ECDL — from Boom to Bust?

We are now a few years into the Progress 8 era of school accountability and many have already commented on the influence these new measures are having on qualification entry patterns. Some of these consequences were no doubt intended — for example the rise in EBacc entries among schools keen to fill their empty buckets. However, one presumably unintended consequence was the spike in ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence) entries seen up until 2017. While others have previously commented on this trend, it is difficult to understate just how big an influence this one qualification had on apparent school performance last year. And now that ECDL has been dropped from the eligible qualification list, we can expect to see significant volatility in schools’ 2018 Progress 8 scores…

Last year, nearly 1 in 3 students in England were entered for the ECDL, up from 1 in 5 in 2016. Nearly half of these students received a Distinction*, the equivalent to an A* at GCSE, while most GCSEs only awarded an A* to around 5–10% of students. The average ECDL point score was higher than an A grade and nearly 3 points higher than a nationally average Attainment 8 grade.

This means that ECDL alone inflated national Attainment 8 values by just under 1 point in 2017. To put that in context, this 1 point increase in Expected Attainment 8 scores will have caused a -0.1 reduction in a non-ECDL school’s Progress 8 score, costing it up to 10 national percentile rankings. The impact on any given school will have depended on their position within the national rankings, as well as their dependence on ECDL, but — as an illustrative example — a non-ECDL school with a Progress 8 score of 0.0 in 2018 would have scored 0.1 if ECDL had not counted at other schools. This would have moved it from the 50th to the 60th national percentile, passing around 300 schools along the way. Meanwhile, ECDL schools would have moved up to twice as far in the opposite direction, determined by their ECDL-dependency level.

But rather than exploring historical “what ifs”, let’s consider what this means for the 2018 results. All else being equal, it means a 1 point reduction in the national average Attainment 8 value, although this may be offset by other trends like the continued filling of previously empty EBacc buckets, as well as the further shift from A*-G to 9–1 grading.

Perhaps more ominously for some, it means that many schools and MATs with high historic ECDL entry rates could struggle to match their 2017 Progress 8 scores without significantly improving their grades in other qualifications. Ark appears to be less exposed to this effect than other large MATs, but all ex-ECDL schools will need to be careful when interpreting like-for-like performance changes between 2017 and 2018.

So, for anyone hoping that they could finally look at a few years’ worth of Progress 8 data to get a “simple” understanding of a school’s improvement trajectory, better luck next year (or perhaps a few years after that!)