League tables published this month to rank English schools on their performance in SAT exams for 11 year olds have shown that an astonishing 1000 schools have failed to meet the minimum standard of attainment required by the government. The coalition government have raised the floor target to a 60% success rate at achieving the expected levels in English and maths. The failing schools represent an incredible 10% of all those with published results, raising serious questions and concerns about the teaching standards and measures of assessment at primary schools across the country.
To add to the controversy, a huge number of schools boycotted the Sats examinations altogether, with over a quarter not entering their pupils for the tests at all. This was specifically due to the use of the results in drawing up primary schools league tables which teachers and union leaders claim are a crude and ineffective measure by which to assess schools. Teachers claim that the league tables provide an extremely inaccurate measure of the standard of a particular school, as they do not take into account the relative deprivation of the area and the background and home situation of the school’s pupils.
The government have tried to combat this problem by adapting the league tables to acknowledge and measure the progress made by each school, which head teachers have welcomed as a step in the right direction, but they claim an overhaul of the entire ranking system is still needed. General secretary of the National Union of Teachers Christine Blower condemned the “naming and shaming” of low-performing schools as a misguided and potentially hugely damaging blow to hard working schools in deprived areas, where the most ‘underachieving’ schools according to the government targets are to be found.
Blower believes that a more focussed system of teaching assessment and progress measurement would be much more productive as a means of ranking schools, as it would judge teaching and progress on an individual level rather than measuring schools by nationalised and potentially misleading results.
With the current furore over tuition fees and university funding cuts, the government’s decision to axe the Aim Higher scheme and the loss of the EMA, this development at primary school level only serves to raise still more concerns over the coalition government’s handling of education at all stages.Once again the problems raised centre around the achievement and support of the most underprivileged children, with a shocking half of all boys on free school meals failing to achieve the desired standards in English and maths. before they leave primary school.
These shocking figures of underachievement are very much concentrated around the most deprived areas and the most underprivileged children, who leave primary school with substandard grades in English and maths and will then move on to secondary school with the support of the EMA no longer available to them. Finally they will be faced with the immensely daunting prospect of up to £9000 tuition fees should they even consider applying to university, amounting to a crippling £30000 to £40000 debt upon graduation. It seems to be becoming increasingly clear that the actions of this government at all stages and levels of education are propelling us at break neck speed towards a hugely biased, wealth-based education system in which the rich-poor divide is polarised and widened both in academia and in society itself.