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


This third part of the wider chapter on QA takes as its focus quality-related processes which have not been addressed thus far. As the chapter will show, there are both commonalities and differences in how quality assurance is approached in different educational fields, and that there are continual innovations being made.

The first section outlines some of the continuities which exist in QA in education, summarising aspects such as classroom observation and learner voice, which are present across different teaching contexts, and which are relevant to the assurance of educational quality. The nature and extent of variance between sectors is the topic of the following section, which comments on the compulsory and FE sectors, on private schools, and looks also at university education as a point of comparison.

The third and final principal element of this examination of quality assurance is the implementation of new league table measurements at key stage 4 in Progress 8 and Attainment 8. The operation of these measures is discussed, as are the opportunities and potential constraints signalled by this move away from performance and quality criteria based on GCSE performance alone. A series of reflective prompts complements each section to support your contextualisation of the material you are engaging with, and which have been written to provoke subjective responses to questions related to quality assurance in education.

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.

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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. This section outlines some trends in educational quality assurance, and seeks to indicate the diversity of arrangements which may be in place.

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. Observation of teaching may occur in many ways, and not all are assessed or given feedback upon:

  • 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. Some may be evaluative in tone, and involve a hierarchical relationship (a line manager observing a teacher, for example), or else may be more developmental in context, such as when a trainee is being observed for teacher-training purposes by an assessor. Peer review processes tend to involve colleagues observing one another, with collegiality and reflection on process being privileged (O'Leary, 2014).

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. Such ongoing practice can not only support assured outcomes being arrived at, but can also be diagnostic and will tend to guarantee consistency and comparability, as well as indicate areas for potential concern (National Foundation for Educational Research, 2012).

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).


This section offers a selection of QA processes. What others can you identify?

What is your experience of classroom observation? To what extent do you feel that it is a quality enhancement tool, useful for development, or a means of surveillance of teachers? Can it be all three at the same time? What other issues are raised by classroom inspections?

What learner voice examples have you encountered as both a student and as an educator? Do learners have too much say? Not enough? Why do you think this?

How would you define the concept of quality? How does that definition inform your approach to teaching?

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; there will be elements which are bespoke to certain settings, and there are aspects peculiar to certain levels of education, but the broad thrust of QA operations indicates a consistent approach across education up to 18 years.

In many ways, 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; many of these will be informed by parallel processes in the state sector, not least because the overwhelming majority of research and analysis of QA processes in education are written taking state schools into consideration.

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. The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) is the body which inspects the 1200 private schools that are members of the Independent Schools Council, itself the lead body for representing the interests of the independent education sector. ISI inspections are themselves regulated by Ofsted (Independent Schools Council, 2016).

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. That said, with the move towards the commercialisation and marketisation of higher education, and to students being reconceptualised - not least by themselves - as paying customers, that nature of the lecturer/student relationship is being reappraised, and HE institutions pay more attention to teaching quality and to learner experience than perhaps was previously the case.

Student feedback is more important to HE institutions than ever before; a key measure is the annual National Student Survey, which conducts a comprehensive survey of final year undergraduates across university settings, and also FE colleges who offer undergraduate courses (National Student Survey, 2016). The survey reaches 70% of students, and informs the compilation of course data featured on the government's Unistats website, where courses and providers may be compared for quality purposes, with a focus on customer service information for prospective learners (Unistats, 2016).

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. The REF, which replaced its predecessor, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in 2008, operates on a six-year cycle; the next REF is due in 2020.

The REF assesses the quality of academic research output in respect of its rigour, its originality, and its significance. Research is rated on a star system, with the figures in parentheses indicating the amount of submissions being given the respective grading (Research Excellence Framework, 2014):

  • 4 star: world-leading quality (30%)
  • 3 star: internationally-excellent quality (46%)
  • 2 star: internationally-recognised quality (20%)
  • 1 star: nationally-recognised quality (3%)
  • No stars: Does not meet quality thresholds, or does not meet the definitions used of published research

REF data informs league table standing, and is used by institutions to publicise and inform the wider public of the relevance of their research outputs, and to the quality both of the institution as a whole, and of departments within that setting.

Externality in HE is provided through the operation of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) which reviews HE institutions, inspects provision, and which moderates the levels of lecturing and general subject content through the publication of subject benchmarks which outline the design parameters for undergraduate and postgraduate courses in those subject areas (Quality Assurance Agency, 2016).

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.


Should universities be so different from the rest of the UK education sphere? Is there something qualitatively different about degree and postgraduate education that necessitates a set of different approaches to quality assurance?

What about private/independent schools? Should they be assessed to the same criteria as maintained and academy schools? Or are there sound reasons for a slightly different approach being taken?

If Ofsted oversees both nursery schools and FE colleges, and all points in-between, then is it too diffuse an organisation to bring specialism to its inspections? Or does a single organisation bring with it unity of purpose and of definition to quality?

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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.

Though Progress 8 scores are calculated for each child, this is to inform the school's score only; Progress 8 is not a measure of learner performance, but of school performance, and so there is no requirement for learners to be informed of their Progress 8 scores (Department for Education, 2016b).

