Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

Tougher targets mean hundreds more primary schools risk failure

The Guardian  |by Jessica Shepherd

primary school tests
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The government is about to announce another raising of the floor standards for Year 6 SATs results in England’s Primary Schools. This will result in yet more schools being potentially unfairly labelled as failing and becoming ripe for takeover by an academy sponsor.  No-one could reasonably disagree with a desire to see schools improve and children’s prospects do likewise but policies like this one simply push already improving schools below a seemingly arbitrarily decided standard whilst doing nothing to change the education system for the better. Once again it appears to be motivated by a misplaced reliance on the Academy system and will be used to force more schools down this route against their will. 

Hundreds more primary schools in England risk being labelled failures after the coalition set stricter targets.

David Laws, the schools minister, will tell an education conference on Tuesday that primaries will be deemed to be under-performing from 2014 if under 65% of their pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and their school fails to achieve above-average progress in these subjects.

Until now, primaries have been said to be “below the floor target” – or under-performing – if under 60% of pupils reach a satisfactory standard in reading, writing and maths and pupils do not make above-average progress in these subjects. Under-performing schools risk being taken over by an academy sponsor.

Government officials said schools improved when targets were made tougher. Last year, 476 primaries were under-performing against 1,310 in 2011. Fewer than 900 primaries could be deemed to be under-performing under the new stricter target.

However, Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the government was “always shifting the goal posts” and that this would “do little” for standards.

“England’s primary schools have been improving steadily for many years, nearly doubling the rate of children leaving with the expected standards,” he said. “There is no lack of ambition. The expected reward for that performance is always a shifting of the goal posts, so it will be no surprise to heads that the floor standard is shifting again next year. Raising the bar while reducing resources will, however, do little for standards.

Laws will also tell the Association of School and College Leaders that experts will help schools work out how best to spend pupil premium money if a school is judged to be anything less than “good” by Ofsted inspectors andis not narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers. Schools receive the £600 premium for each pupil from homes where the joint income is less than £16,000 a year.

Primary pupils are expected to reach level four in reading, writing and maths by the time they leave secondary school.

From December, the government will publish the proportion of primary pupils who achieve a “good” level four. This is so that parents know whether pupils are just making level four or exceeding it by some margin.

Laws will say many children who only just achieve level four are not “secondary ready”. “We must ensure that a far higher proportion of pupils are ‘secondary ready’ by the end of their primary school,” he will say. “This will allow them not simply to cope, but thrive, when presented with the challenges and opportunities of secondary school … The figures do not lie – a pupil who manages a low level four by the end of primary school is unlikely to go on to achieve five good GCSEs.”

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

Foreign languages to be taught at school from age seven

guardian.co.uk |by Jeevan Vasagar on June 10, 2012

  • Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
  • guardian.co.uk, Sunday 10 June 2012 12.25 EDT
primary school pupils

Learning a foreign language could soon become compulsory for primary school pupils from the age of seven under government reforms Photograph: Don Mcphee for the Guardian

All children are to be taught a foreign language – which could include Mandarin, Latin or Greek – from the age of seven under reforms to the national curriculum being unveiled by the education secretary, Michael Gove.

In other reforms, children will be encouraged to learn science by studying nature, and schools will be expected to place less emphasis on teaching scientific method.

The introduction of compulsory language teaching in primary schoolsis intended to reverse the dramatic decline in takeup at GCSE. Pupils will need to be able to speak in sentences, with the appropriate pronunciation, and express simple ideas clearly in another language.

They will be expected to develop an understanding of the basic grammar of the language, and be acquainted with songs and poetry. Ministers say that teaching should focus on making “substantial progress” in one language.

The science curriculum is expected to emphasise using the natural habitat around schools – learning biology by studying the growth and development of trees, for example.

There will be less of a focus on doing experiments. Instead, children will be taught to observe their surroundings and learn how scientists have classified the natural world. One source with knowledge of the curriculum review said: “The idea of science being based around a careful observation of the world is a very important place to begin. The science curriculum in Japan has at its core the love of nature. In the past we put too much emphasis on how scientists found stuff out, not enough on what they have found out.”

The curriculum reforms will result in more demanding lessons, and represent a return to the basics of each subject. In maths, the teaching of statistics at primary school will be slimmed down to make way for more mental arithmetic.

Children will be expected to do multiplication and division with large numbers without the use of pen and paper. Pupils in the final year of primary school will be introduced to algebra.

The new programmes of study, which are being published for consultation this week, are to be introduced in schools in September 2014. They follow a report on the future framework of the national curriculum in England drawn up by an expert panel chaired by Tim Oates, director of research at Cambridge Assessment, an exam board. One of the most far-reaching proposals is a plan to scrap the levels that children are awarded in Sats tests at the end of primary school. The percentage of pupils reaching level 4 is used to determine whether a primary school is failing. It is not clear what will replace Sats levels. Scrapping them may pave the way for schools to provide more specific details of pupils’ progress in subjects.

