Grave concerns as Portsmouth schools fall further behind amid poor GCSE results

EDUCATION leaders in Portsmouth have been summoned to Whitehall after concerns have been raised that schools in the city are falling behind in GCSE results.

By Neil Fatkin
Monday, 10th February 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 10:53 am

Data from the Department for Education has shown Portsmouth schools have fallen further behind their national counterparts in both results they achieve at GCSE and the amount of progress they make at school.

This year’s Progress 8 – which measures how much progress children make between joining secondary school and their GCSEs – scores have fallen by 0.07 points while there has also been a decline in the percentage of pupils achieving grade 5 and above in maths and English.

Local authorities are grouped together nationally with ‘statistical neighbours' - areas with similar socioeconomic characteristics.

The Local Authority are concerned about the level of progress being made by children in the city's schools. David Davies/PA Wire

The city’s average Attainment 8 score – the level of achievement – was 40.8 compared to 45.1 for local authorities deemed to have similar challenges. There was also a disparity in the number of pupils achieving a grade 5 or above in maths and English with 35 per cent of children in Portsmouth attaining this compared to 40 per cent of their statistical neighbours.

The council has been asked to attend a meeting with minister for education, Nick Gibb, during which the city’s Progress 8 score will be discussed. Deputy director for children’s services, Mike Stoneman, hopes to use the meeting as an opportunity to highlight the support needed from the Department for Education.

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At an Education Advisory Board meeting Mr Stoneman said: ‘I’m not trying to hide behind these figures – the results are not good enough.’

Mike Stoneman, Deputy Director for children's services.

For Councillor Terry Norton, it’s the disparity of results with schools facing similar challenges which is of greatest concern.

Cllr Norton said: ‘I’m concerned about the results. I understand there are challenges which may mean our schools are below the national averages but I certainly believe we should be performing in line with our statistical neighbours. The vision we are seeing in terms of Ofsted judgements is good but this is not reflected in results.’

Councillor Frank Jonas added: ‘The results are disappointing. It’s disturbing that after all these years we are still struggling to get our pupils to where they should be. With 92 per cent of schools judged as good or better, why are we not getting the results?’

The last five years has seen a concerted academisation process across the city but Mr Stoneman accepts it’s yet to bear fruition.

Portsmouth City Council Cabinet member for education, Cllr Suzy Horton, believes a collaborative approach is the key to driving up attainment across the city. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘This process was brought in to drive up standards but as yet it has not delivered. I’m confident that in time some of the academy trusts will improve results but with others I’m less so as I’m not seeing the evidence,’ said Mr Stoneman.

Despite implementing improvement strategies, the latest set of Progress 8 results have led to the council accepting it now needs to reassess measures which have been put in place and look to develop further strategies.

Mr Stoneman said: ‘We put a strategy in place three years ago which has not got the desired results. At our next meeting as part of the Portsmouth Education Partnership (PEP) we will be looking at what further strategies can be put in place to improve standards – it’s top of our list.’

Cabinet member for education, Suzy Horton, added: ‘There is no getting away from the fact that results are not where we want them to be. We need to work with PEP to try and solve this Portsmouth paradox as to why, according to Ofsted, our schools are good but this is not reflected in results.’

PEP co-chair and headteacher at Miltoncross Academy, Fiona Calderbank, feels schools may need to be more prescriptive in the curriculum on offer.

‘Statistically certain subjects are easier to attain and so schools are coming under increasing pressure to direct students into subjects in which they are more likely to be successful. Languages for example are one of the hardest to attain and this is one of the reasons why more schools are opting out of doing them,’ she said.

Cllr Horton feels the way forward is to use the PEP to share good practice across the city.

She said: ‘There are schools in the city which are performing well and I see it as our role to create mechanisms by which what these schools are doing well can be shared with others. The key to success is schools working collectively to raise attainment across the city.

‘There’s no denying we are low down in the local authority league tables and so it would be great if the government could provide the additional funding and resources to help make improvements.’

Progress scores for Hampshire schools were above the national average with a higher proportion of pupils also attaining grade 5 and above in maths and English.

Councillor Roz Chadd, executive member for education and skills, said: ‘These latest figures reaffirm that Hampshire schools are a great place to learn and our pupils finish their secondary years well placed for the next stage of their education.

‘GCSEs are a crucial foundation for young people going into further education, training and employment, so it is heartening to see continued high performance.

‘Hampshire’s consistently high standards in education are reflected in well over 90 per cent of our schools being judged good or outstanding by Ofsted.’


Progress 8 and Attainment 8

Schools were previously ranked on raw outcomes and the grades pupils achieved. However, due to the vastly different intakes of students in terms of both academic ability and socioeconomic backgrounds it was judged as an unfair comparison.

Progress 8 was brought in to avoid this situation by assessing school performance based on the progress students make between Year 7 and 11 rather than their final outcomes.

An Attainment 8 score is calculated by adding up the grade scores achieved by students in their eight main GCSEs. Maths and English grades are counted as double to signify the importance of these subjects. A school’s Attainment 8 score is the average score achieved by pupils.

A Progress 8 score is then calculated by comparing the Attainment 8 outcomes of GCSE students across the country who had the same academic starting point based on Year 6 Standard Attainment Test (SAT’s) results. .

The percentage of students attaining grade 5 and above in maths and English has been maintained as an indicator of performance to reflect the importance of these two core subjects. A grade 5 is the equivalent of a high grade C.


A Progress 8 score of 0 indicates students have made the same amount of progress, on average, as students with the same Year 7 starting point nationally.

On a sliding scale, the further the score from zero the more or less progress has been achieved by pupils at the school when compared to the same level of students nationally.

A positive reading would reflect better than average progress and a negative reading would indicate below average progress.