New secondary data (England): a guide for parents


Every January the Department for Education releases GSCE and A level results from the previous summer. This year there have been a number of changes to the way the data is reported including new headline measures. Headline measures are the core statistics that the government uses to judge how well a school is performing. 

New data means shiny new pages for School Guide.
Our easy-to-read dials and icons now show the 2016 results. 

Whether you are a parent coming to the data for the first time or you were familiar with last year’s reporting and want to know what the new statistics mean, we’ve simply summarised the main. Data can seem complicated, but it doesn't have to be. 

2016 changes = progress + results 
They key thing to note is that progress measures now hold as much weight as pure results, and the progress scores are set out to be fairer to schools. They are designed to compare like-for-like pupils – students from other schools across England with the same prior results. This means that a school with strong GCSE results is also judged by how far it progressed its pupils. Were they already high fliers and therefore the results are to be expected? Has the school brought on its pupils in a significant way? The same comparison tools are applied to progress from GCSE to A level. 

Not everything has changed on School Guide, however, and we have retained many of the key data fields that parents find so helpful like our Happiness Rating. We have also retained the percentage of pupils achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, even though the government has replaced this as a headline measure with the percentage of pupils gaining grade C or above in English and maths. We think it’s helpful in this transition year to keep a few old favourites.  

School Guide star ratings
Our star ratings have also been updated for 2016. Unlike many league tables that rank schools purely on results, our star ratings are created using a unique mix of attainment, progress and inspection data. This gives a simple summary of how a school performed overall in the last academic year. You can read more about how we calculate School Guide star ratings on our About page. 

We continue to offer a Certificate of Excellence (right) to schools, which includes their new 2016 star rating, and allows them to show parents the results of all the hard work by pupils and staff. Schools can download their free certificate by registering here


Key changes to GSCE data

Progress 8
Progress 8 has been introduced by the government to give a more holistic view of how our children are progressing. Previously, at GCSE, schools were judged by the main headline measure: the percentage of children achieving 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths. 

This was considered to be unfair on schools who took in pupils with poorer grades at the end of primary school. So, for example, if a child entered Year 7 (the first year of secondary school) with a level 3 in their SATs (below national average), and not a level 4 (national average) or 5 (above national average) or 6 (well above national average), it would be considered very good progress for them to achieve a grade C pass at GCSE. But this wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in the black and white results. 

The new Progress 8 score sets out how much progress pupils make as it measures like-for-like groups of children across England and gives a score based on whether they make more, about the same or less progress at this school. Results from the end of primary school (SATs) are compared with GCSE results and a score given around a zero national average baseline that, for most schools, ranges from +1 (good progress) to -1 (less progress). 

On School Guide, we display more progress with an upwards arrow and less progress as a downwards arrow. It’s important to note that less progress is very different to no progress. 

A +1 score basically means that, on average, pupils achieve one grade more than pupils of a similar starting point.  -1 means they achieve one grade less. 

The score is calculated by giving points to subject grades: some, like English and maths, are double weighted. The overall score includes points for up to eight approved qualifications, ‘approved’ being the key word here as the government has strict guidelines on what’s in and what’s out. These are: English, maths, 3 so-called English Baccalaureate qualifications including sciences, computer science, history, geography and languages, and 3 other additional approved qualifications including academic and vocational exams. 

So, total points for the eight subjects are are divided by 10 (eight including English and maths that are double weighted) to get a per pupil result. Taking eight qualifications is not compulsory, however. The government advises:

“It can be of more benefit to less-able students to strive for good grades (and hence score more points) in fewer subjects, with the emphasis on doing well in English and mathematics, than to take more subjects but achieve lower grades overall.” 

The Department for Education website also offers a descriptive summary of how far above or below the national average each school sits. You can see more here by looking at a school’s progress score here.

Want to find out more? Here’s a handy Progress 8 (explained in 3 minutes) YouTube video

Attainment 8 
This is another new measure for 2016. Attainment 8 is not a qualification but rather a measure how of how well pupils have performed in up to 8 core subjects, which include English, maths, 3 qualifications including sciences, computer science, history, geography and languages, and 3 additional approved qualifications. 

In 2017, we'll see the start of the current A*-G grading system being replaced replaced with new gradings from 9-1.  English language, English literature and maths will be graded 9-1 from this summer, with 1 being the lowest grade, and the new grading structure will be applied to other  GSCEs in 2018 and 2019.

These new grades will have a point per grade scale. So  9 (the equivalent of an A*) will be worth 9 points. The Attainment 8 points system marks the beginning of the transition from alphabetical to numerical grades, although the spread of points will be set differently when the new system is introduced with top grades being 1.5 points apart, not 1 as per 2016. Grade 5 will be set 'a good pass' by the government. 

Click here for an at-a-glance guide to the new GCSE 9-1 grading structure

Like Progress 8, only qualifications on the government’s approved list count towards Attainment 8 and this does not include exams such as International GCSEs (iGCSEs) which some academic schools, including a high number of independent schools, offer their students.  This means Attainment 8 figures can be low for these schools, and their results for 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and Maths can be 0% due to a set of non-approved exam results. In addition, re-sits are not included and this can affect further education colleges. These changes were first introduced in 2014, and affected GCSE results in 2014, 2015 and 2016. You can read more about the changes and on our About page. 


Pupils achieving C or better in English and maths 
This new measure really does exactly what it says on the tin. It shows the percentage of pupils achieving A*-C grades in the main two subjects and demonstrates the government’s focus on the importance of these core qualifications. On School Guide, we also still display the ‘old’ government headline measure: 5 GCSEs A*-C including English and maths, updated with the 2016 results. This is useful indictor and helps bridge the gap between last year’s data and this new set. 


Key changes to A level data

Pupils achieving AAB or higher including two facilitating subjects 
For the 2016 results, the government have replaced the percentage of pupils achieving 3 or more A level data with this new AAB field. This reflects an academic side to A level entry, and the ‘facilitating subjects’ are those most commonly needed for entry to leading universities. These are: biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, further mathematics, geography, history, English literature and classical or modern languages. 

Average A level as a grade 
This handy grade succinctly summarises the more complex average point system for A level and other academic post-16 qualifications including AS, Pre-U and International Baccalaureate. Points are assigned on a scale from E =10 to A* = 60 and these are added up and then divided by the total number of academic entries. It gives an average point score – the national average is 32.1 – and this is converted to a grade. C+ is the national average. Remember: there are a range of scores per grade so different schools with slightly different average points scores can both display the same average grade.  


A level progress
Like the GSCE progress score (explained above), this so-called value added score shows how much progress pupils made between the end of Key Stage 4 (GSCE) and Key Stage 5 (A level) compared to other pupils across England who got similar results at GCSE. As 0.0 is the national average, a score above zero and an UP arrow means pupils made more progress, on average, than similar pupils across the same time frame. A negative score and a DOWN arrow doesn’t mean that pupils made no progress but rather they made less progress than similar pupils across England. The majority of schools have progress scores between – 2 and +2.  The Department for Education website also offers a descriptive summary of how far above or below the national average each school sits. You can see more here by looking at a school’s progress score here (


For more information on the source of our official data, visit the Department for Education's website



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