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 371.

    @353 teaching to tests is a policy schools undertake to ensure their statistics look good. Subjects can be taught including all the relevant information without it being exactly to a test. Purely speaking about my sons school I doubt they have the ability to teach from anything but a script though so expanding on knowledge is left to me

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    At last a good move from the Education secretary. But we still need to educate the Parents!

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    why bother getting an education in the UK.

    if you want a job you cant get fired from and to earn 2 or 3 times the average wage, do not get an education, do not work hard, simply:

    get a low end job like train or tube driver, and then strike you way to more and more money.

    its how/why nurses and professors earn alot less then train drivers. simply.

    This country does value education

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Isn't the role of children in society to run around screaming and shouting, climbing trees and scraping knees. It seems society wants to remove all the fun from life and have you fit into the collective as a good obidient little drone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    @98 Matt: 'If teachers and unions don't like it then it's probably a good thing'.

    You have summed up the real problem here which is that people like yourself who have no respect for teachers and their professional judgement. Perhaps you would like me to come and tell you how you are doing your job wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Good for some bad for others. Unfortunately for some including myself and my sister at that age (1990s) development is much slower and theyll be written off with no help. Both of us now have technical degrees and run companys. I wonder if being told we were thick led to the determination to succeed? Nevertheless it came at great cost later in life Class assessments are fine leave exams until later

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    @313 James.

    Society needs semi and unskilled just as importantly (if not more) than highly skilled...

    We need carers, cleaners, caterers, sandwich fillers, bottle fillers and tyre changers.

    In your world are we to expect all lawyers, bankers, designers and techno boffins? Who will make their lunch, fix their car or wipe their bums?

    Practical people will survive. Academics are rarely practical

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    The bottom line is that if we could trust our public services to do a proper job without constantly putting self interest first there wouldn't be any need for constant checks, tests etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    320.AndyPUK "Why on earth do you need to know how your child compares to a national average? Your child is an individual not a clone. You should see for yourself with the interaction with other children how well they are developing."

    Well, Andy, your child's friends may, by chance, all be bright, or all dim. So you may draw the wrong conclusion about relative ability. I hope this helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    As Ian Hislop once said "You don't fatten a pig by constantly weighing it"

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    After 13 years of Nu:Labour excepting the failure of certain groups of children, this change is much welcomed as a Parent and Teacher. Parents are still told how their children are doing at present, it just happens when it is to late to do anything about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    The league table idea could work under certain circustances but there are no really consequences for doing badly. As happend with the nationalised industries doing badly doesn't affect the outcome. Parents can't just move their kids to another school like they can with private schools and thanks to their employment terms gained by the unions its very difficult to fire someone for being rubbish

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    It is a well established fact in educational research that children who are younger in their year group at school tend on average to do significantly worse in terms of educational attainment. Known as the "birthdate effect" or "relative age effect", this generally diminishes as children get older but does not vanish.

    The birthdate effect is also a recognised phenomenon in sport.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    313 "Doing this to children is cruel" and "sick" - always trust Ian to come up with a completely OTT leftie hyperbole. Well played Ian, well played. You should be in the union and make ridiculous statements about how having to do some work would be "devasting" for education. Well, let's face it you probably are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Competing against yourself... or "And thats going to make all the difference when someone looking through the applications for a job vacancy is looking for the most educated and the one with the grades to prove competence?"

    Last job I went for the LEAST qualified applicant was chosen as she was cheaper to hire! So an FBCS and two MScs were shown the door...

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    Replace the word teachers with parents in your opening statement and you will hit the nail on the head!

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Our government doesnt care about our children

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    "302. WolvesWill
    Being told you're one of life's losers at age 11 is simply disgraceful."

    At what age should you tell them if it is true? Allowing someone to carry on as if everything's OK when it isn't is not kindness it's deception. Granted 11 is young and there's no excuse for treating people as second rate but sooner or later we all need to face up to reality. That's life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    I am a primary school teacher. The current and proposed systems teach children to jump through hoops. Primary schools are now like factories attempting to churn out identical Level 4 children who know what a sub-ordinate clause is but can barely speak properly. Testing means teaching to the test at the expense of other subjects and interests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    We know the score, if unions and teachers don't like it then it's probably a good thing and will improve accountability; avoidance of which is the unions' key remit. We need streaming, we need proper exams. The bleeding hearts bridgade had their go, everyone won and surprisingly now the kids can't read and write properly and are being murdered in the job market by countries that value education.


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