Primary pupils in England could be ranked nationally at 11


Nick Clegg: "This is not a return to a name and shame public league table"

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Primary school pupils in England could be ranked directly against their peers across the country, under government plans to change performance measures.

Pupils aged 11 would be ranked in 10% ability bands and parents told where their children are placed.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "For children to achieve their potential, we need to raise the bar."

But head teachers' leaders described the plans, which could come in 2016, as "disappointing and destructive".

Labour's shadow school secretary Stephen Twigg said it was "policy making on the hoof".

'Secondary ready'

As parents across the country have been receiving their children's Sats results, Mr Clegg and Schools Minister David Laws have launched a consultation on plans to overhaul England's primary school targets.

This would mean significant changes to how primary schools are measured and their pupils' achievements shown to parents.


There is a four-letter word that seems to dominate primary school policy. Data.

And there is going to be even more of it if the latest proposals for measuring pupil performance in England are implemented.

Parents would be told where their children fit into 10 ability bands, measured against a yardstick of the rest of the national year group.

Of course parents already get children's Sats results. If they get a stellar Level 6 they're in the top 1%. Any Level 5 puts them into the top 25%.

But how much more detail do parents really want? And having just about got to grips with levels do they really want them to be scrapped and new benchmarks introduced?

And more particularly how would parents feel about rankings if their child is in the bottom rungs? Would this demoralise or motivate children to improve? Is primary school in danger of turning into a spreadsheet?

There are big underlying questions here.

If pupil information is available, why shouldn't parents have it too? And wouldn't more detailed performance measures stop pupils being left behind? Or will the extra information polarise schools even further, creating a superleague of those with the most pupils in the top 10%?

Statistical targets have a habit of taking on a life of their own.

Mr Clegg dismissed head teachers' fears: "We are not going to publish a name and shame league table," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"Children are already tested at primary school. We are saying go with the grain of that system."

Mr Clegg said the intention is to show parents how children are doing in relation to their peers and to make sure that pupils are ready when they start secondary school.

"I make no apology for having high ambitions for our pupils. But for children to achieve their potential we need to raise the bar - in terms of tests, pass marks and minimum standards. I am confident that primary schools and their pupils will meet that challenge," he said.

Under the plans, pupil's national curriculum test results (known as Sats) would be divided into bands of 10%, and parents and schools would be able to see where their children were placed on a national scale.

There are also plans for baseline tests against which to measure progress, although it has yet to be decided whether this should be at age of five or seven.

There would be a tougher minimum level of achievement for schools - the so-called "floor-standard" - below which an Ofsted inspection would be triggered.

The current minimum is 60% of pupils achieving the expected level at Sats tests for English and maths. This would be replaced with an 85% minimum - but the current levels are being scrapped, so this would be 85% based on an assessment that has still to be decided.

The threshold for the tests would be that children were "secondary ready" in maths, reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar and teachers' assessments of writing.

Under the current levels, 11 year olds who achieve a Level 5a are approximately in the top 10%, children at Level 5c and above are in the top 25%. Children at Level 3 and below are in the bottom 25%.

Extra funding

The government says that the levels currently used to measure progress, including the Level 4 used as the benchmark for Sats tests, are "unambitious and too broad".

Mr Laws told the House of Commons that the levels used by schools had little meaning to most parents.

The minimum standard for schools would also take into account pupils' progress as well as their raw test results.

Under the proposals, schools would be able to develop their own way of measuring how well pupils were progressing and their ability would then be assessed with tests for all 11-year-olds in English and maths and a sample of pupils for science.

There will be extra funding for poorer pupils with a rise in the level of pupil premiums, from £900 this year to £1,300 in 2014-15.

Labour's Stephen Twigg said it was "putting the cart before the horse" to announce a threshold of 85% before the assessment had been decided.

He also warned of "confusing signals" when the government was scrapping the levels used to measure progress at the same time as calling for a closer attention to progress.

A spokesman for the National Association of Head Teachers said "labelling an 11-year-old as a failure is totally unacceptable".

"The vast majority of teachers are unhappy with the need to rank students," said the union's leader Russell Hobby.

It would be wrong to "pigeonhole" children on the basis of such tests, he said.

Mr Hobby welcomed the greater recognition of pupil progress, but warned that the changes to measuring schools were built on "foundations of sand".

"All the 'rigour' in the world won't matter if you're rigorous about the wrong things," he said.

But head teacher Steve Busby told BBC Breakfast the ranking system could be helpful.

"The current assessment system within school is flawed in my opinion." He said the Level 4 band was too broad and that parents needed a more accurate picture.

How do parents rate the plan to rank primary pupils?

Brian Lightman, head of the ASCL heads' union, agreed there was a need for a more accurate testing system at the end of primary school, because secondary schools currently had to re-test their new intakes.

However, he was unconvinced by the idea of ranking 11-year-olds.

