Questions about our schools arising from Progress 8. Post 1.

If we link the average prior KS2 attainment of a secondary school to its Progress 8 score we get the following graph.


If a school’s KS2 prior attainment is below national average, they are far more likely to have a negative progress 8 score.

Compare the number of schools in the bottom left quadrant to the bottom right. This is not what we would expect to see given Progress 8 methodology, and I want to understand this better as I think this is a significant factor that should be of interest to school leaders and policy makers trying to develop equitable and socially just schools and school systems.   This will be the first in a series of posts.

Education Datalab, (and many others) have already highlighted this trend, and I would highly recommend the post and links here:

These posts will use the Education Datalab posts, and others, as a springboard to further analysis.

A prior attainment premium for secondaries?

If we plot P8 against FSM6 outcomes the trend is much less conclusive


Given the current policy and inspection incentives and frameworks focus on  closing the Pupil Premium gap, is this suggesting a ‘prior attainment premium’ for secondaries is appropriate?  We know the pupil premium gap exists right from early years, giving a correlation between FSM6 and KS2 attainment – and this is telling us that a bigger indicator of the progress secondary students in a school make is the average prior attainment. This may be because the Pupil Premium is leading to a narrowing of the progress gap, but I am unsure of that. This is a complex question to which I do not have an answer, but something to have in the back of your mind when looking at further analysis.

It’s not the low prior attaining students causing this trend

If we look at the P8 scores of low, middle and high prior attaining students against the average prior attainment for the school we get these graphs. Please forgive the use of the word ability on these graph headers.

Low Prior Attainment


Middle Prior Attainment


High Prior Attainment


Note the steepness of the trend lines and the number in the bottom right and left quadrants in each of these graphs.

So it is actually the middle and high prior attaining students whose progress is most affected by attending schools with lower average prior attainment.

It’s not just curriculum issues

Have a look at the graphs below:

English Bucket


Maths Bucket


Ebacc bucket



Open Bucket


The trend may be steepest in the Ebacc bucket suggesting curriculum choice is one factor but it certainly does not explain what is happening alone.

A real equity and social justice issue that needs real action

There is a real issue around the ability of schools with a low prior attainment to offer an equitable education to their students and this is something policy makers must look at quickly and seriously

Again, @edudatalab have highlighted some possible factors in the links above, and @leadinglearner talks brilliantly about the consequences for school leaders, e.g.

Low prior attaining schools still being unfairly penalised by OFSTED

A real and present danger is that because Progress 8 is perceived to ameliorate prior attainment issues, the incentives for head teachers to play “Russian Roulette” with their careers and take on the greater challenge of low prior attaining schools is further reduced.  This issue MUST be recognised by OFSTED.

My recommendation is that contextualised scores are used by OFSTED when judging effectiveness. This does not mean we will have less aspiration for any students, only that we are judged fairly as a school.

Policies to improve equity and social justice in our school system

If we judge the success of a school system around issues of equity and social justice, this provides further evidence that we are currently failing.

What is absolutely clear is that the Pupil Premium alone is not enough to enable schools with low prior attaining intakes to combat the multiple complex factors leading to these worrying progress trends. Government must look seriously at the evidence and develop policy drivers that will actually make a difference.  Enough with the grammar school nonsense.

Sponsored academies bucking the trend?

It is interesting to note the trend line for sponsored academies (in red), who seem to buck this trend somewhat – though note the variation in the red sponsored academy dots. Is this evidence that sponsored academies are doing something meaningful to buck the trend or a result of a massive variation in data?

In my next post I will look more closely at what the evidence tells us about the factors behind this unacceptable situation, and tentatively suggest some possible solutions.