Slow starting pupils don't catch up, league tables show

primary school pegs The Department for Education published data for England's primary schools on Thursday

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Three-quarters of children in England who make a slow start in the "Three Rs" at primary school fail to catch up by the time they leave, data shows.

And more than a third (39%) of pupils who make a bright start are no longer reaching advanced levels when they leave.

The government's school league tables data also shows 9% of primary schools do not meet its floor standards.

Overall 74% of pupils met the required levels in English and maths.

The official data published by the Department for Education shows how more than 14,000 primary schools in England performed on a range measures linked to national curriculum tests, known as Sats.

Realising potential

For the first time the data breaks down school performance for different ability groups and those from different socio-economic backgrounds.

It shows that only a quarter of children, who are classed as having low attainment by age seven, go on to reach the expected level in English and maths, Level 4, by the time they leave primary school.

This compares to the 99% of those classed as high achieving, by the same age, who go on to reach the expected level in both subjects.

School league tables

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However, only 61% of these go on to achieve higher levels of attainment, Level 5, by the time they leave school. This suggests many schools are not realising the full potential of their brighter starters.

The DfE said that:

  • in only 27 schools did every low-attaining pupil at age seven go on to reach expected levels in English and maths at age 11
  • in 15 schools, a fifth or more of pupils rated high attaining at age seven were not at the expected level in the "Three Rs" by the time they left primary school.

The data also reveals how well pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds progress.

  • 80% of pupils on free school meals (FSM) or in local authority care make the required two levels of progress in English
  • 85% of non-FSM pupils make this progress
  • in maths, 75% of FSM pupils make the required level of progress
  • 84% of non-FSM pupils make this progress in maths

Overall, this year schools are doing slightly better than last year with 74% of pupils attaining Level 4 in English and maths compared to 73.5% in 2010.


  • L4 English: read independently, write extended sentences, choose words for effect, use commas
  • L4 maths: add, subtract, multiply, divide in the head comfortably, know times tables up to 10, plot co-ordinates on a graph
  • L5 English: well organised writing, use of paragraphs, complex sentences, with use of subordinate clauses
  • L5 maths: carry out simple equations and algebra, calculate in fractions and percentages, calculate angles and understand probability

Fewer than one in 10 schools, or 1,310, are below the government's floor target of achievement - 60% of pupils getting Level 4 in English and maths and scoring above the England median for progress in maths and English.

But 150 have been below the floor for more than five years in a row.

'Early promise'

Schools Minister Nick Gibb pledged to pay particular attention to schools which had performed consistently badly over the past five years, whether through conversion to a sponsored academy or other measures.

He added that the data showed how well different schools were educating children of lower ability.

"We need to help schools learn from those head teachers and teachers who deliver a high standard to all those children, including those who struggled at Key Stage 1, or who are from a poorer background.

"We are also shining a light on those schools where pupils who showed early promise did not maintain their bright starts and tailed off to become below average average performers."

Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg said: "The fact that only a quarter of low attainers at age seven go on to meet the expected Level 4 in English of maths when they leave primary school is not good enough.

"The government must use the Pupil Premium as a lever to improve literacy and numeracy at primary schools, by issuing guidance on how best to use the resources, and measuring the impact of the funding."

The data also shows that in 570 or 4% of schools, all pupils reach the expected levels in English and maths.

In total, 11 schools are being investigated for possible maladministration of the tests.


The tables show the best performing local authority is Richmond upon Thames in south London, where 87% of pupils achieve the government's benchmark of Level 4 in maths and English. It is closely followed by Trafford, where 84% achieve this.

Start Quote

We are shining a light on those schools where pupils who showed early promise did not maintain their bright starts”

End Quote Nick Gibb Schools minister

The worst performing local authority is Central Bedfordshire, where 66% of 11-year-olds reach this benchmark.

The St Margaret's Church of England School in Halstead, Essex, tops the BBC list of best performing schools, with 100% of pupils achieving Level 4 in maths and English and a full average point score (the average number of points per pupil in the tests).

The school, which only had six Year 6 pupils sitting the tests, also tops the table for higher achieving pupils, with all of them achieving Level 5 (the level expected for 14-year-olds) in maths and English.

It is the only school with 100% of pupils reaching this Level 5 bar.

Crays Hill Primary School in Billericay, Essex, was the worst performing school with just 7% of pupils achieving Level 4 in English and none reaching Level 4 in maths.

