5.5.3 Quality assurance processes: Other QA processes (e.g. Progress 8)

Learning outcomes

By the time you have completed this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Appreciate the breadth of QA processes operating in schools and in other educational settings
  • Appreciate both the commonalities and the distinctiveness of approaches to quality assurance in different educational contexts
  • Identify the main points of Progress 8 and Attainment 8
  • Debate the issues and the advantages associated with Progress 8 and Attainment 8, and the potential ramifications of such measures for learners at key stage 4.

What other QA processes exist across the educational spectrum?

Dependent on the size and complexity of the organisation, there may be whole departments whose remit is quality assurance in education, though - to some extent at least - QA is everyone's responsibility, and the whole ethos of the setting should be geared towards the provision of a high-quality experience which is checkable for consistency and conformity to agreed standards.

Classroom observation

Internal observation regimes will vary from setting to setting, though are usually modelled on the prevailing external observation mode associated with Ofsted and its comparators.

  • Formal observation: often done as part of periodic/annual quality cycles, this may be formalised through written feedback and an emulation of Ofsted-like conditions, and may be graded
  • Informal observation: ungraded observations may be used as part of a spot-check approach to teacher quality, or else as a supportive measure to offer a second opinion on an aspect of teaching practice or classroom management
  • Walk-by/drop-in observation: unannounced observation, sometimes little more than a passing call, done to spot-check classroom activity

Observations may exist on a spectrum which encompasses professional development on one hand and the performance management of individuals on the other.

Learner voice

Increasing importance is attached to the concept of learner voice. In part stemming from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the right for children to be heard in matters which concern them, and with fresh impetus from initiatives such as Every Child Matters and the 2010 Equality Act, the opinions and input of children and young people are considered more than previously.

Though the operation of such learner voice engagements will differ from level to level, the use of representative committees, school councils and the like are of value in gathering learner opinion, and in representing the views of children regarding their education. Such measures can also reinforce citizenship education, and help support the provision of an individualised and meaningful educational experience (Walker, 2008).


The verification of marking, particularly when such grades are summative, is important to assure that such grades are consistent, accurate, and fair. Moderation processes are one way to make such assurances. Moderation might involve the sampling and cross-marking of finished work, and may also involve an ongoing dialogue between educators as to agreed ways forward in planning, delivery, assessment, and in evaluative terms.

Total quality management (TQM)

Education has borrowed from industry in the last two decades to move away from processes by which summative quality methods (examination grades, annual graded lesson observations) were the major quality tools being applied, to approaches which privilege a cycle of QA measures throughout the academic year.

Though the operation of such measures may vary between institutions, the adoption of TQM approaches, which advocate meaningful leadership and a cultural approach to quality as opposed to a hierarchical and assessment-through-results oriented system has been significant. The cultural aspects of quality are better understood, and though education is somewhat different from manufacturing or business, the relevance of making quality a holistic endeavour is better appreciated than in previous generations. That said, the use of results and inspections persists, and the perhaps inevitable focus on learner outcomes as an index of quality can problematise this, particularly if the contexts of education are not fully articulated in the quality assessment (Doherty, 2012).   

How far do QA processes vary across institutions/levels of education?

This section outlines the commonalities and the differences between different aspects of the compulsory education sector, private schools, and between schools and university settings.

Compulsory education, preschool, and further education (FE)

In many ways, there is commonality across the compulsory education sector from pre-school through to further education offerings. This is because of the externality offered across compulsory-age education through Ofsted and its national comparator organisations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and through the reference to Ofsted and comparators with respect to the modelling of internal QA processes such as teaching observations. 

Private/independent schools

Private schools will have their own internal quality processes throughout the school system. Direct comparison of such quality indicia as GCSE grades make little sense with state sector schools because of the differential in resourcing and of pupil/teacher ratios available in many independent settings, though such data is of use to schools in publicising their own capabilities to existing and prospective pupils, and for comparison purposes to other schools in the independent sector. Though some private schools are inspected by Ofsted, most use other forms of externality to assess the quality of their provision.

Higher Education

In university settings, peer review processes inform the teaching inspection model rather than objective graded criteria-based assessments; the intent is to foster collegiality and the sharing of good practice than by the imposition of Ofsted-like quality assurance protocols. In respect of quality assurance measures, the most widely appreciated measure is the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which assesses the quality of research being conducted in UK institutions. At course level, each HE qualification will have an external examiner from another institution who moderates and offers an outside opinion on the running and assessment of courses, will sample grading and feedback and will report to the institution at end-of-year academic board meetings on learning and on wider provision-related matters. Though HE institutions write their own degrees internally, similar external opinion will be crucial to the design and the validation (and periodic revalidation) of all courses offered within an HE setting.

