“You value attainment. I don’t. You have failed to understand that progress rules.”
A well known blogger once tweeted this to me. It is actually quite shocking when you think about it. An educator who says “I don’t value attainment”.
If David Laws’ book “Coalition” is to be believed, he takes the credit for persuading Michael Gove to make Progress 8 the key accountability measure f0r schools. According to Laws, Michael Gove “wasn’t, if truth be told, terribly good with numbers”. Perhaps that was why he was hoodwinked into a measure which I think he would have otherwise opposed. I’m not good with numbers either, but my initial scepticism about Progress 8 (later to become opposition) was rooted in the fact that I didn’t know of any other country in the world which used a similar system. If anyone knows otherwise please let me know.
Then I started to read that I wasn’t the only sceptic out there. Tom Sherrington came out with this article. Then I read this and this from James Pembroke. However, in addition to the points they make, I guess I have 3 main objections.
Having taught abroad and seen what pupils achieved there, I actually do believe it is possible for 90% of pupils to pass the range of Ebacc subjects, provided that the curriculum time is allocated appropriately and, crucially, the pupils know they have to pass all elements of it. The one element of the Ebacc which is most difficult to pass? Yes, you’ve guessed it, MFL. Ofqual’s own data shows that on average those that enter GCSE MFL get half a grade lower in the language.
So what you could end up with is even “academic” schools deciding that MFL isn’t worth the bother. Might as well accept a 0 in the MFL slot from the start. Even in schools which make it compulsory, there will be no desire from SLT to support the MFL department by allocating appropriate curriculum time to get their students over the threshold. MFL teachers will be breaking their backs to get the pupils to take the subject seriously, but could be undermined by an SLT thinking it’s not worth the hassle. They are likely to be criticised if a significant portion do not pass it, but may not get support if they beg their SLT to tell pupils to prioritise their weakest subject for intervention (again, likely to be MFL). After all, the Progress 8 Ebacc buckets are easily filled with science and humanities (or all science if students do triple sciences). Maths and English (double points) could end up being massively promoted and MFL could end up with the worst of both worlds, a subject where SLTs might reluctantly enter pupils for GCSE but without the necessary curriculum time or intervention support it may need.
However, I have somewhat strayed from my title, progress or attainment. When I take an exam, I want to pass. I don’t care whether I made more or less progress than whatever some algorithm decided I should have made. I want to pass. When I studied for a GCSE at night school, I passed. I was delighted. I had attained a qualification. I cannot accept a measure which might have said to my teacher at night school that they failed to add value to my education.