Council confident of improvement as schools fall short in tough new tests

Education secretary Justine Greening MP visiting Sussex schoolchildren

Education secretary Justine Greening MP visiting Sussex schoolchildren

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East Sussex County Council has called on parents to “have confidence” that schools will continue to improve, despite falling short in the tough new tests for 11-year-olds.

Last week, the Department for Education published the provisional results of the Key Stage 2 SATs, which saw just 53 per cent of children across the country meet the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.

Last year, before the tougher new tests were introduced, 78 per cent of children achieved the expected Level 4 or above. But the Department for Education insisted the 2015 and 2016 results were not comparable as they had been achieved using two entirely different systems.

The new system has set expectations of the country’s 11-year-olds much higher – and the results have prompted a swift response from local authorities.

In East Sussex, 50 per cent of youngsters made the grade in reading, writing and maths combined - 3 per cent short of the national average.

When it came to reading, children all but matched the average figures, with 65 per cent reaching the expected score, compared to 66 per cent nationally. The score for maths was lower, though - 65 per cent compared to 70 per cent nationally.

A council spokesman said “wide-ranging support” for schools had been planned, such as helping teachers to address the key areas for improvement with the help of a training programme led by a team of local authority consultants.

In addition, the council planned to work with education improvement partnerships to increase schools’ capacity to address under-performance.

Support would also be available from teaching schools and lead English and maths teachers would provide school-to-school support.

The spokesman said: “The 2016 Key Stage 2 results have led to many wide variations in the results across the country. East Sussex is not exempt from these and, indeed, there was wide variation within the local authority’s schools.

“Nevertheless, we are taking the results seriously and reviewing the school support arrangements.”

She added that results for children in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 had been “extremely positive”, with significant improvements in both areas thanks to “many of the school support arrangements already put in place”.

The work will include looking at ways to close the gap between girls and boys, which had widened at a national level – though it narrowed in East Sussex.

The county saw 46 per cent of its 2,611 boys meet the required standard, compared to 54 per cent of the 2,439 girls. That gap was replicated at a national level with girls outperforming boys by 57 per cent to 50.

The spokesman said girls were out-performing boys in reading and writing, while the reverse was true when it came to maths, and the council would be looking at identifying and sharing the methods of schools which had already successfully narrowed the gaps.

So how concerned should parents be about these results?

The council spokesman said: “Parents should always be concerned about the performance of the schools their children attend.

“However, East Sussex parents should continue to have confidence that the local authority and schools will build on the success to date in significantly increasing the number of schools to be graded as good or outstanding by Ofsted so that East Sussex is now in line with national figures.”

She added: “There is much to celebrate in the 2016 results, where more schools improved their position in the East Sussex rankings.

“However the local authority and headteachers will be relentless in their allocation and use of resources to deliver an excellent education for all.”

Another point highlighted by these latest figures was the performance of academies compared to state-funded schools. The results showed state-funded schools were still out-performing academies – but their lead was slim at best and non-existent in places.

But the figures masked an important variation between the types of academy. Splitting them down into their three categories, a different picture emerged.

Converted academies – those which chose to leave local authority control – out-performed state-funded schools in all areas, recording a pass rate of 57 per cent in reading, writing and maths, with 6 per cent of their pupils achieving a higher standard than expected, compared to the 5 per cent national average.

It was a different story for sponsored academies – schools which had been instructed to take on academy status by the government - where just 43 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard.

For free schools, that figure was 48 per cent.

Perhaps this should not be a surprise as the schools which choose to convert are often the ones that have historically performed well, while those forced to convert were the ones struggling the most.

The government’s reasoning has been that putting failing schools in the hands of an educational sponsor will lead to better results.

The idea has not really been proved by the Department for Education figures.

Results for sponsored academies have remained as much as 12 per cent below the national average, with only those who converted five or more years ago showing a rise in their performance. Even they are still 7 per cent behind state-funded schools.

So is must be asked, is the government’s decision to force low-achieving schools to convert working?

Despite failing to match the national average at Key Stage 2, it may not be all doom and gloom for the children – or their respective secondary schools. The government’s new system of measuring a secondary school’s performance is now based on how much progress each child made after leaving primary school.

If the Key Stage 2 results of this year’s intake were particularly low, then they stand a big chance of showing an impressive amount of progress by the time they take their GCSEs.

Expect some outstanding figures in 2020/21.

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