‘It’s just aw­ful – so stress­ful’

Heads dread re­sults day as new ex­ams add to the pres­sure of Progress 8 scores

TES (Times Education Supplement) - - INSIGHT - ADI BLOOM

“RE­SULTS DAY is usu­ally ner­vous ex­cite­ment,” says Chris Ed­wards, head of Brighton Hill Com­mu­nity School in Bas­ingstoke. “But, this year, it’ll just be scrab­bling around in the dark. We’ll have no idea how well we’ve done. It’ll be such an an­ti­cli­max.”

The lead-up to re­sults day has al­ways been a tense time for heads. But this year anx­i­ety lev­els will be even higher than usual thanks to the raft of exam re­forms tak­ing ef­fect (see pages 8-10).

And the ten­sion will not end on re­sults day. The Progress 8 mea­sure will judge schools not just on the re­sults that pupils achieve, but also on how much progress they have made since they started sec­ondary school. How­ever, head­teach­ers will not know whether or not their schools have met their floor tar­gets un­til Progress 8 scores are pub­lished in the au­tumn. Ed­wards says: “I was watch­ing the ath­let­ics last night. Imag­ine you’d got to the cham­pi­onships, and then had to wait a cou­ple of months to find out how you’d done. It’s just like that.”

“It’s just aw­ful,” agrees a sec­ondary head­teacher in the South of Eng­land, who asked not to be named. “It’s so stress­ful. How are you go­ing to know whether to cel­e­brate as a school?

“My job as a head­teacher and, to a cer­tain ex­tent, my fu­ture em­ploy­ment – they’re go­ing to be de­ter­mined by the out­come of the young peo­ple over the sum­mer, pushed through a com­puter to give a score that I’m not go­ing to know un­til some time be­tween Septem­ber and Christ­mas.”

The govern­ment has ad­vised heads not to at­tempt to cal­cu­late their Progress 8 scores. Be­cause it is a na­tional com­par­a­tive mea­sure, it is im­pos­si­ble to work out a school’s score with­out full ac­cess to na­tional data.

How­ever, He­lena Marsh, prin­ci­pal of Lin­ton Vil­lage Col­lege in Cam­bridgeshire, says: “I know of head­teach­ers who are des­per­ately try­ing to cal­cu­late their scores. I know heads who’ve bought into ready reck­on­ers to try and work it out, even though they know they shouldn’t.

“When so much rests on this, it’s hard not to be con­cerned.”

‘Wait­ing to swoop’

Or, as the anony­mous sec­ondary head­teacher phrases it: “My job de­pends on Progress 8, but they’re telling me not to cal­cu­late Progress 8. In fact, I can’t cal­cu­late Progress 8. In what sphere of the real world – in what sphere of life – would we have a break in that cor­re­la­tion? It’s in­sane. It’s just in­sane. I’m stressed, I’m anx­ious, I’m wor­ried, but I can’t do any­thing about it.”

When the scores are pub­lished, re­gional schools com­mis­sion­ers “will be hang­ing around all the most vul­ner­a­ble schools, wait­ing to swoop”, he says.

Last year, Marsh tried to an­tic­i­pate her school’s Progress 8 re­sults. But it turned out that she had over­es­ti­mated the score. “There’s that pe­riod of trep­i­da­tion and an­tic­i­pa­tion,” she says. “Last year I had col­leagues who felt they were se­curely above the floor tar­gets, and then the re­sults came out and they weren’t. Any un­cer­tainty cre­ates ad­di­tional stress and pres­sure.”

Ed­wards has only 104 pupils in Year 11. This means that four or five out­lier pupils can af­fect the en­tire school’s scores: “It can com­pletely de­stroy the work we’ve put in else­where.”

But, he adds, there are some ben­e­fits to the new sys­tem.

“This is my first re­sults day as a head­teacher,” he says. “So, in a way, it takes the pres­sure off the ac­tual day. We’ll get an inkling of how well we’ve done over­all, but noth­ing to say, ‘I’m in trou­ble here’.

“The days of head­teach­ers sit­ting in the car, bawl­ing their eyes out, wor­ry­ing that they’ve lost their job are prob­a­bly gone.”

And there is an­other sil­ver lin­ing: no one out­side the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem ap­pears to be en­tirely sure what Progress 8 ac­tu­ally means. “Peo­ple still ask ques­tions about five A*-CS,” Marsh says. “They’re still us­ing the mea­sures they used when they were at school. It will prob­a­bly take a gen­er­a­tion to ad­just to the new ac­count­abil­ity mea­sures.”

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