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 411.

    The problem with this is that it attempts to fix in school and with targets what should be addressed with support at home. Home life has by far the biggest impact on a child's attainment and until we see true social justice we will not see all our children reaching their true potential. This idea might measure the outcome, but will never fix the real issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    My nephew, 12, tells me he has classmates who can't read or write properly, don't know basic maths and can't recite the alphabet - stuff most kids should know at 5 or 6. If those kids are learning deficient in some way, it should have been picked up years ago for them and measures put in place so they could at least grasp the basics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.


    Identifying the bottom 10% so that they can get extra help - what's wrong with that? Waiting till they sign on after they fail certainly isn't working.


    Ther eis nothing wrong with that, which is why schools have been doing it for years.

    What is new is telling the pupils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    yet another Government imposed educational change which appears to come from politicians rather than a consensus of parents, teachers, employers, educational experts. Why can't we manage education in a way that reflects a greater consensus rather than make it a political football? The losers are our children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    My secondary school put us into sets when we were in the first year (aged 12) which is just a year older than mentioend in this article. Can't we just carry on with that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    367 "You have summed up the real problem here which is that people .. who have no respect for teachers and their professional judgement" - sick of hearing Blower treat every hint of reform as apolocalyptic; laughing all the way to the unfunded pensions, 13 weeks off and tenure. When was a teacher last fired? Professional judgement? Ha, unionised perk grabbing and accountability avoidance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Once again politicians making decisions that ultimately will not effect them or their children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    "362. bod1988
    As Ian Hislop once said "You don't fatten a pig by constantly weighing it"

    See posts 279,244,164,156 (and others beside)!!

    Is no one capable of coming up with an original thought anymore??

    No doubt down to our failing standards of education!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Wherever you are in the table, you will always be better than Cameron Osborne, Clegg and Duncan Smith who are the lowest scum in the entire country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    @367 exactly. Has 'I can out Tory the Tories' Clegg asked any actual educational professionals about their thoughts on this? No. As with the National curriculum (now and first time out), Sats, league tables for Secondary's, the conservatives have asked no-one but right wing think tanks and fellow politicians to 'guide' policy. Lack of respect for professionals comes right from the top.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    Will they use them to put you in sets. I had a drastic improvement in my maths and science during my early secondary days. I got put into a lower/bottom set for maths after first year, but half way through the second year got moved straight into the fastest top set. Would poor earlier scores have stopped this happening or would me being put into the bottom set never have happened?

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    We have completely lost the plot on providing quiality education and quality healthcare because we are so obsessed with compiling performance statistics.

    When do we start measuring the quality and efficacy of the methods used to measure performance ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Here we go again. Another political interference in the education of the next generation. their schooling lurches from chaos to disaster and back again.

    I suppose that's successful in the Capital goal of churning out an ill-educated and compliant 'minimum wage' workforce though.

    Meanwhile, the Eton few get all the cream.

  • Comment number 398.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    362.bod1988 said: As Ian Hislop once said "You don't fatten a pig by constantly weighing it"

    But you can better assess the amount of feed you need to give it, saving your precious resouces to help fatten other pigs.

    Then you've be a more successful pig farmer than the one who pours out the food and waits to see what the result is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    When will politicians learn that you don't fatten a pig by weighing it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    323...Wow! That is quite a statement. Children should learn as early as possible that the world is "cruel and unfair". I would advocate exactly the opposite. Children should have an opportunity to be children, to be naive and believe in dragons and castles, princesses and fairy stories. There is time enough for the "reality" of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    Aristotle once said that the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. Maybe schools would need to make use of that when measuring how pupils are "performing". Camus said that to be happy we must not be too concerned with others. Maybe schools should think about that measuring pupils "well-being". Is school there to teach you how to live well or help you to know your place?

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    Has Clegg taken over from Gove at Education now?I'm not sure that's an improvement given they are both in the lowest ten percent of our politicians.......and that takes some doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    Why is there always emphasis on comparing children with other children? If teachers and parents know what the child should be capable of by a certain age, why not just focus on the areas the individual child needs to improve on, rather than a "you can't do that but the rest of your friends can" attitude? Children don't need to know how everyone else is doing, just how THEY are doing.


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