"I worry what will happen to those children who have tried hard yet are told that they are in one of the bottom bands. Children at that age mature differently and their confidence can be easily damaged," he said.

NUT leader Christine Blower rejected the idea that primary schools should be measured in terms of the idea of pupils being "secondary ready", insisting the term would be "seen as offensive and insulting to so many hard-working teachers in the primary phase".

"Education, from the earliest years, is not a conveyor belt to the end of secondary school," she said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    I started my primary school in 1950, I was taught the 3 rs and good manners. It was basic but has always held me in good stead. Why can't schools just get back to basics and make sure that all pupils have the ability to express themselves in the Queen's English. By the way my school was in the east end of London, but we all had to behave ourselves - this came from teachers and parents alike.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    In this article concerned with ways to improve educational standards, the top four rated comments, all arguing against this change, have grammatical or spelling errors. How depressing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Finland abolished national testing. They know a stressful competitive atmosphere in childhood /teen years doesn’t result in truly competitive standards.
    Late starts and creativity, like in most of Europe, lead not only to high standards but independent thinking. That’s why our corporate media don’t like it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    How many kids are happy at school?
    Does school fulfill them?
    How many kids are happy when they leave school?
    Does (working) life fulfill them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    @165 - Can you explain how this type of testing would actually improve literacy?

    @167 - The 'no-one seemed to object then' line would seem to be a recurring idea in relation to stories like this one. A bit like with similar lines such as 'it didn't do us any harm' interpretation of your own childhood doesn't necessarily add any weight to your argument. Comparing literacy rates, and so on, might.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Children should be taught, not taut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    then they should also bring back competative sports into schools - so the no academic children can have thier achievements recognised too. if we are to grade children, lets be fair about it. and maybe grade children on practical skills too. this is very one sided and does not take account of all types of humans. just one type, and grades people for life, lets grade mind body & skills

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Some of August babies did quite well! A Lot of people I was in classes with were born at the end of the school year and did well but probably because they were put in the right groups for their ability. If August baby not doing so well compared to older children in class then maybe should be in lower set.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    All this would make more sense if there was any evidence to suggest that the current education system produced young people ready to take a full and productive role in society. I've lost count of the number of time the business community has bemoaned the lack young people with the ability to learn and who possess the personal skills and attributes to make it in the workplace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    NUT leader Christine Blower rejected the idea that primary schools should be measured in terms of the idea of pupils being "secondary ready", insisting the term would be "seen as offensive and insulting to so many hard-working teachers in the primary phase".

    Says it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    "181. Ppuj
    Private schools achieve the best results. Private schools constantly test and stream. Private schools measure the workload to the child's ability via testing."

    Note the term 'private' in 'private schools', as in funded privately. Lovely for the 1% who can afford them, so why not forget everyone else?

    Fund state schools like private schools and you would get the same results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Cannot believe this 'strategy'! Ranking children will not raise standards - it just create a bigger divide between the top and bottom sets. As the parent of a child who is in the 'middle' this is not going to help in fact it will just heap on more pressure on children who quite frankly have enough pressure on them already! It will not recognise individual pupils who may be gifted in other ways!

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    What do the most successful educational systems do? Which countries are the most successful? (I think Finland may be a good one to pick). The only question that needs to be answered here is "What do they do, and why can we not do the same to be as equally successful in the UK?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    185. Weary Pedant

    That's why fireworks were invented you fool! So you wouldn't stay in on cold November nights making educationally awkward to place offspring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    @111.Total Mass Retain
    "....even if all kids are geniuses, there will always be a bottom 10%"
    That statistical fact and other features of 'normal distribution' in groups, is still not understood by many meddling politicians, like the oxymoron assertion " 'satisfactory' schools or 'average' pupils' are not acceptable..all should be outstanding !!" Surely some civil servant could enlighten them

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    In many other European countries they have learnt that Governments are incapable of running their education systems. They have independent institutions made up of members of all interested parties (teachers, students, academics, businessmen, etc), but NO politicians! It makes sense and it works!

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    EPICFAIL. You wanted an 'or' ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    This makes me so furious! We are different, different strengths different weaknesses and we are meant to work together. Ranking children is disgusting and gives the impression that they are only worth something if they are the best. This causes massive problems including depression, lack of motivation and a false self image. We need to work to develop children not rank them

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    We need to be competitive on a global scale, British science and engineering has declined in recent decades - too many poorly prepared students with a false impression of their ability from a con of an education system.

    It's silly if a 45% student thinks he/she's as good as a 78% student.

    In South Africa the ANC lowered the pass mark in schools to 30% - now have lots of useless graduates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Private schools are on top of testing their pupils to ensure that "higher private" education standards are maintained, if standards fall, the school will crash.
    Parents do NOT privately pay for their children to be undereducated.

    The arguments to not test are archaic & also devious on part of teachers.

    The ONLY interest teachers should have is to ensure their pupils meet HIGH standards


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