Issue 129 - 2023 Autumn term
Kevin Gilmartin looks at which results will be published in this year’s 16–18 performance tables and what impact this will have on the accountability of sixth form leaders in schools and colleges.

What counts?

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and Colleges Specialist
Those more recently appointed to sixth form leadership may have never experienced the ‘joy’ of the annual publication of 16–18 performance measures. Until 2019, the results for every school or college in England were published on a government ‘find and compare’ performance tables website. These are the results used in Ofsted’s 16–19 inspection data summary report (IDSR). Cue nervous heads of sixth form and subject leads poring over the headlines and trying to justify, explain or apologise for the report, depending on the approach they took towards accountability (perhaps influenced by how good or otherwise the data was!).
 

Why are performance tables published?

The government believes the tables achieve three key objectives:

1 | accountability (holding schools/colleges accountable for the quality of education and how well they are preparing students for future destinations)

2 | informing decision-making (enabling students to make informed decisions about where to pursue post-16 education)

3 | benchmarking (allowing the comparison of performance against local and national averages)


What is happening this year?

Last year, the word ‘compare’ was dropped from the government website to discourage comparisons between institutions. The government said, “performance data for 2022 should not be directly compared with 2019 and earlier. Nor should comparisons be made between schools. This is because schools may have been affected differently by Covid-19.” School and college leaders should reinforce this message with external stakeholders, such as governors, at every opportunity. 

With this caveat, the government now intends to present 2022/23 performance measures in a broadly similar way to prior to the pandemic, by re-introducing comparison tables for schools/colleges, local authorities and multi-academy trusts (MATs). 
 

What are the key measures?

There are four main measures: 

1 | Attainment
The headline attainment measure shows the average point score (APS) that students achieved per entry, expressed as an average grade (nationally around B-). There are four sub-measures: best 3 A levels, AAB in at least two facilitating subjects, Level 3 vocational entry measures (e.g. Applied General Qualifications), and technical certificate entries. The actual number of exam entries in each subject is also published. 

2 | Progress
The key 16–18 value-added (VA) measure shows the progress each student makes between GCSE and Level 3. This score is expressed as a proportion of a grade above or below the national average, so a score of +0.5 would mean that students achieve half a grade higher than the national average for those with similar starting points. The government will not use 2020 and 2021 GCSE scores so this important VA measure will not be calculated and published this year.

A separate English and mathematics progress score is calculated for resit GCSE students. It is notoriously difficult for students to do significantly better in their resits so typically this score averages 0.2 to 0.3, meaning the average resit student goes up by about a quarter of a grade. This measure will not be reported this year – or next year – so the annual debate on the appropriateness of this resit policy may be deferred for a while.

3 | Retention
The headline retention measure shows the percentage of students who are retained to the end of their ‘core aim’ i.e. A level, applied general or tech level (note that an A level student only needs to complete one A level to be counted as retained). National retention averages are approximately 95% A levels and 90% vocational. Two additional measures are ‘returned and retained’ (percentage who return and are retained for their second year), and ‘retained and assessed’ (percentage who are retained to the end of their course and assessed – a figure that is typically 3–4% below the headline retention rates).

4 | Destinations
The headline destination measure shows the percentage of students staying in education, employment or training (EET) for at least two terms in the year after leaving school or college. This uses a two-year time lag to see whether students have sustained their destination. The most recent data, published in October 2022, reported on students who finished at the end of 2019/20. A further ‘progression to higher education/training’ measure shows the percentage of students who continue to degrees, higher technical courses or higher apprenticeships (a complicated VA score is also calculated showing whether this demonstrates ‘good progress’ based on students’ prior attainment). 
 

Conclusion

When the next tables are published in February 2024, leaders can look forward to the measures being scrutinised by stakeholders as well as the media (which compiles its own tables and makes various conclusions). Meanwhile, ASCL is using its election manifesto to call for a replacement of performance tables with an ‘accountability dashboard’ or ‘balanced scorecard’, to reflect a greater breadth of outcomes. We can but hope that a future government listens to our voice of reason.

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