Head fears '˜tougher' tests '¨'˜condemn pupils to failure'

A Blackpool headteacher has slammed primary school tests for '˜condemning pupils to failure' .

Thursday, 14th July 2016, 9:43 am
Updated Thursday, 14th July 2016, 10:47 am
St. Nicholas' CE Primary School Head Teacher Andy Mellor

Andy Mellor, headteacher at St Nicholas CE Primary in Marton, has written to parents of Year Six pupils at his own school asking them not to leap to conclusions about the SATS marks.

The Department for Education (DfE) last week published a short summary of results from this year’s SATs, which revealed that just 53 per cent of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths.

80 per cent of pupils nationally met the level four standard last year.

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Education Secretary Nicky Morgan made clear the tests should not be compared with those from previous years and described them as a ‘good start’.

But Mr Mellor believes the tests are not fit for purpose, comparing the new SATs with the old 11-plus regime.

And he has written to parents to reassure them.

He said: “We wanted to send a message to parents saying don’t panic, the system has not collapsed overnight.

“Nicky Morgan has moved the bar.

“But instead of moving it an inch she’s moved it a foot.”

Mr Mellor is concerned parents will be left confused and pupils left broken spirited by the new figures when they are revealed in full.

“In previous years you were able to say a pupil had achieved a certain level.

“Everybody knew that as a currency, you knew what a child had or had not achieved.

“This new system might be nice and clear for the public and for those who draw up league tables but it’s not doing the children any favours.”

Mr Mellor was highly critical of the way the way in which the scores had been presented, equating a range of actual marks with ‘scaled scores’.

To meet Government expectations, pupils must achieve 100 or more.

It’s a policy which Mr Mellor does not believe rewards pupils’ hard work and knowledge.

He said: “If you are one of the 53 per cent nationally who have achieved the expected standard you still have a problem because of the way the scores are calculated.

“The ranged scores cover four or five different marks.

“Whether you are at the top of that range or the bottom you get the same score. There’s no way of properly grading a pupil’s achievement.

“They will not use the terms pass or fail but that’s what it is. It’s the return of the 11-plus. If you’ve got a pupil who is struggling under this system, it is virtually impossible to use the tests to find what that child’s needs are, where they need to improve.

“It is condemning 11-year-olds to failure. And nobody has yet addressed how secondary schools will handle Year Seven resits.”

The Government’s previous minimum expected standard was 65 per cent.

With the national average falling well below that level, Mr Mellor is concerned with the long term impact of the SATs.

He said: “The floor target was 65 per cent – that was the epitome of poor performance.

“Is it now the case that nationally performance is unacceptable or have they moved the benchmark?”

Mr Mellor branded the testing regime ‘poorly run’ – saying the framework for classroom assessment’s wasn’t delivered until February this year, with teachers having spent months in the dark over what was expected.

“We’ve pushed and pushed children all year without knowing what they are working towards,” he said.

“Then when they arrive they are so rigid, a child can get 99 per cent of what is required but if a teacher can’t tick one box they don’t reach the standard.” He slammed the Government for introducing an untested scheme and asked why pupils were tested on four years of learning when the new exams had only been planned for the last two years.

“Our job as educators is to challenge children as best we can,” he said.”

“Results had been going up and up. The Government came along and dismissed that. They said they were adding rigour by making the tests harder. Making them harder does not add rigour, it just condemns children to failure.

“There are schools in Blackpool that have made amazing progress, ours included, but are condemned on these attainment figures.”

Mr Mellor is hoping his school’s pupils would find their achievements better reflected when figures measuring improvement were published.

In the meantime he is taking to parents and working to allay any concerns over pupils’ future.

Nicky Morgan was quick to defend the new tests in the face of criticism from teachers and school learders.

She said: “I expect critics of the new primary curriculum will be quick to try and suggest that any lower results are evidence of a failure of the system.Nothing could be further from the truth.”

And she insisted any drop in results was as much a reflection on the previous test as it was on pupils.

She said: “It wouldn’t mean children have performed any worse this year simply that we have raised the bar on what counts as good enough.

“Neither schools nor parents should try to compare this year’s results with previous years. The tests are new and are based on a new, more rigorous national curriculum – based on the best evidence from across the world.

“Parents should see the results as what they are – a reflection of how well children this year have performed against a new curriculum.”

A petition, started by teachers from the The Lancaster, Morecambe & District Primary Headteachers’ Cluster, calling on Mrs Morgan to apologise and resign has received more than 10,000 signatures.