Sunday Teacher Reflections: Attainment vs. Progress

Sunday January 24th 2016

Sunday Refelections
An article by Richard James Rogers: High school Science and Mathematics Teacher and author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management

This week an article by the BBC gathered quite some interest in education circles in the UK. The news broke that schools in England will no longer be ranked by GCSE results: putting an end to league tables in their current format.

This news was greeted with applause by those who have been campaigning for a broader ‘progress-based’ league table system for a long time. For example, Malcolm Trobe (Deputy General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders) responded to this news with the following:

Malcolm trobe
Malcolm makes a good point: after all, a school’s performance should be based upon the amount of improvement each student has made over some course of time (relative to some baseline/starting point), shouldn’t it? Maybe Angela Constance, the Scottish Education Secretary, can answer this question. On Thursday the Glasgow Evening Times ran a report on how Scotland will be introducing new national standardised tests for school pupils in their third year of secondary school (sounds a little reminiscent of the old days of SATs tests, doesn’t it?), as well as in the primary years one, four and seven. Ms Contance is a supporter of the new tests, and she, like Malcolm, recognizes the importance of measuring and reporting on student progress:

angela constance

Have the Scots got it right?

How can a school measure progress without reporting on attainment at the same time? Surely you need to know a student’s start and end points, in terms of attainment, before you can report on the progress that child has made. For example, if a student begins Year 7 having attained an level 3 on a National Curriculum SATs test, progresses to Year 9 and gets a level 5 and then goes on to achieve 5 grade C’s at GCSE, then that particular student has made great progress (and that progress has been monitored along the way).

But is progress enough?

Last month, the UK Office for National Statistics released a shocking Statistical Bulletin showing that youth unemployment now stands at two and half times the national average. To add insult to injury, this damning revelation comes amid the fact that around 750,000 jobs remained unfilled. The problem is so bad, that the UK’s own Jobcentre Plus will now be working more closely with schools than ever before, offering careers advice under a new scheme being launched by the government.

The tertiary disjunction

Perhaps this is the million (pound?) question then: When offering jobs to young people, do employers really care about the progress these kids have made in school, or do they want highly skilled and capable employees who can contribute to effective productivity?

David Cameron didn’t hold back from addressing this question at a speech in Islington, North London, last week:


Okay, that’s my last jazzed-up/beautified quote for this article (I promise), but perhaps we have an answer from the esteemed Etonite after all. It would appear that knowledge helps “infuse” the qualities employers want, and surely the only way to measure knowledge is to measure attainment. Wouldn’t you agree? After all, don’t students pick up the skills of innovation, creativity and problem-solving automatically when they are motivated by inspiring teachers to achieve the highest grades they can?

Is there a disjunction between what schools expect of their pupils, and what employers need in the workforce? How much ‘school progress’ is enough to convince an employer that you’re the person to be hired?


But they can just use their smartphones anyway, can’t they?

Christine Blower, Head of the National Union of Teachers, wasted no time in stirring up controversy this week when she stated (in response to government proposals to force all primary school children to learn their times tables by the end of Year 6) that “Looking up your times tables is very easy to do. So the other thing we have to do is to make sure that children and young people use the computing ability on their mobile phones so they can get that at their finger tips. Recall is not the only way to make sure you understand mathematical concepts.”

phone vs books
How did you learn your times tables?

How does the whole issue of building up your ICT skills by using smartphones for research feed into the whole progress vs attainment debate? That’s a topic I’ll leave for another week!

Did you enjoy this post? Then why not check out a great book that will help you to maximize the progress and attainment of your students? The Quick Guide to Classroom Management is available as a paperback or on Kindle, and is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited programme. Just click on the picture below:


The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High Teachers Need to Know




High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK). Richard is the award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management: 45 Secrets That All High School Teachers Need to Know

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