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Progress 8: An Overview

As secondary education completes its shift from traditional GCSE A*-C grades to the adoption of the English Baccalaureate and Progress 8 this academic year, the 2015/16 GCSE results have been more nerve-wracking than ever, especially for school leaders.

At Tempest, we sat down with Nick Kania, our Secondary Team Manager to find out more about Progress 8, how it will change the secondary education system and its impact on teacher recruitment.


The old measure, ranking secondary schools on the amount of students attaining C grades or higher in five GCSE subjects including English and Maths, has now been replaced in favour of a metric system known as Progress 8, measuring the best grades in eight subjects. According to the Department for Education, this measure is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum at KS4.

Schools were given the option to opt in a year early in 2015, with Progress 8 being compulsory across all schools from the 2016/17 academic year. This means that there will undeniably be some confusion as schools adjust from the old system to metric scoring.

Progress 8 has been extremely well received as a massive improvement, however some concerns have been highlighted as to how well it can be practically applied, especially over the coming academic years where there will be a confusing overlap between both lettered and numbered grades.

grade c

The D/C borderline

Previously, all schools were targeted on the percentage of their students attaining grades C or above in 5 GCSEs including Maths and English, with 40% being the government-imposed base target to hit. This resulted in a trend of less able students receiving more attention to hit these targets, to the detriment of students predicted to achieve higher grades, as schools had little incentive to support students once they were likely to achieve a C grade. Schools were also guided to pursue different subjects, perhaps unfairly dubbed “soft subjects” according to how difficult they were perceived to be, in order to hit these targets.

How are schools measured against the new system?

The new system adopts two different measures; Progress 8 and Attainment 8. As with the five A*-C grades, the eight subjects must include English and Maths, however they must now include three further EBacc subjects chosen from the sciences, history, geography or languages. An Attainment 8 score is a student’s forecasted grade for a particular subject, based on their results achieved at KS2, with a Progress 8 score measuring how they have performed against this.

Progress 8 and Attainment 8 follow a numerical scale of 1-9, an A* being worth 9, through to a G being worth 1. For example, a pupil could have an Attainment 8 score of 7, the equivalent to a grade B, and upon examination attain a score of 8, a grade A equivalent, resulting in a positive Progress 8 score. This would in turn improve a school’s average, and in theory, incentivise all schools to encourage pupils of all abilities to reach their full potential. Likewise, a pupil that achieves a 7 in their Progress 8 score but was predicted an Attainment 8 score of 8 would negatively impact a school’s average.

The changes so far and beyond

From 2012, linear GCSEs were introduced, effectively preventing students from retaking the same test twice in one year. This reform was brought in to curb the “resit culture” that was developing, where pupils would resit exams repeatedly in order to achieve their desired grades, as it was argued that this did not provide an accurate picture of ability.

Conversely, the government did introduce a measure imposing compulsory resits on those who had not obtained a C grade and above in English and Maths, something which has been attributed to the fall in national GCSE results over the 2015/16 academic year. The decline for 2016 has been noted as the largest since the year O-Levels were replaced, with an unprecedented 2.1% drop. Mark Dawe, former head of the OCR exam board attacked resits as being counter-productive, stating that “hitting students over the head with the same form of learning and assessment is not the way forward.” However, Nick Gibb, the schools minister, defended the policy, noting “4,000 more successful retakes of English and Maths exams.”

Another change to soon be implemented will see courses being taken over the full two years, as opposed to modular assessments. According to the government, this will bring the country in line with some of the top performing education systems around the world.


A social gradient?

A main concern with the five A*-C system was that it was considered an unfair means to measure a school’s overall success, especially when schools with a larger demographic of disadvantaged pupils were pitted against those which were more affluent.

Progress 8 has sought to eliminate this by focusing on the individual pupil’s progress and achievement as opposed to ensuring everyone hits a minimum C grade in core subjects, thus improving overall attainment.

The gender debate also plays a large part in GCSE results; across England, with girls outperforming boys in almost all subjects this year.


The English Baccalaureate

The EBacc is a performance measure, brought in to allow the public to see how many pupils achieve a grade C or above in core academic disciplines, including English, Maths, Sciences, Humanities and Languages.

The EBacc is not a qualification in itself, but a government defined standard of a “good” and varied education. Many have argued that more creative subjects including the arts, music and drama have been ignored, with calls to reform it due to not every student being academically inclined in the traditional sense.

A recent governmental petition generating over 100,000 signatures remarked that the “exclusion of art, music, drama and other expressive subjects is limiting, short sighted and cruel” going further to say that “creativity must be at the heart of our schools.”

How can we see Progress 8 affecting the recruitment of teachers?

The National Teacher shortage has been subject to much discussion over recent years. It has been argued by some that one of its contributing factors is the correlation between being overworked and demotivated, combined with low student attainment.

Commentators including Wiggins, in a recent article by Kings College, have suggested that Progress 8 should raise the quality of education in England for all students, making teaching and learning more effective and enjoyable. This would in turn counteract the teaching crisis with high teacher retention through professional self-determination and morale.

Overall, the recent reforms in education have widely been praised as making great strides in the direction of a better and more rewarding education system.


“This does seem like a fairer, more inclusive way, for attainment to be measured, however only time will tell if it will work in practice, and what effect it may have on teacher recruitment.”

Nick Kania, Secondary Education Team Manager, Tempest Resourcing


We want to know what our teachers think of these changes, and whether, in practice, they will be beneficial.