In English, the curriculum will emphasise the importance of grammar. For the first time, the government will set a list of words that all children must learn how to spell. These will include bruise, destroy, ridiculous and tyrant.

Pupils will be expected to learn poems by heart and recite them in public. They will also be taught how to debate.

The new English curriculum will say that by the end of year 4, children should be listening to and discussing a wide range of fiction and nonfiction. There is also greater stress on learning to read through phonics.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “There is no doubt these programmes are more demanding. It is appropriate to express high expectations in a statement of curriculum aims, but schools will need time and support to develop their teaching to reach those aims.”

The shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, said the government was “absolutely right” to make the learning of foreignlanguages compulsory from the age of seven.

On BBC1’s Sunday Politics programme, he urged ministers to go further. “Children will get a love of learning languages if they get the chance to learn them younger. The government’s talking about seven. I would encourage schools to start teaching languages younger than seven,” he said.

Twigg said he was opposed to the legislation that created free schools, but a future Labour government would not close down“excellent schools”. He said: “I have a different concern about free schools … At the moment there is a serious shortage of primary school places in many parts of the country and yet the government’s spending priority on schools’ capital is free schools.”

The number of primary schools teaching languages has been increasing in response to a target set by the previous government., though school inspectors say headteachers’ monitoring of language provision can be weak. This is often because primary heads feel they lack competence to judge language provision, Ofsted says. Languages have collapsed at GCSE since they were made optional at the age of 14. In 2010, just 43% of GCSE candidates were entered for a language, down from 75% in 2002.

Sats test scoring angers school head teachers

Sats test scoring angers school head teachers

BBC |May 23, 2012

By Angela Harrison Education correspondent, BBC News
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Head teachers in England have criticised arrangements for scoring this year’s Sats tests taken by 11-year-olds.

The National Association of Head Teachers says this year’s primary school league tables will be based on “a flawed statistical model”.

The government says this year’s results will be robust but are only an interim arrangement ahead of wider changes.

It is changing the Sats system after a review by Lord Bew.

Last week, 10- and 11-year-olds in England took Sats papers in English and maths, the results of which are used to compile the primary school league tables.

For the first time, the writing element of the English paper is being assessed by teachers throughout the year – and not just on the basis of a standard test.

This was a change recommended by Lord Bew and supported by teachers and heads.

The government has just announced the details of how the English Sats will be scored for this year and published guidanceon this.

In the past, parents have been given an overall grade – or level – for their children’s English Sats. The national target is for children to reach Level Four.

But this year, because of the changes coming in, parents will be given separate ratings for their child’s written work and their ability in reading, but not an overall grade combing the two scores.

They will be given these ratings by schools in July.

‘Disappointing’

What head teachers are unhappy about is that for this year’s league tables, due later in the year, the government will add together the two scores to give an overall grade for a child.

In essence, they say it is not statistically sound to do this because one score will be based on something that has been measured precisely (the reading test) and something that has been assessed“qualitatively” – the written work done throughout the year.

Kathryn James, director of policy for the NAHT, said: “To say that the NAHT is concerned and disappointed with the education department’s guidance on how the overall English score will be calculated this year is something of an understatement.

“We believe this guidance is built on a flawed statistical model which we have flagged up to the government. It is also disappointing that it has taken the department almost a year to produce its guidance, despite reminders from the NAHT.”

Many of the association’s heads joined teachers in a boycott of the Sats tests two years ago, complaining that they were an unreliable indicator of children’s performance and that the league tables damaged learning by encouraging teachers to follow a narrow curriculum by “teaching to the test”.

On coming to power, the coalition government commissioned a review of the tests by Lord Bew, and last year agreed to bring in his recommendations.

These included greater use of teacher assessment and the introduction of a new distinct test of spelling and grammar which is being piloted this year.

The changes should be in place for next year.

‘Useful information’

The government says the method being used to compile this year’s league tables is the best that can be achieved and is an interim measure.

It says the methodology will go through “a further quality assurance process” once the test results have been published in July and before the publication of national results and school performance tables.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said schools were being given guidance and factsheets to help them explain the changes to parents.

He said: “We asked Lord Bew to review the Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability system and make recommendations on how it could be improved, particularly in light of the concerns of head teachers and teachers. We remain absolutely committed to taking those recommendations forward.

“An overall English result has been part of the school level accountability system for many years and Lord Bew underlined its importance.

“For this year’s interim assessment arrangements, we are using the most appropriate methodology available to calculate an overall English result. Parents will receive separate reading and writing results for their child so they have the most useful information.”

