s not right for them.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said he’s hopeful the Government will make adjustments to the system as its inconsistencies become clearer.

What is Progress 8 and how did we do?

The Department for Education Progress 8 results are provisional scores for the overall performance of pupils at the end of Key Stage 4, and the first figures released since pupils sat reformed GCSEs this summer.

In the exams, English language, English literature and maths were graded on a 9 to 1 scale instead of A*-G.

Progress 8 is a relative measure which aims to capture progress of each pupil from the end of primary school to the completion of their secondary school studies. It’s measured on a scale, with scores around 0 being considered average.

Schools get a score based on how well pupils have performed in up to eight qualifications, which include English, maths, three English Baccalaureate qualifications out of the sciences, computer science, history, geography and languages, and three other additional approved qualifications.

John Henry Newman Catholic School in Stevenage did better than average with +0.22 score. The Thomas Alleyne Academy’s results were ‘below average’ with -0.41. Stevenage’s Barnwell and Barclay schools both scored 0.52, making them two of about 12 per cent of schools in England that are ‘well below average’. Marriotts School scored +0.11 which is deemed as average and The Nobel School was graded -0.28 which is ‘Below Average’.

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