We must fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion de­liv­ery

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Speaker’s Corner - Steve Lane, Werrington First mem­ber of Peter­bor­ough City Coun­cil The col­umn that shouts about views and is­sues con­cern­ing Peter­bor­ough from a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives

Iam dis­ap­pointed to hear of the knee-jerk reaction to news of this year’s SATs re­sults by some of our lo­cal politi­cians.

True, it is not a po­si­tion that any ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity wants to be in, but to de­mand a change of fig­ure­head at this time is not the so­lu­tion, in my opin­ion. I say this be­cause the main prob­lem is the new and more rig­or­ous tests is­sued by the Depart­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion, and not a fail­ing of this au­thor­ity. We are asked to treat this first year’s re­sults with cau­tion, and told that par­ents should not be alarmed, nor try to com­pare this year’s re­sults with pre­vi­ous years as the tests are en­tirely new. In light of that, I think it would be in­cor­rect and mis­lead­ing to make di­rect com­par­isons for at least the next two or three years.

At the mo­ment I can­not see the need, nor strength of ar­gu­ment to war­rant a change suf­fi­cient to meet my col­leagues’ ex­pec­ta­tions. There is no cham­pion, nor ed­u­ca­tion ‘czar’, that could make changes that are not al­ready be­ing dealt with by our knowl­edge­able and ex­pe­ri­enced ed­u­ca­tion team.

The nub of the prob­lem is the Key Stage 2 Stan­dard As­sess­ment Tests, which as­sess chil­dren in read­ing, writ­ing, spelling, gram­mar, punc­tu­a­tion and maths, and are part of a new pri­mary na­tional cur­ricu­lum that was in­tro­duced in 2014. Last term’s Year 6 co­hort were the first to sit these pa­pers but had only two years to pre­pare, leav­ing most au­thor­i­ties and school lead­ers to con­sider the time-scale as in­ad­e­quate. School gov­er­nors were told of teach­ers’ anx­i­ety to meet statu­tory re­quire­ments as they grap­pled with the new cur­ricu­lum and its ex- pec­ta­tions of them, as well as con­tin­u­ing to de­liver our chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion. The Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Head Teach­ers ac­tu­ally called for the pub­li­ca­tion of re­sults to be can­celled. They warned of “se­ri­ous mis­takes” in how changes had been in­tro­duced and said that re­sults would be too un­pre­dictable for cre­at­ing league ta­bles, and that com­par­i­son be­tween schools would be risky. In my view, it will be at least a cou­ple of years be­fore all chil­dren have ex­pe­ri­enced four years of the new cur­ricu­lum - when re­sults will be more aligned and progress will bet­ter re­flect that learn­ing jour­ney.

On this oc­ca­sion, and as a re­sult of Govern­ment rais­ing the bar quite sig­nif­i­cantly, there are some au­thor­i­ties that have not been best-placed to de­liver a re­sult ac­cord­ing to their usual reck­on­ing be­cause of in­flu­ences out­side their con­trol. For Peter­bor­ough, one im­pact on ed­u­ca­tion is its higher than av­er­age pupil churn. To put this in more de­tail, there are a large num­ber of city schools with a sub­stan­tial pupil turnover as a re­sult of the tran­sient na­ture of the city’s pop­u­la­tion. Stud­ies have shown that pupil turnover will have a detri­men­tal im­pact on a pupil’s aca­demic achieve­ment. Ba­si­cally, they might join a class at the start or per­haps mid-way through the school year. The place­ment may be per­ma­nent, but in­vari­ably will be tem­po­rary be­fore the fam­ily moves across the city or leaves this area on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. The pupil does not hit the ground run­ning, and their ex­pected progress may be de­layed be­cause of lan­guage dif­fi­cul­ties or the change in cul­ture and en­vi­ron­ment they ex­pe­ri­ence at their new school. Many will un­der­achieve at first, and the con­fu­sion will im­pede their aca­demic progress. Mul­ti­ply these fac­tors by what­ever num­ber of new pupils each school may re­ceive in a given year, and we can see what im­pact that will have on the aca­demic re­sults for both the school and the lo­cal au­thor­ity that over­sees this oc­cur­rence in most of its city pri­mary schools. Our teach­ers do a mar­vel­lous job in han­dling these sit­u­a­tions, and the child does even­tu­ally get on track, but these pe­ri­ods do af­fect a school’s per­for­mance ta­bles.

This au­thor­ity’s reaction to the na­tional league ta­bles will be han­dled ap­pro­pri­ately, but I am pleased to see at least one sen­si­ble com­men­ta­tor, Shailesh Vara MP, when he said it is not about one per­son wav­ing a magic wand. I hope he thinks as I do, that there is suf­fi­cient ex­pe­ri­ence on the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity and its lead­er­ship is sound.

As a school gover­nor my­self I will not be join­ing a cam­paign for change and have put all thoughts of league ta­bles be­hind me. In­stead, I will sim­ply fo­cus on help­ing my school’s lead­ers to de­liver the ed­u­ca­tion that every child de­serves.

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