This school, which had 15 pupils in Year 6 at the time of the tests, serves the travellers' site at Dale Farm.

In October, the six-acre site in Crays Hill was cleared following a decade-long row over unauthorised plots.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I think that the truth is ultimately politically incorrect: maybe these children don't have the aptitude to succeed. It certainly doesn't mean that people should give up on them, but maybe we are placing unrealistic expectations on their heads which may end up doing more harm than good

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I blame teachers tbh, it may seem controversial, but there are to many who remove all challenge from school and make it boring and monotonous"

    Nothing controversial in what you say. Many who have no idea of what pressures teacher are under to cover curriculum say the same thing. I'm sure they would love to teach things in ways that can be fun, interesting or challenging, if they had the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Teachers cant put in what god left out!!! If kids are slow learners they are slow learners and nothing that teachers can do will change that.

    Education fails most students becasue it doesn't have the students needs at the core. All it cares about is league tables!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    61% of bright starters achieving high levels at the end of primary seems like a pretty good figure to me. Some children (maybe that 39%) find the basics very easy to learn but the more complex matters more difficult, levelling off their achievement. Not saying that there isn't a problem with maintaining levels for those children; just that it's not as simple as not doing enough for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The sooner the ed auth accept that one size does not fit all the better.My nephew - been at college for 1yr and the difference in him is amazing. He was always at the bottom of the class at school and sometimes had a TA as he is almost blind. He was labled as slow, in their eyes stupid, but at college they have realized that he is slow to see but not slow to understand only 12 years too late!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    It seems like the government are trying to find another excuse to blame teachers for their so called "failures", when its the government who set up the educational system, what they teach us and what we learn.

    And I do not see the point of these league tables either, but that is just my opinion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    There is only so much that schools and teachers can do with the resources they are given. Teachers are not miracle workers, and schools are not a place to fix all of society's ills. Fact is, the rich attain higher grades because they have more resources, and the tests are designed for them in the first place. Maybe the government should look a little closer to home to fix some of these problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    league tables ands comprehensive education, 2 incompatible dogmas, that reward the average and penalise both the slow and the fast

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    No surprises here. It is also true that the 'slow starters' take up more teaching time throughout their primary education, which impacts on time for the more able children. Many in the poorer communities believe that learning has no use and being famous is more important. This blind desire far outweighs any skills or talent the child may possess, and parents need to understand this. Quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Is the treasury going to put money into children being brought up by trained staff in separate dedicated local kibutz.? Has anyone done a study to see how well children brought up this way compare to British children keft to child minders, nannies and families? Surveys and statistics without recommendations based on their results, with adequate funding are not helpful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    We need to bring back Grammar schools so everyone can go at their own pace and ability.

    Going at the speed of the slowest is like a merchant convoy in WW2 sometimes the sleek fast ships get torpedoed as they had to go really slowly for the 'tramp steamers'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    So schools are failing the least able and also failing the most able at the same time. That’s an achievement to be ashamed of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Intelligence is highly variable and always will be. Attempts by schools to even out the playing field by devoting extra resources to the worst performers can only compensate so much for the natural variation.

    Perhaps the culture of focussing on the slowest children is why 39% of "bright starters" don't reach their full potential?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    I blame teachers tbh, it may seem controversial, but there are to many who remove all challenge from school and make it boring and monotonous. Kids need to be challenged and to be competitive, to be able to make mistakes and have fun. Schools have an abcense of these factors, especially with some female teachers and their attitude towards boys, who they treat as disruptive and a nuisance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In practically all education systems in Europe, if a pupil gets behind at the end of the year, or 'fails', they do that year again. Same in secondary schools. Advantage: kids dont like it, so they work harder to get better results, and kids who are struggling, get a chance to catch up. Why don't we have that here?
    Only in Britain are children pushed on, regardless of whether they cope or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    My daughter could read before she went to school - simply because I sat down with her and helped her through the first stages. I also read her stories which she loved. Ironically, other parents complained to the school that their children were not doing so well. Clearly parents need to spend more time with their offspring. By the way, I was a single mum with a full-time job...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    What would be surprising would be if all the 'slow' children did catch up.

    But perhaps we should solve this problem with good old socialist values - slow down the brighter children.

    Reminds me of the simpsons episode where Bart is moved to the remedial class and asks the teacher 'How are we going to catch up with the bright kids by going slower than them?'


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