This quality and methodology document provides an overview of the Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment data used in the production of the ‘Key Stage 4 Performance’ statistical release, which complements the school performance data on the Find school and college performance data service.
It provides information on the methodology used to calculate pupil attainment, as well as information on the data sources, their coverage and quality, and how the data is validated and processed. This document is based on the Office for National Statistics’ guidelines for measuring statistical quality.
Changes in the 2021/22 release
Following the return of summer exams in 2022, there have been changes to both the way grades were awarded and the way key stage 4 accountability measures have been calculated:
- Several changes were made to exams and grading. These include advance notice of exam topics and GCSE grading broadly reflecting a midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic outcomes. More information on Ofqual’s approach to grading is available here
- Changes were also made to the way school and college performance measures were calculated. Results achieved between January 2020 and August 2021 by pupils included in this year’s measures are not included in the calculations.
- The return of first entry discounting rules after the use of best entry discounting in 2019/20 and 2020/21.
For a full explanation of all the factors affecting these results please see the KS4 2021/22 technical guide.
A list of qualifications that count in the 2022 performance data can be found here.
Changes in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 releases
Due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic the summer exam series for the 2020/21 academic year was cancelled. For 2020/21, pupils were only assessed on the content they had been taught for each course. Schools were given flexibility to decide how to assess their pupils’ performance, for example, through mock exams, class tests, and non-exam assessment already completed. GCSE grades were then determined by teachers based on the range of evidence available and they are referred to as teacher-assessed grades, or TAGs.
This is a different process to 2020 where pupils were awarded either a centre assessment grade (based on what the school believed the pupil would most likely have achieved had exams gone ahead) or their calculated grade using a model developed by Ofqual - whichever was the higher of the two. These grades are referred to as CAGs.
As a consequence of the disruption to the exams process the government announced a change to its school accountability arrangements published here where it states schools and colleges will not be held to account on the basis of centre and teacher assessment data from 2020 and 2021.
Further information about the awarding process in England in 2021 can be accessed from the information published by Ofqual in July 2021 here.
The data used in the 2020/21 release was adapted as follows:
The schools checking exercise was cancelled for the second year running. The data (after matching exam level to pupil level) has therefore not been checked or confirmed by schools. This means that the usual publication schedule of ‘provisional’ and ‘revised’ data does not apply. This release includes all characteristics and geographical breakdowns that are usually published in the October ‘provisional’ and the January ‘revised’ releases.
Following the change made for 2019/20 academic year GCSE results, all results from summer 2021 are governed by best entry discounting rules, rather than first entry rules. This is consistent with last year. It means that if a pupil was entered for an exam in the same subject (e.g. English) twice in summer 2021, then their best result will count in the published KS4 attainment data. In 2018/19 and prior years, the first entry grade would count as this adhered to school accountability policy.
Given that 2020 and 2021 attainment data is not being used to hold schools and colleges to account, the decision was made to show a pupil’s best result in 2020 and 2021, which will be more reflective of pupils’ achievement.
Where pupils have already entered for an exam within the same subject in 2019 or earlier, first entry rules will still be used. For example, if a pupil was awarded a GCSE grade for English in both 2020 and 2021 then the 2020 grade is used - regardless of whether it is higher or lower than the 2021 grade. For more on previous years’ discounting methodology, read the Discounting and Early Entry Guidance.
Due to the cancellation of exam assessment and the shift in methodology and checking as outlined above, 2020 and 2021 data should not be compared to previous years’ attainment data for the purposes of measuring changes in pupil performance.
In autumn 2020 and autumn 2021, there were exceptional exam series for GCSE and A-Level, to provide another opportunity for pupils who are unhappy with the grade given to them in the summer, and for pupils who were not able to have a grade awarded. The results of the GCSEs taken were published in February 2022 by JCQ.
Some external candidates were not awarded a grade in Summer 2020 because they were unable to provide sufficient evidence to their exam centre that would enable them to receive a centre assessed grade. Candidates in this position had to sit exams to get their grades, either in the autumn or in summer 2021. Therefore, this cohort are not included in the data published in the 2020 statistical release.
For the 2021 statistical release, it was assessed and determined that suppression should take place only where an aggregation covers only one school. Where a geographical area contains only one school the statistics for that area, and by extension the individual school, have been suppressed. In the 2020/21 release data was suppressed for the Isles of Scilly local authority and for one instance where the religious admissions breakdown identifies one school. This is in line with the announcement that school level data would not be published using the summer 2021 exam grades awarded. Where there are combinations of pupil characteristics (e.g. girls by ethnic group Chinese) that result in only one pupil being in the data for that geographical area, this information has not been suppressed.
Following a phased introduction since 2017, GCSEs taken in 2020 and 2021 are all reformed GCSEs graded on a 9-1 scale. Only reformed GCSEs are included in secondary school performance measures as they are introduced for each subject. Once new reformed GCSEs (9 to 1) are introduced in a subject, unreformed GCSEs (A*to G), International GCSEs or level 1/level 2 certificates in the same subject no longer count in school level performance measures. This includes early entries in GCSEs that have been subsequently reformed. A full list of the reformed subjects is included in this timetable set out by Ofqual.
In 2020 publishing school level performance data was cancelled. In 2021 school level data returned but did not include any pupil attainment measures, instead the data focussed on subjects entered, pupils entering the English Baccalaureate and destinations on leaving school.
In 2021 it was the second year running that headline performance measures were not available on the school performance data website (for 2020/21 attainment data). However, for consistency and transparency, the remaining headline measures were reported at local authority, region and national level in the national statistics release:
- percentage of pupils entering the English Baccalaureate (EBacc entry)
- percentage of pupils achieving a grade 5 or above in English and maths (Attainment in English and maths)
- attainment across eight qualifying qualifications (Attainment 8)
- English Baccalaureate Average Point Score (EBacc APS)
The department decided it was not appropriate to publish progress 8 measures in 2020 and 2021. These are normally calculated by comparing a pupil’s actual results to a set of expected results produced by a model based on national averages. The difference between the estimated results and the actual results are described as pupils making more or less progress than expected. However, in 2020 the vast majority of grades awarded were those submitted by schools and colleges. The difference between a result submitted by the centre to a result estimated by a model would have very little meaning. It would not be appropriate to consider such a difference as a measure of the progress made by a pupil.
There was a change to the way pupils are allocated to Key Stage 2 prior attainment groups from 2021 onwards. In 2016, changes were introduced to KS2 national curriculum tests, with pupil outcomes expressed as KS2 scaled scores instead of national curriculum levels. A pupil’s prior attainment is now calculated as the average of their scaled scores in English reading and maths. Most pupils who took national curriculum tests in the summer of 2017 have now reached the end of KS4 in 2021/22. Thus the way low, middle and high prior attainment is defined therefore changed compared to the last year of an exam series in 2018/19. This has had an impact on the comparability over time.
Further detail is in the ‘Pupil characteristics definitions and historical changes’ section and also in the national statistics release.
Changes prior to the 2019/20 release
The measures covered in the ‘Key Stage 4 Performance’ statistical release include only qualifications that count towards the school level data in the Find school and college performance data service. Following reforms to the school level performance data in 2014, only a pupil’s first attempt at a qualification has counted. The only exception to this was in 2020 and 2021 when a pupil’s best entry in grades awarded were counted.
A timeline of changes in KS4 attainment measures can be found in Annex A of the 2019 methodology document at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/key-stage-4-performance-2019-revised.