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Progress 8: A measure of equity

Andrew Murphy, Head of Dyke House Sports & Technology College, challenges the elephant in the room

Posted by Lucinda Reid | December 03, 2016 | People, policy, politics

In times of policy churn, political upheaval and what can feel like deeply conflicting ideological influences upon education, it is easy to succumb to apathy when confronted with ‘yet another new piece of legislation.’ Yet Progress 8 marks a true step forwards in school measurement and comparison; the culmination of a lengthy battle, well fought.

For as long as I have taught, GCSE results day has been a bitter sweet experience. Celebrating with children who have far outperformed their own, and society’s expectations of them, mixed with a deep-seated frustration that they will still be deemed to be in some way inadequate...And so will we. Comparing the raw outcomes of pupils across the country, regardless of socioeconomic status, prior educational attainment or school composition was so flagrantly unjust, that nobody seemed able to confront the elephant in the room. For a child entering secondary school unable to access the curriculum, a D was – and remains – an outstanding achievement, demonstrating fantastic teaching from our staff and true commitment from the student in the pursuit of their potential. Every year, government, league tables and therefore wider society, discounted that effort, sacrificing it on the alter of the C/D borderline. 

The result of this was an intense pressure on any student who lurked within the C grade territory; just above or just below, it meant the same thing – they must get over that success defining line. A classification which rewarded the attainment of a narrow band of pupils created a two-tier system, whereby the temptation was to overlook the highest and lowest attaining pupils.

The introduction of Progress 8 has eliminated this obsession with a C grade, instead creating a system of truly holistic achievement. Coasting schools are now labelled as such and a high attaining intake on entry will be failed if they do not achieve the highest grades at the end of their GCSEs. For schools such as ours, where a significant proportion of our pupils arrive with the label, ‘not secondary ready’ we are now recognised for the role we have always played in their lives. These children may not achieve a clutch of grade 9s at the end of Year 11 but they will have made outstanding progress and neither they, nor our school will have failed.

Why does it matter? It matters because failure is humiliating, disheartening and morale sapping. Failure in the league tables leads to poor staff recruitment and retention, increased external scrutiny and little flexibility to innovate. It leads to a downward spiral for parents, students and staff where schools fulfil the expectations of the league tables and those with the ability send their children elsewhere do so. It is a zero-sum game which results in disadvantaged areas descending into free fall of decline. By contrast, the success which Progress 8 demonstrates allows schools to showcase their achievements and create positivity for their students. From an atmosphere of failure to one of maximising potential, the message it sends out is crucial. A positive Progress 8 score is beacon to all onlookers; we do the best with all of our children. Because every child is measured and every child deserves to be represented in the success of their school.

Progress 8 has the potential to create an altogether different paradigm. One where every child is judged on their entry level data and every school is judged by the impact they have had. It highlights excellence across the spectrum and holds all schools to account. It is an equitable measure in era where social mobility and equality of opportunity are ingrained in our rhetoric. It is a truly fair measure of everyone’s success. 

To find out more about Head of Dyke House Sports & Technology College, visit their website.

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