League Tables – Progress 8 and UTCs. The Principal’s Perspective.

It’s that time of year when I write my annual comment piece about National School Performance tables and how they are misleading when used to assess UTCs. This year is slightly different, though, because for the first time we have some help from the Department for Education!

I write, mainly to reassure parents and students and those who have applied or are considering us as a place to study in September 2018. It also serves as comfort to my staff who work very hard to produce some excellent progress figures for our students, who could not be blamed for feeling somewhat demoralised by the thought that they are working at a school that is bottom of the county league. My reassurance to you all is: I don’t mind if we are bottom of the county league, because we’re not playing in the county league!

There are 3 main reasons that the Progress 8 (P8) figure is skewed in the wrong direction for us:-

  1. The range of subjects we offer doesn’t work well for P8
  2. The way we let our students choose their options is at odds with government policy
  3. The period over which progress is measured is mostly at a different school to ours

Firstly, a Progress 8 score of zero is the average of all schools in all areas in the England, and it is wholly representative if you have an average intake studying the same mix of subjects on average. But some subjects are more difficult than others, and the specialist nature of our curriculum means that most of the subjects we offer are from the harder end of the spectrum, with Engineering being one of the most difficult. This skews the data negatively.

Secondly, we strongly believe that students should be guided on key subject choices, but given as much freedom to study subjects they like and can do well in as possible (within certain constraints). The effect of this is that only 2% of our students study the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), in favour of a curriculum focused on building a strong and deep foundation for their career. Government encourages their general political view of education through the performance tables, and our refusal to conform significantly affects our score, however Government is supportive of UTCs and their purpose, so for the first time they have acknowledged this in a footnote on the performance tables where it states:

“University technical colleges, studio schools and some further education colleges with key stage 4 provision provide a specialist technical and professional education. Our position is that it is not appropriate to expect the same rates of EBacc entry from these types of provision and that each school should decide on a case-by-case basis whether its specialist curriculum is compatible with the full EBacc.”
(DfE Performance Tables website, January 2018)

There is a very clear, moderate to strong, positive correlation between rates of EBacc entry and Progress 8 score, so this acknowledgment is welcomed and important – but it’s a shame that it is hidden at least two mouse-clicks away from the data itself.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Progress 8 measures students’ progress from the end of Year 6, and we become accountable for progress (or lack of it) for the 3 years before our students join us. Our in-house and external baseline testing reveals that most students who join us have not previously made good progress, and that counts against us. This is also acknowledged by the DfE who say:

“Some schools and colleges, including university technical colleges, studio schools and further education colleges which cover key stage 4, start educating pupils from the beginning of key stage 4, partway through the 5-year period covered by Progress 8. This should be taken into account when comparing their results with those for schools which start educating their pupils from the beginning of key stage 3.”
(DfE Performance Tables website, January 2018)

There are other factors – our gender imbalance accounts for quite a large shift because girls outperform boys in Progress 8 by as much as 0.4 points. We also avoid entering students for subjects which are known to be very easy but equivalent to GCSEs – a practice which Ofsted is now looking out for.

So what do we know about our students’ progress. We test them when they arrive and measure progress from there, and in its simplest form, 90% of GCSE students make expected progress in English, Maths, Sciences and our specialisms, which are the foundation of their careers. Of these, 69% made more than expected progress, which is a very good result. Our student destinations match up with national figures, and a larger proportion than normal stay with us for 6th form, indicating a high level of satisfaction after the GCSE years. When it comes to 6th form performance, our specialism results were among the highest in the country last year, with average grades of Distinction or higher, and 44% got the equivalent of 3 As at A-Level (when converted from UCAS points). Their destinations, too, are excellent, taking the lion’s share of apprenticeships available at prestigious companies, and getting great offers and places from universities.

I’ve said it many times before, but I think that a school’s performance should be measured by student well-being and destination. As a parent, those are the things I care about the most for my children, and I would welcome a change in the performance tables which put these things above others, or at the very least gave clearer guidance to parents about how the Government’s headline measure of performance is so misleading for schools such as ours.

Link to Silverstone UTC Data on the Government’s Performance Tables Website

Neil P Signature Transparent

Neil Patterson
26 January 2018

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