‘It’s just awful – so stressful’
Heads dread results day as new exams add to the pressure of Progress 8 scores
“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.”