GCSE league table milestone for Norfolk and Suffolk schools

PUBLISHED: 10:58 14 October 2016

Bungay High School students collect GCSE results.

PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Bungay High School students collect GCSE results. PHOTO: Nick Butcher


Education leaders in Norfolk and Suffolk are today celebrating a key milestone on their journey to improve standards as the counties finally moved into the top half of the national GCSE league table.

What is Progress 8?

This is the first year that the government is using its new Progress 8 measure to rank the performance of schools at GCSE. The old ‘gold standard’ only counted GCSE grades at C or above. Now, schools get credit for the amount of improvement all pupils have made since they left primary school. It is based on the results of up to eight qualifications, including English and maths, which are given particular prominence.

Provisional GCSE results, based on the progress made by thousands of teenagers who took their exams this summer, show Norfolk scoring above the national average in England for the first time in a decade, and Suffolk for the first time since 2006-07.

The improvement comes as the government introduced a new performance measure to rank schools, called Progress 8, which judges the improvement made by all students during their time at high school.

The previous system only counted grade at C or above, and many educationalists have said Progress 8 is a fairer measure of a school’s performance.

Norfolk and Suffolk both had Progress 8 scores of 0.02, compared to a national average of -0.03. The higher the number, the more progress students have made. Cambridgeshire’s score was 0.12.

Case study: Reepham High School

Reepham High School is one of the schools whose ranking in the government’s GCSE league table has improved as a result of the switch to the new Progress 8 measure.

The school’s provisional Progress 8 score of 0.42 puts it third in Norfolk, while it comes ninth when schools are ranked on the percentage of pupils gaining at least a C in English and maths.

Principal Mark Farrar supported the move to the Progress 8 measure.

He said: “It’s a much fairer measure, because before it was just looking at a relatively small number of middle-ability students, whereas now it looks at everyone.

“The progress measure is a better indicator, because just looking at grade C and above is heavily dependent on the intake that a school has.”

He added: “We have got a team of enthusiastic, dedicated teachers and support staff that deliver high-quality education. We have always had a traditional academic curriculum, and I think these new measures reflect the quality that has always been in place at Reepham. The previous league table did not pick it up, but I think the quality was always there.”

Asked what he attributed Reepham’s success to, Mr Farrar said: “The first thing is to get the ethos and culture right, where the students feel valued and cared for, and well treated, but they also know there’s a line they do not cross, and they are here to learn and to achieve to their very best, but we want them to enjoy it at the same time.”

Reepham High, which recently set up an academy trust to sponsor other schools, saw Ofsted confirm its “good” rating in May.

Roger Smith, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Children’s Services Committee, said: “I am delighted that today’s provisional GCSE results confirm that Norfolk students are making more progress in their learning than their peers nationally.

“This is a tribute to schools in Norfolk who have worked collectively to improve outcomes through their association – Norfolk Secondary Education Leaders.”

Two Norfolk schools – Hethersett Academy and Wymondham College – were classed as “well above average”, while a further 11 were named as “above average”.

However, three of the county’s schools – City Academy Norwich, the Hewett Academy, and King’s Lynn Academy – were named as “well below average”.

In Suffolk, Stradbroke High, Sir John Leman High and East Point Academy were among schools rated “above average”, but Ormiston Denes, in Lowestoft, was “well below average”.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills, Gordon Jones said: “It’s extremely encouraging to see Suffolk’s GCSE results continue to progress compared with the national average.

“This is testament to the hard work and effort put in by students, teachers and parents across the county.”

Nationally, local authority schools had a lower average Progress 8 score than academies, of -0.03 compared to 0.03.

However, a breakdown of different types of academies showed that converter academies – high-performing schools that chose to convert – had an average Progress 8 score of 0.09, above council schools, but sponsored academies – usually struggling schools taken over by an outside organisation – had a lower average score of -0.14.

Although the traditional ‘gold standard’ of how many pupils gained at least five GCSEs at A*-C, including English and maths, has been abolished, the new league tables do say how many gained at least a C in just English and maths.

On this measure, Wymondham College, Hethersett Academy and Notre Dame High were Norfolk’s top state-funded performers, all above 80pc, while City Academy Norwich, the Hewett Academy and Great Yarmouth High were at the bottom of the table, on less than 40pc.

This is the second year that ministers have published provisional GCSE league tables in October, to help parents who have until the end of the month to apply for high school places for 2017.

The final league tables, which will take account of the outcomes of exam appeals, will be published in January.

Five schools fall below the floor standard

Although the GCSE league tables had good news overall for our region, a number of individual schools did not perform well on the new Progress 8 measure.

The government has set a minimum level it expects schools to meet – the so-called floor standard – set at -0.5 on the new Progress 8 measure.

The Hewett Academy, King’s Lynn Academy, City Academy Norwich, Ormiston Denes Academy in Lowestoft, and the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech, fell below the floor.

This represents more bad news for City Academy Norwich, which is sponsored by the Transforming Education in Norfolk (TEN) Group, and has received a government pre-warning notice, and two warning notices, over the past three years. A spokesperson for TEN Group said: “The wide range of measures we have introduced over the last year to raise attainment at City Academy Norwich are making a difference and this was borne out by the improved GCSE results this summer.

“Nevertheless we accept more needs to be done and we are anticipating an improved positon this year through a combination of changes to the curriculum, improved pastoral support, a new behaviour policy and more robust tracking of data on student progress.

“The TEN Group remains focused on supporting City Academy Norwich to continue its recent improvements and to becoming the very best school it can be for our students and our community.”

The results also represent a blow for the Hewett Academy, which was taken over by the Inspiration Trust last year after it was put in special measures. Principal Tom Leverage said: “These measures are disappointing but not unexpected given the long-term problems we inherited last September. They reflect the last five years, but they do not reflect the turnaround that is already under way at the academy.”

King’s Lynn Academy principal Craig Morrison said: “The results stated are non-validated results and do not include several grades that cannot be counted, due to exam board error. The eventual figure will be above the floor target when final outcomes are released in January.”

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