Attainment 8 and Progress 8 can be quite confusing. In this article, I’ll explain how they work and how to interpret the numbers when looking at and comparing secondary school GCSE results.

As a quick summary, Attainment 8 is a measure of how well pupils have achieved in their GCSE results and Progress 8 is a measure of how those achievements compare with other children in England that started secondary school at the same level.

Progress 8 is therefore a measure of how much value a school is adding compared to other schools, i.e. do children who start at the same level, do better or worse at one school compared to another. There are clearly advantages to measuring schools on progress rather than attainment, notably because children all start secondary school at different levels and the more progress they make the better; irrespective of where they started or finished on the grade scale.

Now, let’s look at these measures in a bit more detail.

I have heard anecdotally that the previous measure of “the percentage of children who achieved 5 of more GCSEs at A*-C” caused schools to focus on pupils on the C/D boundary. Pushing a pupil from a D to a C makes your school looks better, whereas pushing a child from a C to an A has no visible effect; because the C was already in the percentage. I understand the government was concerned that schools were not focusing on all children across all abilities, which is in part why Attainment 8 and Progress 8 were introduced.

##### Attainment 8

###### How is Attainment 8 calculated?

The official government documentation says, “Attainment 8 measures the achievement of a pupil across 8 qualifications including mathematics (double weighted) and English (double weighted), 3 further qualifications that count in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure and 3 further qualifications that can be GCSE qualifications (including EBacc subjects) or any other non-GCSE qualifications on the DfE approved list. Each individual grade a pupil achieves is assigned a point score, which is then used to calculate a pupil’s Attainment 8 score.” Phew! Quite a confusing mouthful, but it’s not that bad really.

So, for example, let’s consider a child that took 8 qualifying GCSEs and scored the top mark in them all - their Attainment 8 would be the maximum available of 90. This is because the maximum score in a GCSE is 9, so 8 GCSEs at 9 points is 8 * 9 = 72, but you then add the English and mathematics scores again = 72 + (9 * 2) = 90. The English and mathematics scores are double weighted because they are considered especially important subjects and the government wants that to be reflected in the measure. A pupil that scored five 6s and three 5s, with a 6 in English and a 5 in Maths, would have a score of (5 * 6) + (3 * 5) + 5 + 6 = 56.

Attainment 8 is published at school level, this is basically the average Attainment 8 across the year. So, you’d calculate this by adding up all the pupils’ Attainment 8s and then dividing by the number of pupils. If a school has three children with Attainment 8s of 50, 60 and 70. The school’s Attainment 8 will be (50 + 60 + 70 ) / 3 = 60.

###### How do I interpret an Attainment 8 score?

This means, you can simply divide the Attainment 8 by 10 to get an approximate average exam result; I say approximate because the double weighting means it is not an exact average. As an example, for a school with an Attainment 8 of 60, you could interpret that as meaning the average child at this school is likely to achieve 8 GCSEs at 6 points each (roughly an old-style B grade). Obviously, they could achieve more than 8 GCSE and the school’s averages may be higher in some subjects and lower in others, but the Attainment 8 gives you a broad picture across all subjects and all students. The higher the schools Attainment 8 the better the pupils are achieving, but it’s also good to know what kind of scores they’re getting in the exams, which is where the divide by 10 rule can be quite handy.

###### Do all subjects qualify for Attainment 8?

No, if a pupil has taken 8 GCSEs but in only 7 qualifying subjects then their Attainment 8 will be lower. Because the ‘missing’ GCSEs are given a zero score, e.g. a pupil that scored four 6s, three 5s, a top mark 9 in a non-qualifying GCSE with a 6 in English and a 5 in Maths, would have a score of (4 * 6) + (3 * 5) + 0 + 5 + 6 = 50. This is quite crucial as non-qualifying GCSEs are going to impact heavily on a schools perceived performance. Also, pupils may have taken more than 8 GCSES, in this case only their best eight qualifying scores are included in their Attainment 8 score.

Independent schools often take some grade 9-1 qualifying GCSEs, but also a lot of iGCSEs (which mostly have the old A*-G scoring system) and even some more bespoke qualifications. iGCSEs don’t qualify and so a child with grade 9 in a GCSE in History and 7 grade A*s in non-qualifying iGCSEs will get an Attainment 8 of (1 * 9) + (0 * 7) + 0 + 0 = 9. Looks awful right, but this is top scoring pupil; 8 A*s, you can’t do better! This is why you frustratingly can’t compare state and Independent schools at GCSE. It would be much more helpful if iGCSEs were qualifying exams, it’s a real flaw in the system. It also means schools may focus on qualifying subjects to the detriment of a broad curriculum, which is discussed below.

