In Defence of Progress 8

In Defence of Progress 8

My Summer holiday began with a minor Twitter storm. The point I had made was that your school’s Progress 8 score was a very good indication of leadership in the school. This seemed to me quite uncontroversial – we only know how effective we are by measuring our impact. That’s how I know I’m not just spouting nonsense at SLT – any intervention or idea we try in school is only worth doing if it has a big enough impact on our students. So we measure it. I will only recommend stuff which has been shown to have had impact, either through educational research, or progress measures in my own school, or nationally. I find those measures in the Progress 8 tables.

This was a typical response from an influential head teacher:

“If even one person thinks their leadership is measured by their P8 score…well, that’s how mad/pathetic things are these days.” It is a popular view “6 replies 9 retweets 40 likes”.

There were several vociferous objections to my view of leadership here. I’ll try to go through them.


Problem 1: We Should Focus on the Whole Child

‘We are there to develop the whole child. Focusing on their academic progress is far too narrow.’

Well, only if one precludes the other. I’m pretty sure we can get excellent academic results for our students while still modelling all the values we want our students to learn.

If you are unconvinced, try this thought experiment; let’s pretend they are often mutually exclusive. Let’s imagine your child choosing a school. There is a choice of only two.

At the first, your child will be taught how to be expert in each of their subjects, be they practical our book based. They will be expected to work hard, no matter what their background, and they will be helped to do so. Their development as people will not be a concern of the school, they will assume that enough will rub off and that, anyway, your effect as a parent will be far greater than anything that the school can do.

At the second school, your child will be explicitly taught how to work in teams, resolve conflicts with peers, be kind and friendly. They will be treated entirely as individuals, and allowances will be made for each personal circumstance by an understanding pastoral team. They will be taught a curriculum, with fewer hours (because the character training takes time). Their progress in exams in all their subjects will not be the concern of the school, they will assume enough will rub off and that, anyway, your job as a parent is to help your child make academic progress.

Where would you send them?

Now imagine you are a parent on benefits, you don’t have a degree and you probably don’t have A levels. Which school is going to have the greater chance of making sure your child has the best chance at social mobility?

I hope these are rhetorical questions, but I suspect many readers would still choose the second school. In my next blog posts I’ll suggest why they would be wrong.