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.

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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 37.

    UK state schooling is designed for the 'lowest common denominator' and does not encourage pupils. I went to private school and believe me we weren't better human beings or any brighter but it was instilled in us to be the best we possibly could and aspire to be better. The less able were streamed and helped appropriately allowing others to grow. My child is now in the state system. Boy it shows !

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Fast/average students are kept back as well.

    Even years ago a lot of my classes as school were slowed down by disruptive students who took up more and more of the teacher's attention. Even to the point of one teacher breaking down and crying under stress.

    A friend of mine failed to get the A-Level subjects he wanted due to a clerical error, messing up his preferred Uni subject requirements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Everyone knows that kids develop skills at different ages, and it is not always down to intelligence or even teaching. Why do all schools take their intake in September? Kids could have an assessment at nursery, with a recommendation that they can start in September or get some remedial work then start at an intake 4 or 6 months later. That way, it also cuts out the wide age gap for first timers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Parents expect to have babies but then have nothing to do with them until they're in full time employement. The State is expected to feed and cloth them, nurseries/schools are expected to change their nappies, potty train, educate and discipline them; holiday destinations are expected to care them while the parents have fun. Stop buck passing - if a child is deficient look to the parentst. End of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    In Scotland, if your child is born near the end of the school term, there is then the option to let them start in the year after the one they normally would do, so would go from the youngest and least able in a class to one where they're the oldest. Junior rugby clubs use the same concept to begin with so there is a start on ability not just simply age.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What no one is ready to face is that schools ARE the problem in education now. As a system is is useless for the society we are and attitudes we have, We will not go back to what let them work. We need and can do individual education not herd based schools now. Each to their ability. Start by closing all schools, educate individuals instead.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Sounds like an opportunity for yet more teacher knocking. We do what we can with what we are given - often with resources from our own pockets. We are told what to teach and how to teach it, and many feel that this is ineffective. This is controlled by frequent observation to ensure that we don't stray off script. We hope that despite this we can still make a positive difference to kids lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    100% - my mother was the same (single, worked full time) and we went to a crappy primary in a poor area.
    It has always had less to do with wealth, school and area and more to do with ineffective parenting - basically the problem with almost every current affair these days

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There's always going to be a range of abilities where humans are concerned. That goes for the 3 Rs as well as, say, football or computer games.
    If the average attainment is going up year on year (as indicated) that's a good result. In any case, parents should play at least as big a part as teachers in educational development at this age (via encouraging reading etc).

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    No 23 Very true and too the point. I was slow in learning till they discovered my hearing was impaired, couldnt hear Ts, Ss, Rs Ws
    So ends of words were silent. I became a southern lad located in the Northern hemisphere of Yorkshire. You can imagine the problems that were rife there in trying to learn to speak english.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    There are ways of addressing this. My stepdaughter is dyslexic: her (fee-paying) prep school didn't pick this up and her reading fell behind. We put the time and effort in both reading to her and working on a very structured scheme that taught syllable division. She left primary school with a reading age above 16.

    Education is too important to leave to schools alone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    17. Abdi - good point. stands to reason that kids who make a slow start perhaps do so because they're not so strong academically, and this will be the case throughout their school career. 18 - yes, ability setting might reproduce social status, but is it not possible that less academically strong parents may be less economically successful, and academic ability is at least partly genetic...

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Why has this article been written with such a negative undertone?

    Grades are up by 0.5% this year, right?

    It seems to me that the figures i.e. "over a third of bright starters aren't reaching advanced levels" have been portrayed as bad without a real benchmark for comparison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    UK education is focussed on average students. The talented and the challenged are often left to their own devices. This can apply all the way up the educational ladder. After a good secondary school, my first year at one of the UK's top universities was a waste of time. It was just catch-up lessons for the less able students and those from places with easier A-level syllabuses. I was bored rigid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Let's get this straight - this is NOT the fault of schools and/or teachers - PARENTS have failed their kids by not reading to them or engaging in educational activity before school age.
    My brother and i could read before we started school and teachers were shocked - that shouldnt have to be the case.
    Yet another feckless parent issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I had horrendus difficulties with both grammar and phonetics. My primary school had 14 in my year, and 6 in the year above. We went to a good comprehensive and produced 4 of their football team, and some of the best students in all academic subjects. 2 of my best friends are dyslexic but their teachers and parents made the effort. - teachers who blame society are defeatist and useless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    It is not the responsibility of schools to rectify the numerous demonstrable inadequacies of many children's parents.

    Raising "arrogant" children with an "exagerrated sense of entitlement" but with no sense that they bear any responsibility for their own education is not "parenting", it's "creating society's future problems".

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I blame the target system, schools are rated for children who get A,B or C grades. This incentivises the staff to concentrate on the D grades as these are the children who with extra help might be pushed into the C grades, which improves the schools score. A, B, E and F? Tough. Schools need to do their best for each individual child and this means dedicated teachers not dictated to by targets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    This is where selection in secondary education by ability would be a real asset and sound strategy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "Ability" is a highly contentious notion, viewed as "obvious" in the press but as highly problematic in academic literature. Studies over the last 40 years show that ability setting does not really achieve what it purports to - i.e. meet individuals' needs, but it does have a remarkably close fit to Social and Economic Status. One effect of ability setting is to reproduce social class.


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