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

Heads oppose new punctuation and spelling test

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter
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Head teachers say they will disrupt a new spelling, grammar and punctuation test to be introduced in England’s primary schools next summer.

The SPAG test will be sat by pupils at the end of primary school as part of their national curriculum tests (SATs).

But the National Association of Head Teachers said the new tests were “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Ministers said too little attention had been paid to spelling, punctuation and grammar in recent years.

But the association has voted to explore ways of ensuring “this flawed test does not take place”.

Introducing a motion to disrupt the “technical English” tests, Milton Keynes head teacher Tony Draper said teachers should be left to assess pupils in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Mr Draper said the new test from 2013 would cost millions of pounds to administer – money that would be better spent on teacher training and learning.

“It will lead to further narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests and increased misery for our year six students and their families already sick of a diet of practice SATs and drills.

“Trust us to assess all our children’s writing this year and every year or we will not cooperate with any future tests.”

The conference voted almost unanimously (98.8%) to find ways of stopping the test going ahead.

The vote came as NAHT general secretary, Russell Hobby, said the association could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it was used as “a stick to beat schools”.

New regime

Mr Hobby said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

Two years ago the NAHT boycotted Year 6 SATs and following this the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, set up a review of the tests headed by Lord Bew.

As a result, this year’s tests – which will be sat by 11-year-olds in England next week – will be the first under a new regime.

The writing test – the one most criticised by heads and teachers as an inaccurate assessment of what their pupils can achieve – will, for the first time, be assessed by teachers on the pupils’work during the year rather than an end-of-year test externally marked.

But the NAHT is angry that the government has got rid of one externally-marked test and effectively replaced with another in the SPAG test.

A DfE spokeswoman said: “Too little attention has been given to spelling, punctuation and grammar over the last decade.

“That’s why we have accepted Lord Bew’s recommendation to assess spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary as part of the writing test at Key Stage 2.”

Head teachers attack chief inspector’s ‘culture of fear’

Head teachers attack chief inspector’s ‘culture of fear’

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News education reporter in Harrogate
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Head teachers have accused England’s chief inspector of schools of “bully boy tactics”against their profession.

The National Association of Head Teachers said it would have expected more from Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former head himself.

The NAHT said it was “both saddened and dismayed” by Sir Michael’s “negative rhetoric” and said his support was needed to help teachers and pupils.

Ofsted said the intention was to work closely with good heads.

Oxfordshire head teacher Mike Curtis proposed a motion at the NAHT conference in Harrogate saying the conference was “saddened and dismayed” by the approach taken by Mr Wilshaw.

Introducing the motion, he said: “Can we really put our trust in Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector? I suggest not.

“Successful careers are damaged or destroyed on a daily basis as more schools are put into categories.

“Fear reigns and confidence wanes as Ofsted waves its stick. We must stand up to the bully-boy tactics of Michael Wilshaw.

“We need to send a strong message to Michael Wilshaw to say that we have had enough.

“We deplore his negative rhetoric which is demoralising our members and is creating a climate of fear in schools.”

Strained relations

On Saturday, delegates put forward a late motion for discussion which called for a vote of no confidence in the chief inspector.

However, after debate, the NAHT decided the wording of it was too strong and amounted to the same sort of bullying rhetoric they were criticising.

Overnight, the association drew up a new motion which was put before members on Sunday morning.

The NAHT voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new motion, with 98.9% voting yes.

The motion represents a further straining of relationships between the NAHT and Ofsted, coming just days after the association raised concerns about the quality and impartiality of school inspections.

A poll of over 2,000 school leaders, conducted by the union, found almost half (45.3%) believed Ofsted made no contribution to, or actively prevented, standards being raised.

Nine in 10 (89.9%) were either unhappy or very unhappy about the tone and content of recent announcements by the watchdog.

Ofsted has recently announced plans – that are currently out for consultation -, to introduce no-notice inspections for all schools and to scrap the “satisfactory” rating and replace it with“requires improvement”.

‘Intolerable stress’

Vice-president of the NAHT and Staffordshire primary school head teacher Bernadette Hunter said Ofsted was putting an “intolerable amount of stress” on heads.

Ms Hunter said the “horrible rhetoric” from the schools watchdog was putting people off becoming head teachers.

“We are saddened by Sir Michael, especially as he was a head once.”

A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Ofsted has been listening to the views of head teachers, teacher and parents about its proposed changes to school inspections and will announce the results of its consultation at the end of the month.

“The intention is to work closely with good heads as they drive improvement in their schools.”

Inspection U-turn

The debate comes despite Education Secretary Michael Gove signalling a U-turn over Sir Michael’s plans for no-notice inspections of schools from September.

Addressing the conference on Saturday morning, Mr Gove said the proposals were likely to be dropped.

