The principal of South Tyneside College is leading a charge for urgent change to a new national system of measuring student attainment, branding it “unfair and distorting”.
Alison Maynard has joined several high-profile education leaders across the country in slamming Progress 8 over what they say is its fundamentally flawed assessment model when applied to colleges which support pupils aged 14 to 16.
Introduced two years ago, it aims to judge schools by charting learner progress in secondary education – from the end of primary school to the age of 16.
Unlike the previous headline measure of five good GSCE grades, Progress 8 looks at results in eight core national curriculum subjects across five years.
However, it also rates any college which supports the learning of children from the age of 14, many of whom may have failed in mainstream education or even been home schooled.
Critics of Progress 8 include the Careers College Trust (CCT), Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), and the Association of Colleges (AoC), which has raised its concerns with the Department for Education (DfE).
Now Ms Maynard is championing the North East call for change, insisting Progress 8 is unfairly weighted to give a false indication of how colleges are performing.
Alison Maynard, Principal of South Tyneside College, said: “I agree that there are benefits to schools working to ensure each student makes progress and doesn’t coast along at the same educational level.
“But the huge failing of Progress 8 is that it doesn’t shape itself to colleges which support students for only part of their secondary education and teach largely vocational subjects rather than the core national curriculum.
“These learners may have complex needs or simply not have leant themselves to mainstream secondary education and may even have been home schooled.
“In these cases, a college may intervene and help them back into education at the age of 14, meaning they only support them for two of the five years.
“Once in college, they are also likely to follow a personalised, vocational programme alongside math and English, rather than the national curriculum.
“Progress 8 takes no account of the way the college has played an important role within the community by supporting these young people, helping them towards potentially vastly improved outcomes.”
She added: “The Department of Education needs to urgently review how Progress 8 applies to colleges.
“It is an unfair marker and must be changed so that a true and honest indication of a college’s performance is achieved.
“This will not only benefit those colleges which support 14 to 16-year-olds, but also potential students who may be put off from attending as a result of this attainment measure.”
Under the first Progress 8 results, which were published last month (Note – January), South Tyneside College was listed as attaining poorly.
However, Ms Maynard insists this is a perfect example of the new system’s flaws.
Of the 22 students aged 14 to 16 who had their progress checked, all but one has now entered post-16 education.
Twelve are high attaining students who last summer successfully passed through Career College North East (CCNE), a specialist vocational programme centred on a partnership between the college and Ofsted-rated ‘outstanding’ St Wilfrid’s RC College, in South Shields.
CCNE teaches computer science, engineering, advance manufacturing and maritime studies specifically to 14-year-olds who already have a defined career path.
They are taught the national curriculum over just four days a week instead of five, using the extra day to undertake vocational training.
CCNE enjoyed a 100 per cent pass rate, and each student has gone into either an apprenticeship, a level 3 vocational learning programme, or the maritime industry.
The other 10 students joined South Tyneside College’s Youth College, which delivers specialist learning to youngsters unable to continue in a secondary school.
One had been home schooled for eight years before joining the college, meaning she had no experience of mainstream education.
Nine of those who left Youth College last summer have continued in Further Education, a statistic Ms Maynard says proves its value outside of Progress 8 data.
Her stance has been supported by the CCT’s Ruth Gilbert, who said:
“Sadly the Progress 8 attainment measures do not reflect the very hard work, or the success being achieved at South Tyneside College – or indeed at other 14-16 FE and Career Colleges around the country.
“These colleges focus on preparing young people for fulfilling employment and future careers.
“This is done by equipping them with workplace-related skills and offering exposure to the real world of work alongside relevant maths, English and communication skills.
“Progress 8 doesn’t take any of this into account, focusing only on narrow, academic achievement based on a traditional secondary school model. This is not only unfair to the students and colleges but is absolutely no use to employers, who struggle to make sense of the arbitrary numbers.
“We are calling on the Government to ensure the success being achieved in a vocational setting can be recognised – giving these colleges and their students the credit they deserve.”