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The parents' guide to secondary school: performance measures

Secondary school performance measures explained for parents
Every parent wants their child to go to a secondary school that will help them reach their potential. We explain how to interpret the league tables.

When you’re choosing a secondary school for your child, league tables are a useful source of information about how students perform. But making sense of the data isn’t always easy.

Knowing how to interpret performance measures will help you pick the right school for your child, so what do all those statistics actually mean?

New GCSE results

In 2017, the new GCSE grading system was introduced, with papers graded from 9-1 rather than A*-G. The new numerical grades now apply to all subjects.

There is no exact equivalence between the old and new GCSEs. However, grades 7 and above are roughly equivalent to the old grades A-A*, and grades 4-6 are roughly equivalent to the old grades C-B.

English and maths

League tables report the percentage of students who achieve a 'strong pass' (5 or above) in both English (either language or literature) and maths. 

The number achieving a 'standard pass' (4 or above) is also reported.

EBacc results

The English Baccalaureate, or EBacc, is a measure of how many pupils achieve a good GCSE pass in six core academic subjects: English, maths, history or geography, combined science (which counts as two passes) and a language. In addition, students must take both English language and literature, although they only need a grade A*-C (old GCSEs) or 5+ (new GCSEs) in one of them.

The latest league tables report the average point score across the six EBacc subjects for all students, compared to the local and national average.

In 2018, 40.2% of Year 11 pupils took the EBacc with an average score of 3.85 points.

Key Stage 4 destinations

The destination of pupils at the end of Year 11 is a key performance measure, as it shows how well schools are doing in helping students take and achieve qualifications that allow them to continue their education. Possible destinations include school sixth forms, sixth form colleges, further education colleges, apprenticeships, employment and training.

The latest results show that 94% of students continue their education post-16, mostly in school sixth forms and further education colleges, or enter employment (mainly apprenticeships).

Progress 8 and Attainment 8

Progress 8 is a measure of the progress children make between the end of primary school and the end of secondary school. It’s designed to encourage good quality teaching across a broad curriculum.

Progress 8 and Attainment 8 are based on pupils’ performance in eight qualifications. These are English and maths, up to three subjects from the Ebacc list, and students’ three highest scores from a range of other qualifications, including GCSEs and approved non-GCSEs. English and maths are given double weighting to reflect their importance.

The raw point score from these eight qualifications is average to give the school's Attainment 8 score. You would expect it to be higher in schools that have more academically able students, such as grammar schools.

The Progress 8 score is calculated by comparing each student's Attainment 8 score to those nationally of other students who had the same KS2 SATs results. This is designed to measure how much progress each student has made from Year 6 to Year 11. In theory, all schools have an equal chance of getting a high Progress 8 score.

A school’s Progress 8 score is usually between -1 and +1. A score of +1 means that pupils in that school achieve one grade higher in each qualification than other similar pupils nationally. A score of -1 means they achieve one grade lower.

The average Progress 8 score of all secondary schools nationally is 0. Schools with a Progress 8 score of below -0.5 are not achieving the minimum standard expected by the Government. A score of +0.5 of above shows that pupils in that school are making well above the expected level of progress.

Limitations of performance measures

Performance measures are an important measure of how students perform at a school, but there are many things, good and bad, that they don't measure. 

Some qualifications, and many non-qualification activities, are simply not included in the performance measures. 

In addition, some experts are concerned that it may be easier for certain types of school to get positive figures, even if teaching and results are of a similar standard. 

Avoid choosing a school for your child based on figures alone, as they never tell the whole story.

With thanks to Ellie Piper, data manager at Ferndown Upper School and technical support advisor at

Understanding primary school performance measures

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