Moving the primary goalposts … again

The DfE has produced a new package of proposals they will, in its words “raise ambition …and standards”. The theme is that all pupils must be “secondary ready”. In David Laws words “children must leave primary school ready for the demands of secondary school”.

So the floor target will go up to 65% of pupils achieving Level 4 English and maths in 2014. In addition there will be a new measure showing the percentage of pupils reaching 4b in English and maths, because “many children who only just achieve a level 4 are generally not secondary ready”. These arrangements will last for a whole 2 years when a whole new system will be invented when levels are abolished.

The number of misleading statements and assumptions in this release is almost too many to count but these are some of the most egregious:

“many of our children are leaving primary school without having secured the basics in the 3Rs. They then go on to struggle in secondary school”  

What is “the basics in the 3Rs”? Level 4? Level 4b? Conflating emotive language like “basics” with a particular level in SATs without any evidence is unacceptable. It may help to remind ourselves what a level 3 pupil has to be able to do in English…

“Pupils read a range of texts fluently and accurately. They read independently, using strategies appropriately to establish meaning. In responding to fiction and non-fiction they show understanding of the main points and express preferences. They use their knowledge of the alphabet to locate books and find information.

Pupils’ writing is often organised, imaginative and clear. The main features of different forms of writing are used appropriately, beginning to be adapted to different readers. Sequences of sentences extend ideas logically and words are chosen for variety and interest. The basic grammatical structure of sentences is usually correct. Spelling is usually accurate, including that of common, polysyllabic words. Punctuation to mark sentences – full stops, capital letters and question marks – is used accurately. Handwriting is joined and legible.”

Have these pupils really not achieved “the basics”?

What does struggle in secondary school mean anyway? It seems to be not getting 5+ A* to C. Are we really saying that anyone who doesn’t get to that level is “struggling”? Again emotive language designed to hide the lack of logic or evidence.

What is it saying about secondary schools if they are incapable of adjusting their teaching to meet the needs of the 20% of their pupils who’ve not reached level 4? Do they really just let pupils “struggle”.

“many children who only just achieve a level 4 are generally not secondary ready”.

Actually even if we define “secondary ready” as getting 5 A* to C, 47% of pupils getting level 4c go on to get that GCSE threshold. So it would seem that half of them were secondary ready after all.

And 20% of those getting 4a didn’t get 5+ A* to C. Were they not secondary ready?

Primary schools which fall below the new 65 per cent floor, and particularly those with a long history of underperformance, face being taken over by an Academy sponsor. The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils the best chance of a first-class education.

But out of 1310 schools below floor target in 2011, 834 got above the floor target in 2012. How many of these were academies? Very, very few.

It has been shown convincingly that secondary sponsored academies do no better than other similar schools. Why would it be any different for primaries?

Anyway don’t we know that improvement in test results isn’t real? … it’s all grade inflation and dumbing down. Or is that only secondaries? Or only under a Labour government?

And why are schools like Gladstone Park or Roke, both well above floor targets (and indeed national averages) being forced to become academies?

Schools judged by Ofsted to be neither good nor outstanding, and who are not closing the gap between their disadvantaged pupils and their other pupils, will be ordered to draw up action plans – alongside experts – on how they will spend their pupil premium money.

So apparently another magic bullet – get the pupil premium right and all will be well. Never mind plans to improve teaching, curriculum or behaviour. Never mind a co-ordinated school improvement plan …

And don’t confuse the issue by talking about headteachers knowing best how to run their schools.


What will be the effect of all this? The raising of the stakes on testing will just further narrow pupil’s primary experience. Jumping through hoops on one day in year 6 does not mean that pupils have actually mastered the knowledge and skills that they need and will be able to use them months later in secondary school.

And as for the pupil premium …. as one of the very few things the Liberal Democrats can claim as an achievement in government, I suppose it has to be there. Just as a reminder, here are a few highlights of the 2010 Liberal manifesto:

  • this will allow an average primary school to cut classes to 20
  • axe the rigid National Curriculum,
  • scale back Key Stage 2 tests at age 11, and use teacher assessment, with external checking, to improve the quality of marking
  • create a General Diploma to bring GCSEs, A-Levels and high quality vocational qualifications together, enabling pupils to mix vocational and academic learning.
  • introduce an Education Freedom Act banning politicians from getting involved in the day-to-day running of schools.
  • replace Academies with our own model of ‘Sponsor-Managed Schools’. These schools will be commissioned by and accountable to local authorities and not Whitehall,

 and of course….

  •  scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree,

4 Comments on “Moving the primary goalposts … again”

  1. Well said, John. Michael Rosen in today’s Guardian (Letter from a curious parent) reports an awful incursion by an academy sponsor. The new sponsors sent out a letter to parents of four-year-olds saying, “Unfortunalely your child has still not met their initial target of being able to recognise their numerals 1-10”. Stalinism?

    Incidentally it would be good to get Stephen Twigg to regularly put a comment on your blogs.

  2. I’m amazed anyone things level criteria are accurate descriptions of what children who get that level in a test can do. It’s just waffle. Level 3 is functionally illiterate and a lot of level 4 students aren’t much better.

  3. wandlampen says:

    I am always happy when I find such a contributory

  4. MaggieD says:

    John, you ask “Have these pupils really not achieved “the basics”?” I can only assume that you have never taught a Y7 who has ‘achieved’ a L3 in English in the KS2 NCTs.

    The gap between the level descriptor and the reality of what these pupils can do is only slightly narrower than the gap between the left and right banks of the Grand Canyon.They’re not even ready for Primary school, let alone Secondary…