The plans, announced by Sir Michael in January, caused anger among head teachers, who currently receive 48 hours’ notice.

The NAHT welcomed Mr Gove’s speech, saying heads had a right to make sure they were on site for inspections.

Sir Michael took up his post in January. He was previously executive head of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London.

Heads threaten reading test boycott

Heads threaten reading test boycott

BBC |May 6, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Head teachers could boycott a controversial new reading test for six-year-olds in England if it is used as “a stick to beat schools”.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the initiative should only be used as a genuine test to assess pupils, rather than to measure schools.

The NAHT said schools were already proficient in testing pupils’reading.

The Government says it will help identify children who need extra help.

The phonics reading checks will be used for children at the end of Year 1 from June and are expected to take five to 10 minutes.

Children will be asked to read 20 words and 20 “made-up words”such as “zog” or “vot” to their teachers.

The check is aimed at measuring whether pupils have a good understanding of phonics – the sounds of letters and groups of letters – which the government says is the key to helping children to read.

‘Genuine test’

Proposing a motion calling for a “fairer and more purposeful system of assessment”, Yorkshire head teacher Jane Gilmour said schools should be able to choose whether to do it, rather than have it imposed.

“We need a balanced approach to teaching reading, not one driven by fear of tests,” she said.

“If the intention is to improve reading, let’s stop wasting money on a blanket test.”

The motion was overwhelmingly carried.

Later, in his address to the NAHT conference in Harrogate, general secretary Russell Hobby said: “We fear that the pass rate for the new phonics screening check will be set at an arbitrary high level in order to fuel headlines about children failing to learn to read.

“There is not yet a robust evidence base for any particular pass rate.

“We don’t see the need for this screening check – it is inferior to what most schools do already – but if it is to happen it should be used as a genuine diagnostic test, not a stick to beat schools with.

“And if it is used to attack rather than assess, that will be the end of the screening check as far as the NAHT is concerned.

“And we will happily work with our colleagues in other unions like NUT to frustrate its further application.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said: “We have been clear that the results for the reading check will not be published in league tables.

“Schools will be required to tell parents their own child’s results.”

Parents

Mr Hobby also told heads that winning the backing of parents was the best way to challenge government policy.

“The hardest lesson I have learned over the last 18 months is that, to put it bluntly, we are talking to the wrong people.

“Traditionally, public sector trade unions have faced off -positively or negatively – towards the government.

“Our target must be public opinion. And, in our existing close relationship with parents and families… we have a massive opportunity.

“In this age of criticism of schools and the people who work in them, we need to blow our own trumpet and talk about the massive achievements we have made.

“Therefore, as you already do in your schools, NAHT itself must listen to and talk to parents and families, to champion their concerns as well as its own; to give them the information they need and treat them as partners – not merely consumers – in education.”

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

Parents ‘more involved in children’s schools’

BBC |May 5, 2012

By Katherine Sellgren BBC News, NAHT conference in Harrogate
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Parents believe they are more involved in their children’s education than their own parents were – and that children now have more opportunities in school, suggests a survey.

The survey for the National Association of Head Teachers looked at how parents viewed their children’s schooling.

Almost three quarters believed they were more engaged with their children’s school than the previous generation.

Head teachers’ leader Russell Hobby said the results were“heartening”.

Mr Hobby said the poll of over 1,000 parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland suggested the schools were “welcoming places”.

‘Part of community’

The survey found that 71% of parents believed that they were more involved in their children’s school than their parents had been during their school days.

Comparing standards, 86% of respondents agreed with the statement that their child could read as well as they could at the age of 11 and 37% thought their child could read better.

The survey also found parents were encouraged to take part in their children’s schooling.

Of those surveyed, 93% said they were made to feel welcome at schools and 89% felt they were made to feel part of the school community.

Nine out of 10 were impressed by the behaviour of pupils at the school and 52% thought the school was good at building up their children’s self-confidence, while 25% said the school was outstanding in this area.

Over half (54%) thought the school was good at providing moral guidance, while 23% rated the school as outstanding.

The poll found 81% had read a school inspection report, but 51% thought the reports did not tell the whole story about a school.

The poll also suggests parents are happy with standards at their children’s school, with 85% saying their children’s school offered good or outstanding quality of teaching.

‘Respect and trust’

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby said: “This feedback shows that schools retain the respect and trust of the communities they serve.

“It’s also heartening to see that families feel schools are welcoming places which are also well disciplined, aware of their moral responsibilities and ambitious for their children.

“Parents know what they want from a good school and it seems most of them are getting it, which is something to celebrate.

“Helping schools to build on what they are getting right and helping them develop areas where they could do better is ultimately what will secure an education system that gets the best from every pupil.”

The survey of 1,010 parents of children aged between five and 13 was carried out in April.

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