Non-exams and the pursuit of educational inequality

Section 6 in the recent Department for Education statement on how students not sitting exams this summer will be graded is the tell-tale bit.

It reads:

Will the past performance of the school be taken into account when devising the calculated grade?

Ofqual will consider carefully how to ensure the process is as fair as possible, which is likely to include considering measures that reflect how much progress a student would have been likely to have made at the school they are attending.

Translated, I this means that final grades will be weighted in favour of schools that have higher Progress 8 (P8) scores, though exactly how is not currently possible to say e.g. will the P8 score be with or without statistical outliers removed to account for students, say, who remain on roll but for a variety of reasons may not have been on school?

The use of a school’s previous P8 scoring, to provide a proxy individual student’s likely achievement had exams been sat, even as part of the overall assessment process, is likely to discriminatory for two main reasons.

First, even if statistical outliers are catered for, it is unlikely to deal with the advantages less scrupulous schools (principally academies in chains) “off roll” students to other places or to home schooling if they don’t think they’re going to get them the right number of points, as well as disadvantaging schools that take a pastoral/tailored approach to some student by not pushing them through the narrow set of P8- accredited subjects but cater for their needs in other areas.

Second, and probably more significantly, good P8 scores correlate strongly to richer areas and vice versa (though the economic geographies of London make this more effect more granular than in other places).

Tim Bramley, for example,, offers this stark conclusion on the use of P8 as the principal way to measure educational outcomes:

Overall, this analysis has shown that Progress 8 scores are strongly related to a plethora of school and student factors, most of which are beyond the control of teachers. Therefore, it is questionable that Progress 8 should be used as a measure for comparing schools, or for bringing them to the attention of The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) if they are below the floor standard. It could be argued that a fairer way of judging schools would be to take account of some of these factors when calculating school performance measures. Whilst debate over different ways of measuring school effectiveness is likely to continue (e.g., Allen, 2015; or Allen, Burgess & Mayo, 2018), an awareness of the potential limitations of any such measures is crucial to their interpretation.

Using P8 to force discriminatory Ofsted outcomes in one thing, but to use it to discrminate against individual life chances at the next stage of education is quite another, in my book.

The DfE’s and Ofqual’s methodology needs robust scrutiny and, in all likelihood, challenge, in the courts if necessary.

Secretary General, Habermasian Labour (UK). Indefatigably focused on the promotion of ethical discourse in the public sphere, except when there's cricket.