07 August 2007

A Lost Virtue: Excellence

Chart showing pupils reaching level 4 in national curriculum science, English and maths tests 1999-2007"Primary tests results improving" reads the encouraging BBC headline ... the "best set of Key Stage 2 results we have ever seen," according to Schools Minister Andrew Adonis.

Now, I always thought that a headline was supposed to summarise the most significant point of what followed. Yet the article reveals "the overall results show that four out of 10 children have failed at least one part of the tests." Put another way, just 60% of the 600,000 11-year-olds about to enter secondary school next month are able to read, write, and count properly?! The headline should read "Education Failing Next Generation"!

What kind of foundation does this lay for the future? We are talking about the unfulfilled potential of hundreds of thousands of individuals — and the devastating impact of an uncompetitive economy for decades to come. And the head of the National Union of Teachers is right: it is not the fault of the teachers, who continue to provide the best service they can; Labour is to blame, with its unhealthy obsession with tests, targets and tables. This above all is surely why we need a new government — one "that is for excellence and opportunity for all." In the meantime, perhaps the only hope is for every parent to have their children join the scouts or some other such club where they might yet have a chance of learning to aspire for excellence.

NB. Of course, in the wider context of school examinations having got significantly easier since the end of the 1980s — as proven by a study carried out by Durham University’s curriculum, evaluation and management centre and summarised by Burning Our Money — even the claim that 60% are ready for secondary school should probably be questioned.


The Stonemason said...

iMy daughter, who atended the local state junior school, has just taken her KS2 exams and I'm pleased to say she has passed them all at Level 4 or 5, after a lot of extra tuition over the years. Over half of her year group achieved Level 5 for Maths, the top set achieving marks of 90% plus and one boy achieving 100%. To achieve a Maths Level 5 one needed to score 78% or more. My daughter scored 77% in Maths but does not have a thorough knowledge of her times tables. How bad do you have to be to fail to get a Level 4?

John said...

It appears I was right to have my doubts about the extent of the Government's "success": Civitas asserts, "Key Stage 2 results published yesterday by the government don't stand up to scrutiny." Among the evidence it quotes to support its claim is an earlier study by Durham University's CEM Centre:

"In their own tests between 1997 and 2002 they found no evidence of improvement in literacy and only meagre improvement in maths, despite significant rises in Key Stage 2 test scores."

Picking up on the Stonemason's question, it quotes educationalists as saying "There are many children who can reach Level 4 in May of Year 6, but cannot reach the same level a year later, because they'd been coached for the tests" and "Year 6 booster classes temporarily raised pupils to level 4 in maths but that this rise could not be sustained six months to a year later."

Anonymous said...

Making the big leap from Year 6 to Year 7 in education (and moving up to the BIG Comprehensive school) is a bit like moving from a good Upper 6th Form to Oxbridge.

A lot of the work already covered and achieved by the candidate (particularly in Maths), is re-started in the next educational estblishment. This only serves to 'turn off' the enthusiasm of the more able pupil.

Primary school teachers do no service to their pupils by 'pushing' and 'coaching' so that when they start at Senior School their school will not look as if they did no teaching at all. Our daughter suffered this discouragement when she changed schools in 1979 - it would seem that nothing has changed under the present Labour Party's Educational 'Reforms'.

Pupils should be allowed to learn at their own pace; while teachers should be allowed to teach to the ability of the pupils, not to any statutory tests.

Oxfordshire parent (and ex-teacher)