In depth: Progress 8 and school accountability

13 October 2014

As many of you already know and as we have reported before, secondary school accountability measures are changing and from summer 2016 schools will be judged on a whole new set of measures and criteria.

This is a really complex, heavily technical environment, and we’ve been waiting for a number of months to see what these new policies might look like when applied in practice. This post aims to refresh us all on the changes and give the headlines of how it will all work.

Current accountability measures:

At the moment secondary schools are judged by the number of students that gain A*-C GCSE grades in 5 subjects including Maths and English. This is known as the ‘floor standard’ and is the chief measure of whether a school is performing successfully. The floor standard is the minimum level that a set proportion of children is expected to achieve. For example, this year a school would be considered failing if fewer than 40% of its pupil’s achieved 5 A*-C grades at GCSE. 

Schools are also required to publish the number of students achieving GCSEs in the English Baccalaureate subjects (English, Maths, Sciences, Languages, History and Geography).

What will change?

From next summer, the 5 A* - C ‘floor standard’ measure will be replaced by ‘Progress 8’.

 Schools will also be newly judged on ‘Attainment 8’, and achievement in Maths and English.  The English Baccalaureate measure will remain. For a quick refresh of what the four measures are, read this previous post.

What will be the new floor standard be?

‘Progress 8’ will be used as the floor standard measure. It will consist of numerical score. It is the first measure of its kind to take into account the amount of progress that a young person has made in secondary school. Students take exams in English and Maths at the end of primary school and their scores in these exams will be used to predict the grades they will get at GCSE. Progress 8 will judge how well the school has supported the student to achieve against these predictions.

This means that schools are likely to focus their resources on a curriculum offer that will enable pupils to achieve the highest possible Progress 8 score as they will need to keep the school above the floor standard.  Current government forecasts are for the floor standard to be set at 0.5 of a grade below the average expected progress of each pupil.

Read more about the wider impact of this change to the floor standard in this Fischer Family Trust blog. 

What is Progress 8 based on?

‘Progress 8’ is based on pupil performance in ‘Attainment 8’, so here’s a reminder of how Attainment 8 will be calculated:

  • Attainment 8 measures pupil performance at GCSE (or equivalent qualification) in 8 subjects; English and Maths, three other English Baccalaureate subjects and 3 further subjects.
  • GCSEs themselves will change so that they are graded numerically rather than alphabetically. Grade 1 will equal current grade G, Grade 8 will equal current grade A*.
  • ‘Attainment 8’ consists of one overall numerical score awarded to each student - calculated by adding all eligible GCSE grades from the 8 subjects together and dividing them by 10.
  • If students take more than 8 GCSEs (or equivalent qualifications like Btec Firsts) then only their highest 8 grades will be taken into account.

On the surface, this looks like a fairly broad structure with room for student choice, but there are a number of key technical restrictions to bear in mind:

  1. There are 8 subject slots available. Maths and English have to take two slots. Maths is always double-weighted – meaning the point score for the maths qualification is doubled when the Attainment 8 total is calculated. English is also double-weighted provided both English Language and English Literature are taken. The highest score in Language or Literature is doubled in this case. If only one English subject is taken, English is not double weighted. 
  2. A further 3 of the 8 slots have to be filled by English Baccalaureate subjects drawn from; Science, Computer Science, Modern Foreign Languages, History or Geography. If not enough EBacc subjects have been taken, the pupil scores 0 for each unfilled slotin this category. 
  3. The last 3 slots can be filled with any GCSE - either from the rest of the English Baccalaureate subjects (including whichever of English Language or Literature was not counted in the English slot), or others - including arts subjects. 

For anyone wanting to see some real world examples, there are worked examples in the Department for Education’s technical guidance here.

A pupil’s Progress 8 score is calculated by taking the pupil’s actual Attainment 8 score minus their expected Attainment 8 score and then dividing the result it by 10.

A school’s Progress 8 measure is the mean average of all pupils’ Progress 8 scores.


Calculating the expected Attainment 8 score…

As we say above, a pupil’s expected grade in each subject is derived from the English and Maths scores from their SATs – exams they take in Primary School at age 11. The government will determine the expected Attainment 8 score for each subject using current data on the average attainment at GCSE of all pupils with the same prior attainment in their SATs (so they'll look at SATs grades and GCSE grades for students now and will work out the correlation between the two, so that they can form an idea of what future students who perform similarly might be likely to get). The expected Attainment 8 scores of each SATs level for 2013 are in the Department for Education's technical guidance.

If a student missed their SATs tests then their expected score will be calculated using teacher assessment.


What does this mean for arts subjects?

Arts GCSEs and equivalent qualifications can contribute towards the Progress 8 floor standard if schools offer them on the curriculum and students choose to study them. They are a good option for schools to offer as evidence shows pupils choosing the arts are likely to be engaged, motivated and achieve well, and  - as our evidence base proves – students studying the arts are much more likely to improve in their literacy and numeracy too.


  • The number of arts subjects is restricted to a maximum of 3 out of a possible 8 subjects (and schools and students are incentivised to choose English as one of their three, meaning that a a maximum of 2 arts subjects is more likely).
  • Schools are also still reporting separately on the number of students achieving in English Baccalaureate subjects – therefore incentivising schools and students to choose more EBacc subjects in these 3 slots than the required five as this maximises their chances of success.
  • Colleagues have raised concerns about the plans to use English and Maths SATs scores to calculate expected attainment in arts subjects. They feel that this could set an unrealistic baseline – for example, a pupil scoring a 5.5 or above in their SATs will be expected to achieve the equivalent of an A in an arts subject at GCSE. This could potentially discourage schools from entering students with strong English and Maths ability to study arts subjects as their achievement might not translate into high attainment in arts.