Dr Sue answers your questions. This week, she addresses Progress 8, college performance and grammar schools.


Question One: Progress 8

I went to a link meeting last week with school governors and head teachers, and they all seemed to be obsessed with their Progress 8 mark. I didn’t like to ask what it is, but then thought, if I don’t know then others might not know either. So, what is ‘Progress 8’ and why is it important?

Answer: These days I am a school governor and I know what you mean. At our last meeting we spent as much time on Progress 8 as we did on GCSE results. Progress 8 aims to capture the progress pupils make from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school. It is a type of value-added measure, which means that pupils’ results are compared to the actual achievements of other pupils with the same prior attainment.

Trying to explain Progress 8 to parents is a nightmare

It is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus on an academic core at Key tage 4 and reward schools for the teaching of all their pupils, measuring performance across eight qualifications. Every increase in every grade a pupil achieves will attract additional points in the performance tables.

It looks like a good measure and does seem fairer than just looking at how many got an A*, for example. However, it is not shared with the pupil. The school only gets an aggregate score and the score isn’t that user – friendly. For example, if a school progresses pupils as predicted and they reach their assessed potential, that works out as just a “0”. Trying to explain it to parents is a nightmare.


Question Two: College Performance

I am pulling my hair out and don’t think I can go to another governing body where we get a mound of papers, tons of data with no interpretation, and we are told that performance is improving when it really is not. How can I break into this and start to have some meaningful conversations?

Answer: The best way in is to raise it with the clerk and the chair and say: “There must be a better way of doing this.”

In previous replies I have written about establishing a balanced scorecard where you drill down into the data as you need it. There are lots of good models around which your clerk or principal can seek out and bring back to the board.

As governers you need to feel secure that you are being told the truth

However, what makes your question different to previous ones is that you are being told that performance is improving when you clearly think it is not. You need to act now and ask for a data review – don’t leave it. As governors you need to feel secure that you are being told the truth and if you have just one doubt then you should get to the bottom of it.

It is your role as a governor to challenge, but you should not have to be a detective. If you are not happy then try to get the board to agree to getting in some expert external advice.


Question Three: Grammar Schools

What will grammar schools do to our enrolment?

Although we have had the green paper this week we don’t really know what the final grammar school policy is going to be and what sorts of tests are going to apply before they can be set up. If it goes ahead I hope the response to the consultation is robust and something sensible comes out of it. I am expecting the tests that are in the green paper to be extended, and to include criteria such as:

•    Is the area well served already?
•    Is there really a demand for selective education at 11?
•    What will it do to the other local schools and will it create a situation where good secondary schools have to close because lack of numbers?

I also want all the schools in the area to be looked at, including UTCs and free schools. It’s time for them to be reviewed anyway and this would be a reason.

Is there really a demand for selective education at 11?

But what about your enrolment, I hear? Well, there is only a finite number of pupils to go around and it depends where you position your college. My experience of being in Kent was: “Yes the grammar schools took the high achievers” an “Yes it annoyed me a lot!”

However, with the right sort of partnership and an exciting curriculum offer, most of the students in the other secondary schools looked towards the college for their post-16 programme. If you can offer a broad curriculum and provide a mix that the grammar schools can’t match, you could find that the bright, savvy or ambitious secondary modern pupils migrate naturally to you at 16.