Attainment 8: How is it calculated and is it a useful measure?

Written by: Tom B


A school’s Attainment 8 score is a measure of a student’s average grade taken from their eight highest results at GCSE, with different subjects being prioritised in a series of groups (or ‘buckets’). It was introduced by then Education Minister Michael Gove in 2016/2017 in order to provide a broader picture of exam performance. Previously, statistical analyses had tended to focus on how pupils did in just one or two key subjects such as English and Maths, and the number of students scoring Grade 5 (or C in the old system) or above in these areas. However the Attainment 8 systems aims for all subjects to carry equal weight as indicators of a pupil’s learning.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no government data was published for Attainment 8 in 2020. However, the average Attainment 8 score for state-funded schools in England in 2019 was 46.7, which is stable from the average of the previous year (46.5).

As regards Independent Schools, Attainment 8 is a less reliable performance indicator since many subjects may be taken as iGCSEs, which are not included in the government data. Therefore (and to the frustration of many education experts), a pupil achieving a Grade 9 in maths taken as an iGCSE, would receive an official score of 0 for the purposes of the analysis. This is an important point to consider, and accounts for why many independent schools appear to be below the national average when evaluated purely in terms of Attainment 8.

How is it calculated?

Score 1: Grades for Maths are ‘double-weighted’ so a grade of 7 will be worth 14 in the calculation.

Score 2: The pupil’s grade for English. This is ‘double-weighted’ if both language and literature are taken, with the higher of the two grades being doubled to yield the score in Bucket 1. The lower of the two scores may then be used in Bucket 2.

Scores 3-5: These three scores are taken from the pupil’s highest grades in either the sciences, computer science, geography, history or languages.

Scores 6-8: The final three scores are the highest grades in any remaining English Baccalaureate subject or government-approved equivalent.

These eight scores are then added together and divided by ten to give the student’s Attainment 8. A school’s Attainment 8 score is the average of all of its students’ scores for that year group. For illustration, Julia would receive an average Attainment 8 score of 7.6 (76 divided by 10) based on the following exam results:

Since both English language and literature are taken, the higher of the two grades (i.e. English Literature) has been doubled to give the score of 18. Note that the lower grade for English Language could have been used in Bucket 2, however since it is not one of the top three grades in this bucket it has been omitted in Julia’s case.

Is Attainment 8 a useful measure?

With all subjects carrying the same weight as performance indicators, they should all receive equal attention in the curriculum. This means that pupils interested in subjects such as the arts and humanities will, in theory, be given greater support and encouragement to thrive in these areas, with teachers no longer being incentivised to focus more on English and maths.

Similarly, the previous spotlight on achieving Grade 5/C or above may have caused teachers to concentrate on students on the borderline of Grades 5 and 6. However, using Attainment 8 means that all students will be pushed to realise their full potential regardless of their expected grades, since any improvement will now have a visible effect. Some critics have pointed out though that, since more creative subjects are only counted in the second and third ‘buckets’, their importance in the new system is still implicitly undermined. provides the latest Attainment 8 score available for each school so that these can be compared. However, it’s important to note that Attainment 8 may not be fair reflection of the actual grades obtained at independent schools, since many subjects may be awarded as iGCSEs, which are transparent in this analysis. Where available, we would encourage parents to looks at the number of A-A* grades as a measure of a school’s exam performance.