Angry heads file order to try harder in bin

But minister defends his letter of concern over primary standards. Helen Ward and Warwick Mansell report

PRIMARY heads are binning a letter from education minister Stephen Twigg telling them that they must try harder to improve English and maths results.

Mr Twigg wrote to heads saying he wanted to see "significant improvements" in the tests this year. He said he was concerned to see that one in four schools is "underperforming".

But heads say standards will rise more rapidly if they are left alone and that primary education is about more than reaching level 4, the expected standard for 11-year-olds, in English and maths. Mr Twigg this week told The TES he stood by his letter which prompted a heavy postbag of letters from angry heads in this week's paper.

Angeles Walford, chair of the National Association of Head Teachers primary committee and head at the Priory C of E primary in Wimbledon, London, said: "They need to leave us alone. We are all doing well, children are not failing, the only failure is the Government's failure to see how successful the national literacy and numeracy strategies are.

"The worst thing is that teachers are leaving the profession, because they are fed up with being told they are failing and schools are failing."

This term, government support includes training for Year 6 teachers and teaching assistants, 1,000 Easter schools and guidance on booster classes.

But heads say the Government has confused meeting its target of 85 per cent of children achieving level 4 in English and maths by 2004 with raising standards.

Simon Marsh, head at St Mary Magdalene C of E primary, Islington, London, said: "I do not think children are failing. I think they are being forced into a fairly efficient but generally unexciting form of education, which I don't think will raise standards.

"I binned the letter. I think he [Twigg] means well but is this the way to motivate people and encourage them to do work? It goes against everything one knows about motivating pupils and staff."

Mr Twigg said he could understand how heads of schools which had seen rapid improvements in results might feel on receiving the letter.

But he had wanted to write to all primaries reminding them of their importance to the Government. He said: "I'm not going to apologise for pointing out that there are differences (in results) between schools, and flagging up the need for the extra work to reach the quite ambitious targets we have set ourselves for 2004-6."

He added: "I in no way want to give the impression that all I am concerned about is literacy and numeracy.

"They are critical. But the evidence is very clear that schools that do well in literacy and numeracy tend also to be ones that enrich the curriculum, and deliver in areas like music and sport. It's not an either-or."

Letters, 30

Primary Forum, 24

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