A companion measure - Attainment 8 - measures pupil achievement over 8 qualifications. Mathematics and English are double-weighted in these calculations, to indicate the centrality of these qualifications, with 3 more qualifications taken from the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure, and 3 further qualifications which may be GCSEs or other approved qualifications. The intent is to ensure that breadth of education is valued and measured through Attainment 8. The Attainment 8 score is derived from analysis of 4 aspects (referred to as 'buckets') for each pupil:

  • English (double-weighted): the best performance from either English Language or English Literature
  • Maths (double-weighted)
  • EBacc3: the 3 highest scores from any of the EBacc qualifications
  • Other3/Open3: the 3 highest point scores in any other 3 subjects not already considered

Between Progress 8 and Attainment 8, then, there is scope to assess school performance not only in terms of pupil attainment, but in their distance travelled from their performance starting points, offering a more holistic analysis of a school's ability to support learners over time as well as through specific qualifications (Blow, 2016).

EBacc qualifications include level 1, 2, and 3 qualifications (therefore, up to A level equivalent) in English, English Literature, Mathematics, Sciences (chemistry, physics, biology, computer science), Humanities (history, geography) and Languages (ancient and modern languages are included here) (Department for Education, 2016a).

The Progress 8 score is derived for each learner by a comparison of national average performance in attainment terms against a pupil's individual Attainment 8 score. 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. Progress 8 can thus be used to make a determination of the school's ability to develop their learners in comparison with that of other schools.

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. The ways in which schools with greater proportions of disadvantaged learners may benefit from the use of Progress 8 include its recognition of pupils' incoming ability levels; distance travelled can therefore be rewarded (Baldwin, 2016).

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. Furthermore, the performance tables are crucial in determining school outcomes; these must be centrally calculated as Progress 8 measures take other schools into account, whereas the predecessor measurement was internal to the setting and could be calculated quickly in respect of percentage of pupils gaining 5 A*-C grades at GCSE.

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). One fear is that students will be channelled into taking the Progress 8 subjects, and that other options will become further marginalised as a consequence, and that learner choice will be effectively restricted (Collie, 2014).

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).

As these are new and significant measures, the running of the initial three-year operation of Progress 8 and Attainment 8 will generate much in the way of comment and analysis. Should the measures be retained post-2018, then there may be further revision to the calculations involved, and to the wider operation of these measurement systems.


Does Progress 8 and Attainment 8 make clear sense to you? Do you think that it communicates well to the public, or is it a measure designed primarily for the use of educational professionals?

What is more important: qualifications gained, or distance travelled? Why?

Is competition through league table standing an inevitability of a deregulated and marketised educational landscape? Does such competition improve learner experience in meaningful ways?

How else might you measure the quality of a school's ability to educate its learners? What other options present themselves to you?


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.


Now we have completed this chapter, you should 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.

Reference list

Baldwin, D. (2016) Questions about Progress 8. Available at: https://www.gl-assessment.co.uk/news-items/five-questions-about-progress-8-by-duncan-baldwin/ (Accessed: 10 December 2016).

Blow, D. (2016) The progress 8 measure, explained. Available at: http://schoolsweek.co.uk/the-progress-8-measure-explained/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Burgess, S. and Thomson, D. (2013) Key Stage 4 Accountability: Progress Measure and Intervention Trigger. Available at: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/media-library/sites/cubec/migrated/documents/report11.pdf (Accessed: 10 December 2016).

Collie, P. (2014) New GCSEs and school accountability. Available at: http://www.schoolzone.co.uk/schools/NCres/GCSE/GCSE_grades_consultation-print_report140414.pdf (Accessed: 10 December 2016).

Department for Education (2016a) English baccalaureate: Eligible qualifications. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/english-baccalaureate-eligible-qualifications (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Department for Education (2016b) Progress 8 and attainment 8 measure in 2016, 2017, and 2018 guide for maintained secondary schools, academies and free schools. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/561003/Progress-8-school-performance-measure-18-Oct.pdf.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Doherty, G. (2012) 'Quality assurance in education', in Savsar, M. (ed.) Quality Assurance and Management. Rijeka, Croatia: InTech, pp. 76-102.

Independent Schools Council (2016) School inspection: ISC. Available at: http://www.isc.co.uk/about-isc/school-inspection/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

National Foundation for Educational Research (2012) Moderation of assessment judgements. Available at: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/pdf/getting-to-grips-with-assessment-6.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

National Student Survey (2016) The national student survey. Available at: http://www.thestudentsurvey.com/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

O'Leary, M. (2014) Classroom observation: a guide to the effective observation of teaching and learning. London: Routledge.

Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2016) Quality in action. Available at: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/en/Publications/Documents/Quality-in-Action-16.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Research Excellence Framework (2014) Results & submissions: REF 2014. Available at: http://results.ref.ac.uk/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Unistats (2016) About Unistats. Available at: http://unistats.direct.gov.uk/find-out-more/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Walker, L. (2008) Learner engagement: a review of learner voice initiatives across the UK's education sectors. Available at: https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/FUTL80/FUTL80.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

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