Case study: Progress 8 and its strengths and limitations

Progress 8 is a secondary school accountability system operating from 2016 through to at least 2018. The aim of Progress 8 is to chart the progress a learner makes from leaving primary school through to the end of their secondary education. Progress 8 applies equally to academy schools, free schools, and those secondary schools still under local authority control. Progress 8 is a value-added measure, which compares learner achievements against others with the same previous attainment.

Progress 8 is the headline indicator of secondary school performance from 2016 onwards. School performance tables now privilege:

  • Progress over 8 qualifications
  • Attainment across the same 8 qualifications
  • Percentage of pupils attaining at least grade C in English and mathematics at GCSE, or grade 5 in the new numeric grading from 2017
  • Percentage of pupils entering, and achieving, the English Baccalaureate qualification
  • Destination data of learners after key stage 4

Progress 8 is intended to encourage the provision of a balanced and broad curriculum, and to reward schools for the offering of a diverse curriculum, as it measures learner performance across 8 qualification areas; pupil grade increases convert into league table points for performance comparison between schools. As a learner's prior attainment - or starting point - is a factor, the measure indicates the level of progress that a pupil has made in their journey through secondary education against national averages. Thus, the higher the Progress 8 score, the more the child had developed in attainment terms since primary school in comparison with their peers.

Strengths and limitations of Progress 8

Progress 8 can be seen as a fair measurement, though any measure which advantages schools with higher levels of attainment will tend to the prioritised; the contexts of underperforming schools may not be appreciated inside the Progress 8 headline data; a more contextual approach is perhaps needed. 

Strengths of Progress 8 include its consideration of progress related to all grades, and not only at the border between C/D at GCSE. Though there is a double-weighting towards English and Mathematics, Progress 8 takes into consideration other subjects as well. However, Progress 8 has been criticised on the grounds that it is hard to calculate and difficult to explain; the statistical knowledge required to make full sense of the data does not readily communicate meaning, for example. The model is thought to be susceptible to the moderating effect of extremes in performance; a single pupil expected to do very well in their GCSEs who markedly underperforms can have a statistically significant impact on the resultant figures.

The potential for schools to be creative in the strategies they operate as settings become more familiar with Progress 8 goes noticed elsewhere; the potential for various forms of gamification to take place is there. Such tactics might include optimal deployment of teaching resources, massaging of class sizes, and the possibility of teaching to assessment. The new system may also mean that schools which have large proportions of underperforming pupils through contextual reasons (being in a disadvantaged area, for example) will trigger more frequent interventions through learners' performance against the Progress 8 criteria (Burgess and Thomson, 2013). 

There is also the potential for vocational subjects to suffer as learners are pushed towards the academic subject areas privileged in the Progress 8 accounting system; another restricting of learner and parental choice is a possibility here. Furthermore, Progress 8 and Attainment 8 do not offer clarity on what should happen at key stage 3; the jump from the end of key stage 2 at entry to secondary school as a start point for the measures, to key stage 4/GCSE performance measures leaves a three-year hole at key stage 3, and it is so far unclear what effect these news systems will have on school curricular offerings at key stage 3. A fear is that choice of subject and breadth of educational experience will be further impacted on, as learners are shaped towards taking subjects at key stage 4 which will optimise their reckoning in the eventual Progress 8 and Attainment 8 measures (Collie, 2014).

The initial commitment to Progress 8 is until 2018 only, so it is unclear if the measure will be retained in its current form beyond then. However, as the measure tends to privilege fair treatment for all learners - rather than focusing on relatively high performers, as was the case under 5 A*-C measures - then the move away from such threshold measures represents an advance. This, though, needs to be considered in the light of the ways in which the measure is susceptible to being manipulated through strategic GCSE options being privileged (Baldwin, 2016).


Quality assurance remains an important subject area in education. Quality crosses across many other concerns: standards, reliability, public trust in organisations, perceptions of value for public money spent as examples. This part of the chapter, and its predecessors, has worked to indicate the centrality to quality-informed processes in education. Many of them come with debates attached: on the right way to assess learning; on the appropriateness of teacher assessment methodologies; on the essentialising of people and of entire schools to a single measure.

However, quality assurance is important. When conducted well, QA measures support and engender good and meaningful educational experiences, and can make both teaching and learning easier and more straightforward, as well as more accountable. Part of the challenge for educators at all levels is to devise and share QA processes that offer meaningful rigour and accountability, but which are neither coercive, onerous, nor unfair to colleagues or to learners. 


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