Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Progress 8 Gives Grammars a 'Head Start', Adviser Admits

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Progress 8 Gives Grammars a 'Head Start', Adviser Admits

Article excerpt

Measure designed to be fairer is biased in favour of schools with high-ability intakes, DfE analyst says

The government's new "fairer" secondary accountability measure contains a built-in advantage for schools with high-ability intakes, a senior ministerial adviser who helped to devise it has admitted.

Tim Leunig, an academic and one of the driving forces behind Progress 8, has said that the new indicator will be "biased" in favour of grammar schools.

The comments from Dr Leunig, the Department for Education's chief scientific adviser and chief analyst, are surprising because he has previously highlighted the particular efforts made to avoid an "unfair" grammar school "bonus" in the Progress 8 measure.

He revealed in 2013 that an earlier version of the measure was "somewhat generous to grammar schools and other [schools] with particularly high-performing intakes" and had placed virtually every grammar "in the top quarter by value added".

"I thought this cannot be right, it is just implausible," he said. And in response to this "flawed" methodology he commissioned academics to "work out how we can do this better".

But now, Dr Leunig has admitted that the final version of Progress 8 - which is replacing the benchmark of five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths - is not "perfect", "might be flawed" and still contains a built-in grammar school advantage.

Addressing arguments that "grammar schools still do pretty well under Progress 8" at the recent annual conference of the National Association of Secondary Moderns (NASM), Dr Leunig said: "I think that it is biased towards grammar schools in that they have their own exam on the way in so they kind of double-test kids.

"In so far as their exams are good at spotting potential - and I think that's an open question - they will have a small head start."

His comments come after an Education Datalab study earlier this year found that secondaries with pupils who had lower average prior attainment were more likely to have low scores on Progress 8.

Duncan Baldwin, deputy director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "There is a systematic issue with any value-added measure whereby schools with higher levels of prior attainment do better."

Dr Leunig was open about the possibility that his "fair to all schools" system might not work as intended. "The fact that Progress 8 shows that some schools do better than others does not show the methodology is flawed," he said. …

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