Secondary school leaders say new system to measure pupil progress is ‘blunt tool’

Ernulf Academy, in St Neots.

Ernulf Academy, in St Neots. - Credit: Archant

A curriculum review is taking place across both St Neots secondary schools after newly published government league tables showed the academies had scored below average in their Progress 8 results.

The national scoring system, introduced in 2016, measures the progress of pupils from Key Stage 2 to Key Stage 4 and uses zero as the expected level of progress.

Longsands scored -0.15 and Ernulf was recorded as -0.34, but the head teachers of both schools are confident about educational standards and have urged parents to contact them with concerns.

Longsands head teacher, Martin Paine has described the scoring system as a “blunt tool” for measuring progress, which failed to take account of other factors.

“The fact is that some of your students have to score higher to counteract the pupils who struggle and that is a national issue,” he said.

“We know we are doing some excellent work, but this is the headline figure that people see. Progress 8 is a very blunt tool and doesn’t show the whole picture.”

Ernulf head teacher Tracy Brogan added: “The system is incredibly complex and the maths behind it is complicated, the raw data does not reflect our improving journey.

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“It is absolutely right that we follow government directives, but Progress 8 does hit smaller schools harder. We are very happy for parents to come in and talk to us and have a look around. I am confident they will go away impressed with what they see.”

Former Hinchingbrooke School head teacher Peter Downes told The Hunts Post he had concerns about the new scoring system.

He said: “In principle Progress 8 is a fairer system for measuring attainment than raw scores, but due to the way it has been set up, 50 per cent of schools are always going to score ‘below average’, however hard they work and however well they perform. “We need to remember too that a young person’s results also depend on social, personal and domestic factors and these are outside the school’s control.”

He added: “Concentrating on eight core subjects has narrowed the curriculum and in our fast-changing society we need a broad curriculum with scope for encouraging pupils to take up and excel in sport and creative subjects such as music, drama and art. These more sociable subjects can, for some pupils, represent the things that keep them healthy, make life fun and school an enjoyable place to be.

“It worries me that schools have become so overly competitive and the system forces them to be pitted against each other.

“Compared to 20 years ago, schools are much more efficient, target-driven and competitive, but are they providing the best range of opportunities within this tight framework due to the demand to meet those targets?

“It should also be remembered that the progress of this set of pupils has taken place through an era of relatively poor government funding for schools in Cambridgeshire.”

The schools are managed by the St Neots Learning Partnership (SNLP) and its chief executive, Rick Carroll, said: “The SNLP is very proud of the work that is taking place between students, staff and parents. Progress continues to be made at both Longsands and Ernulf as well as its combined sixth form, which achieved a very impressive set of examination results this summer.”

Mr Carroll also pointed out the inequalities of the current educational funding formula which means that all secondary schools in Cambridgeshire receive less money per pupil compared to authorities elsewhere. A letter, signed by more than 5,000 head teachers, has been sent to the Government demanding a rethink on the National Funding Formula.

“The SNLP continues to work hard to lobby for increased financial support to enhance the level of resources for students,” Mr Carroll added.