School league tables: how are GCSE results changing?

This year’s GCSE league tables will be changed in the most radical way since they were first introduced a quarter of a century ago. Two new headline measures – Progress 8 and Attainment 8 – will be introduced to encourage schools to focus on an ‘academic core’ of subjects and count every increase in every grade for all pupils. Progress 8 will also be used to judge whether schools fall below the ‘floor’ target or are classed as ‘coasting’; both of which have important implications for schools.

Why are the measures changing?

According to the Department for Education:

The new performance measures are designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced curriculum with a focus on an academic core at key stage 4, and reward schools for the teaching of all their pupils, measuring performance across 8 qualifications. Every increase in every grade a pupil achieves will attract additional points in the performance tables.

What are the new measures?

Attainment 8 is a points score calculated from a pupil’s best eight grades across three subject-based categories. Progress 8 compares a pupil’s Attainment 8 score to the national average for pupils who scored the same in English and maths tests at primary school. A school’s results are the average across all its eligible pupils. They both take account of each qualification and grade. This is in contrast to the threshold measure they replace, 5+ grades A*-C including English & Maths, which only counted qualifications up to the point where a pupil passed the threshold. These new measures are broadly supported by the academic community.

Why is this important?

The Government says that the two new measures are the most relevant ones for parents to judge a school’s performance, and hence help decide where to send their children. The ‘floor standard’ for schools will use Progress 8 results as will the definition of a ‘coasting school’ (alongside earlier measures as it looks at performance over three years). A school below the floor standard or deemed to be coasting will be eligible for intervention from the Government, including conversion to an academy or change of sponsor if they are an academy already.

How are the new measures calculated?

Attainment 8 looks at qualification in:

  • English and maths (both double weighted)
  • Three English Baccalaureate (EBacc) qualifications apart from English and maths (ie. science, languages and humanities)
  • Three other qualifications including approved non-GCSEs

Grades in each qualification are given points ranging from one for a G, increasing one point for each grade up to eight for an A*. If a pupil doesn’t have enough qualifications in a category they score zero for that ‘slot’. The English and maths points are doubled and the points are summed.

Progress 8 looks back at a pupil’s English and maths results at the end of primary school to put them in a prior attainment group. The national average Attainment 8 score for this group is then subtracted from the pupil’s Attainment 8 score and the result is divided by 10. The individual Progress 8 score is only used as a step to calculate the average for a school.

What do the results mean?

Attainment 8: The maximum a pupil can achieve is 80 points if they get A* in eight qualifications that fit in these categories. One point difference is equivalent to one grade difference in one qualification. Ten points to one grade across all eight subjects.

Progress 8: If a school’s score is positive it means their pupils made more progress than pupils with a similar starting point nationally and vice versa. Results are centered around zero (the national average) and a score of, say, +0.5 means that on average pupils at that school achieved half grade higher per subject than pupils nationally with the same levels of prior attainment. Results are given confidence intervals to help account for the normal variability in annual results not directly linked to a school’s performance. Only where the whole interval is above or below zero can we be reasonably certain that a schools results are better or worse than average.

2016 results

National and local authority headline measures were published in mid-October. The average Attainment 8 score in state schools was 49.8, up from 48.2 in 2015 (recalculated). This is equivalent to an average grade of C across all eight subjects. The improvement was largely down to ‘behavioural change’ such as more pupils entering more EBacc subjects.

Progress 8 results are only relevant when comparing groups of schools, pupils etc. These were included in the official statistics. The charts below however look at local authority data, specifically how their rankings have changed on these new measures compared to the old headline measure in 2016. They illustrate general shifts, although some of the larger changes are highlighted.

Change in LA rankings (high to low) for for old to new GCSE measures


There was relatively little change from the old headline measure to Attainment 8 for those with the highest and lowest rankings, but much more for those in the middle. There was even greater ‘churn’ in rankings when the old measure is compared to progress 8. Many saw very large changes in their ranking. Confidence intervals tell us that 46 local authorities were above, 69 below and 35 no different from the national average on this measure.

Provisional school-level results were published earlier this year giving headline performance data for all secondaries in England. Final league tables with much more performance data are due out in January 2017.

Picture credit: Education, by Richard Lee; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)