What makes a successful school?
What makes a successful school? (A brief explanation of Progress 8 - a guide for parents)
Over the years, school leaders have been praised and criticised; lauded and admonished; and even knighted and sacked on the "performance" of their schools. The issue has mainly been about what benchmark we use to "measure" a school. At the time of year when parents are selecting their secondary school, this blog is mainly aimed at this audience.
In recent years, the main measures have been 5 A*-C; then 5 A*-C including English and maths. Two years ago the government decided to rip up the whole system. The main grades were not going to be A*-G but 1 -9. 9 was the new top grade. Students were measured on whether they got a 5 (strong pass) or 4 (pass).
In a way I have some sympathy towards this. Colleges, universities and employers need to know what a young person has achieved in order to grant them access to the relevant course, degree and ultimately job.
However the issue for me is that you can't simply judge a school in the same way. A school is an organisation. A collection of professionals and staff trying to make what it produces the best it can possibly be. The students themselves come from varying local contexts which makes comparisons difficult. In a conversation a few years ago our Director of Trust Frank Norris, explained this in the clearest way I have ever heard:
"We used to judge schools on how far up the ladder their students were.....now we judge schools on on how many rungs up the ladder they have taken their students".
The new way we evaluate school effectiveness is called Progress 8. It is how well the average student does across 8 subjects in their school. It is the main measure by which schools are evaluated. If you log on to the Department for Education performance tables it is this and this alone that now defines a school. It is a fairer way (but not perfect) of judging a schools effectiveness.
I've seen schools locally in Stoke-on-Trent and and local to where I live come out with all sorts of varying graphs and statistics over the last few weeks showing themselves in a good light. Although I sympathise with why a school would do this it is further muddying the waters at a time of great confusion for other stakeholders.
At this time of year a parent needs to know how much progress a child makes in a particular school. They need to know not just how many top grades the school gets (because if the students come in with high levels from primary school they are more likely to get high GCSE grades) but how everyone does at that school.
Our last two years Progress 8 scores have been +0.13 in 2016 and our draft figure for this year is +0.14. Admittedly to a non-educationalist this isn't the clearest figure either. So let me explain further.
Every secondary school in England is ultimately doing the same thing. They are all trying to teach and support their young people to ultimately get the best grades possible in their GCSEs. The government whether we agree with it or not, wishes to rank schools as to how effective they are at this. A school which is average and in the middle (the 50th percentile) would have a Progress 8 score of 0. Anything positive means that the average student in that school make more progress than the "average" student nationally. Anything negative means that the average student in that school make less progress than the average student nationally.
So back to our academy, our Progress 8 scores of +0.13 in 2016 and +0.14 in 2017 mean that students in our academy make better progress than the average student nationally. In fact students at our academy have made progress which is in the top one third of all schools nationally for the last two years. Students in our academy make better progress than any secondary school in the north of Stoke-on-Trent. Only one school in Stoke-on-Trent, the selective St Joseph's College, has been ranked above us in both years.
There are lots of various reasons for this; good teaching, excellent leadership at all levels, amazing pastoral care and inclusion. But ultimately we are a school and we need our students to make the most academic progress that they can whilst they are with us.
This leads on to all the other things that you look for when you choose a school for your son or daughter. If progress is good, behaviour must be good in order to teach. If progress is good, the students must have good attitudes to learning and high aspirations (we have quadrupled the number of students going on to university since we became an academy). If progress is good, your pastoral care systems must be supportive and inclusive and making sure that every student can make progress despite SEND needs or just the emotional rollercoaster that is the teenage years.
In short, it's all about the progress.