###### What about the old A*-G GCSEs?

During the transition from the old A*-G exams to the new 9-1 exams, points have been allocated as below:

GCSE Grade 2016 Points 2017 and 2018 Points
G 1 1
F 2 1.5
E 3 2
D 4 3
C 5 4
B 6 5.5
A 7 7
A* 8 8.5
###### Where can I read more?

Have a read here if you’d like to know more.

##### Progress 8

###### How is Progress 8 calculated?

The government knows each child’s starting level at secondary school from their Key Stage 2 (end of Primary school) results, each pupil that’s taken GCSEs also now has an Attainment 8 score, as above. So, with some number crunching the government can calculate the average Attainment 8 for pupils who started at the same Key Stage 2 level. They can then compare how each individual pupil did to the average, and voila you have a progress measure, in other words for each individual child you can tell if they progressed more or less than average, factoring in where they were when they started secondary school.

So, if a pupil has an Attainment 8 of 56 and the national average Attainment 8 score, for pupils with the same Key Stage 2 score, is 55 then the pupil has scored 1 point more than the average. For some reason, for Progress 8, these numbers are then divided by 10, so 1 becomes 0.1. Progress 8 is published at school level, this is basically the average Progress 8 across the year. So, you’d calculate this by adding up all the pupils’ Progress 8s and then dividing by the number of pupils. If a school has three children with Progress 8s of 0.5, 0.6 and 0.7. The schools Progress 8 will be (0.5 + 0.6 + 0.7 ) / 3 = 0.6.

###### How do I interpret a Progress 8 score?

This means, you can simply multiply the Progress 8 by 10 to get an average progress, in real world exam points. As an example, for a school with a Progress 8 of 0.6, you could interpret that as meaning the average child at this school is likely to achieve 6 points more at this school than at a national average school. So that might be, say, an extra point in 6 GCSE subjects. Not bad. Most schools have a progress score between -1 and + 1. +1 meaning, on average, getting 10 points more at GCSEs in this school, compared to the national average school.

So yes, your child is statistically likely to achieve higher grades at a school with a higher Progress 8 score. There is an argument therefore that Progress 8 is a better measure of a school's performance than Attainment 8.

Negative scores do not mean pupils have made no progress; they’re not performing below their Key Stage 2 level. It just means they have progressed less than the average, e.g. if a pupil has an Attainment 8 of 54 and the national average Attainment 8 score for pupils with the same Key Stage 2 score is 55. They have a -0.1 Progress 8. A school with a -0.1 Progress 8 is performing well below average, you can expect a child going to this school to score 10 points less in their GCSEs compared to the national average and 20 points less compared to a school with a Progress 8 of +0.1.

If the score is below -0.5, the school may come under increased scrutiny and receive additional support.

###### Is there a Progress 8 ceiling?

Because exams have a top score, there is in theory a ceiling to progress. A child cannot progress above the top mark. Therefore children that start with low Key Stage 2 results have more potential progress than those that start at the top of the Key Stage 2 results. At this point these are just my meandering thoughts, but I do wonder if this affects the Progress 8 scores of highly selective schools, such as super-selective grammars, which take in the pupils with very the highest 11+ results and who in theory have less potential progress. I hope that somewhere this is factored into the measures.

###### What are the real-world implications of this, in terms of where schools focus their efforts?

It’s interesting to reflect on what effect this has on the ground at schools. I have heard anecdotally that the previous measure of “the percentage of children who achieved 5 of more GCSEs at A*-C” caused schools to focus on pupils on the C/D boundary. Pushing a pupil from a D to a C makes your school looks better, whereas pushing a child from a C to an A has no visible effect; because the C was already in the percentage. I understand the government was concerned that schools were not focusing on all children across all abilities, which is in part why Attainment 8 and Progress 8 were introduced.

However, I have heard anecdotally that there are some consequences to this. Firstly, a reduction in curriculum as schools focus on qualifying subjects at the expense of a broader (and particularly more artistic) curriculum. Secondly, that it may be easier to push a child up a grade depending upon where they are, e.g. it may take less effort to get a student from a grade 4 to 5 say than from an 8 to 9. Thus, there may be again some extra focus on particular groups at certain grade boundaries, over others where the leap in points is perhaps easier to obtain that others leaps with the same increase in score for the school's Progress 8.

###### Where can I read more?

Have a read here if you’d like to know more.

Author: Lewis Tandy