Schools told: scrap ability sets to ace Progress 8

Secondary schools that want to do well in the government’s new accountability measures will need to stop setting by ability, according to a new report.

The recommendation comes in a study published by King’s College London, which says that setting can hold back lower-attaining pupils and would therefore damage scores in the Progress 8 league table measure.

The measure will replace five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths, as the key accountability measure for secondaries from next summer.

Report author Laurie Smith, a visiting lecturer and research associate in education at King’s, said: “The introduction of Progress 8 will focus attention on the less able. It means now is exactly the right time to be considering ending the use of setting.”

In Understanding and Using Progress 8, he says that under the new system, grade improvements by students who started secondary school with low key stage 2 results will count more heavily towards a school’s Progress 8 score than similar improvements by higher-attaining pupils.

“The decision to make Progress 8 the headline figure on which secondary schools will be judged… will require schools radically to rethink their policies on teaching and learning,” the report says.

It notes that the new accountability measure “rewards progress by moderately and less able students more than able ones”, adding: “From a Progress 8 perspective, attainment grouping is harmful because it reduces the opportunities for progress by the moderately and less able.”

The report says there is “strong, repeated research evidence” that teaching in mixed attainment groups “raises the attainment of students assessed as moderately and less able while not disadvantaging more able students”.

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