Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Primary school league tables expose drop in basics

By Gary Eason
BBC News education correspondent

girl reading
The tables include new progress measures this year

More than 1,400 primary schools in England fall below the government's "floor target" for pupils' attainment in English and maths, analysis shows.

This is that 55% of the pupils in each school reach the level expected for their age in both subjects.

The annual league tables, based on children's Sats results in English, maths and science, show more schools did worse this year than did better.

The government wants local authorities to pressurise head teachers to improve.

The 2009 results show that at least 1,472 schools had only 54% of pupils or less reaching the English and maths expectation, Level 4 in the national curriculum.

Last year the total was 1,359, so it has risen by 113.

Nationally the proportion of pupils achieving the expected level in both English and maths fell from 73% to 72%.

The government has a target of 78% by 2011.

Only 268 schools out of more than 13,000 had the pupils working at the expected level in all three test subjects - down from 329 last year.


The chief adviser on school standards, Sue Hackman, wrote to directors of children's services earlier this year making clear that extra attention should be paid to head teachers who were not setting themselves tough enough challenges.

English: 80% (girls 85% / boys 75%)
Reading: 86% (89% / 82%)
Writing: 68% (75% / 61%)
Mathematics: 79% (78% / 79%)
Science: 88% (89% / 88%)

"We have highlighted concerns in the last two years at the number of primary schools setting targets which represent no improvement over their most recent performance," she said.

Schools Minister Diana Johnson said schools had made huge progress over the past 12 years - but the figures confirmed "a small dip" in English performance this year.

"We want as many children as possible to leave school with the secure grasp of the basics and after years of the necessary top down approach, it's now down to local authorities to get all schools making progress all of the time - no ifs or buts," she said.

Parent boycott

The school which had the highest average point score per pupil - 32.9 - was Hampstead Norreys Church of England Primary School in West Berkshire.

The worst of the results published this year were at one of the two dozen or so academies which cater for primary age children, the Steiner Academy in Hereford.

The academy - operating on Steiner Waldorf learning principles - teaches its own curriculum but, being state funded, was required to enter children for the Sats.

Parents had a different idea, according to the principal, Trevor Mepham.

"The parents were involved in a campaign against the children sitting the tests," he said.

"We registered the children and the parents in large numbers decided that they would not have their children sit the tests."

The turn of events is an embarrassment for ministers who promote Academies as the answer to under-performance in England's schools.

The Conservatives are also keen to see more Academies and to have more parents' groups setting up schools and controlling their destinies.

The next worst performing school was St Mary's CofE (VA) Primary School in Worcestershire, with a combined score of 50 out of 300.

There, only 7% managed the expected level in both English and maths.

Shadow Schools Minister, Nick Gibb said it was a tragedy that almost four in 10 children left primary school without a good grasp of the basics.

"With so many children entering secondary school without any effective ability to read we are storing up problems with truancy and disruptive behaviour for the future," he said.


Head teachers' leaders say they are determined this will be the last time the tables appear.

"League tables of pupil performance are misleading to parents," said the National Association of Head Teachers.

"They are also demoralising for schools and school leaders, particularly those working tirelessly in tough communities, and they add nothing to the impetus for school improvement."

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blower, acknowledged that Schools Secretary Ed Balls was proposing a new school report card, summarising schools' performances on a wider range of measures.

"I am afraid that too is doomed to failure with the government, and indeed the Conservatives, determined to continue with the principle that test results describe a school's success or failure," she said.

Within the UK, the league tables are a uniquely English phenomenon.

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