KS2, KS4, Level 6 and Progress 8 – who do we appreciate?

In 2016, secondary schools will be held accountable to a new set of measures including Progress 8 and Attainment 8. These measures were announced in October and I have been reflecting on the implications for schools. In response to the consultation I was broadly in favour of making schools accountable for the progress of all students rather than how many we can push through the C/D boundary. I think it is a real step forward that schools will be accountable for turning Es to Ds and As to A*s as well as Ds to Cs. However, there are a few issues that worry me.

The English and Maths Key Stage 2 baseline applied to all subjects

I have no particular issues with the Key Stage 2 tests in Maths and English; I don’t really have enough specific knowledge of them to criticise. Clearly it is the only baseline we have to measure progress from KS2 to 4. However, just because it’s the only one doesn’t necessarily make it right. I’m sure statistically there must be some basis to show that progress from this baseline to a GCSE result in, say, Art or PE makes sense with a national dataset. But I found it hard to convince PE teachers that measuring progress in PE against an English and Maths baseline was a fair, right and just evaluation of their performance, even if that GCSE only formed one tenth of the best 8 (since English and Maths count double).

The Key Stage 2 baseline itself

I know that primary school colleagues have a hugely detailed and thorough knowledge of their pupils’ abilities across the curriculum, and especially in Maths and English. I’m sure it far outstrips the accuracy of a secondary school teacher’s assessment if only by dint of contact hours and therefore assessment opportunities. However, the Key Stage 2 tests are the primary accountability measure by which primary schools are judged and it is therefore in their interests to ensure that pupils achieve as highly as they can in those tests. I know that this can lead to coaching for the tests in exactly the same way as Key Stage 4 teachers focus the majority of what is taught in Year 11 on what is on the exam – you’d be mad not to. It is therefore likely that a proportion of the results achieved do not reflect secure performance at that National Curriculum Level, and that secondary schools need to ensure they are secure before they can progress. What is supremely ironic is that primary schools have already adopted a new National Curriculum without levels, although their accountability is dependent on tests with levelled outcomes. In turn, secondary accountability is dependent on progress from those levels.

Instability of the assessments on which Progress 8 is based

As shown in the above tweet, those anachronistic levelled tests are will be phased out after 2015 to be replaced by an as-yet-unannounced new test based on…something else. At the same time GCSE grades will be replaced by the numerical 1-8 system, meaning that in the first five years of Progress 8 we will be measuring progress from an untested baseline to a new and untested end point.

It’s all very well for the consultation response to state: “pupils with a point score of 29 on their Key stage 2 tests achieve, on average, 8 C grades at GCSE” but, when the measure is introduced, neither the baseline nor the end point will exist in this form.

Level 6 Progress Inflation

Is grade inflation spreading?

Is grade inflation spreading?

At the same time as all this is going on, the ability to award Level 6 has now been introduced at Key Stage 2. You would be a rare Year 6 teacher or primary school leader indeed not to want to get as may students to that new level as possible. However, how many of those level 6 successes will be pushed up before they are fully secure at Level 5? We have had a handful of students arriving in Year 7 over the past few years teacher assessed at level 6. Suddenly this year we are expecting dozens. This is not a significantly brighter cohort but the expectations for the expected three levels of progress KS2-4 will be massively different.

What the accountability measures actually measure

Assessments are a house of cards

Assessments are a house of cards

Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) explains in The Data Delusion how the assessment regimes on which we depend for accountability are a house of cards with very little direct relation to what a student has actually learned. David Didau (@learningspy) explains that what our assessments actually measure is performance, not learning in The Problem with Progress. Invariably accountability will drive curriculum and teaching and learning decisions but I worry that their foundations are so insecure that pedagogy and learning may be lost in the confusion.


It may of course be that I’ve completely misunderstood aspects of Progress 8, or missed something completely obvious. I’d welcome any corrections, clarifications and reactions in the comments below, or on twitter.


15 thoughts on “KS2, KS4, Level 6 and Progress 8 – who do we appreciate?

  1. Can I just congratulate you on a very reasoned and fair assessment of the challenges of reliability across the key stages!
    So easy to launch the blame game strategy, far better for ask to recognise the limits of the system and the burdens on all sectors.

    • Thank you Michael! I really appreciate that. I’m very conscious that, at secondary, it’s very easy to denigrate KS2 assessment. That’s an easy way out but it’s hiding from the reality – far better to step back and look at the pressures in the system as a whole and try to get to grips with it. Primary and secondary should be working together to support progress.

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  5. Hi Chris. Many thanks for such an interesting article. Maybe i am missing the point but I am struggling to find what the progress 8 measure is to be compared with? Then only guidance i can find is calculating the progress 8 against ks2 nc points score based on nc levels which are being abolished. I cant see how this will work. Am i missing something?

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  7. Hi Chris,
    Excellent summary of the tangled web that is the DfE’s plan for performance and progress measure over the foreseeable future. Like most people looking at this puzzle I cannot comprehend how a complex assessment system such as Progress/Attainment 8 has been devised based upon progress from existing KS2 levels when those levels will disappear at the same time as the new performance measure comes into play.
    The reforms wrapped up in Progress 8 look eminently sensible and practical on the basis that there is some direct correlation with an end KS2 assessment value and an end KS4 result. I have asked the question directly of the DfE how a “numeric” value of progress can be established without having some common link between KS2 and KS4 as we currently have with APS. The response was to redirect me to the latest DfE publications on the general issue.

    I currently view this information gap as something akin to receiving a quantity of Euros, being told to invest it for 5 years and ensure you end up with a specified quantity of £ Sterling without any exchange or interest rate details. One can only assume that at the 11th hour an APS equivalent will be wheeled in on a white horse. This does nothing however for schools to plan for the future.

    It will be interesting to see how many schools will in future “shoe horn” unsuitable students into sitting English Literature GCSE, purely to ensure the English Language GCSE result counts double?


  8. How this is playing out in schools is that SLTs who have realised what is happening have already changed courses for those Year 10s starting in September. If a year group has a negative residual of more than half a grade it will trigger an inspection. A surefire way to get negative residuals is if all the slots aren’t filled. Steve Heys says above about unsuitable candidates being shoehorned into doing Eng Lit. It is even more pronounced with the 3 Ebacc slots – I know of one school that has all of Year 10 doing Triple Science starting in September. I understand why Ebacc was introduced. But the end result of Progress8 will be to foist an overly academic curriculum on all students, no matter what their ability.

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