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Exclusive: Angry head says ministers must stop 'humiliating' schools

Headteacher says primary performance tables are 'one dimensional' and 'creating a climate of derision and fear'

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Headteacher says primary performance tables are 'one dimensional' and 'creating a climate of derision and fear'

An angry headteacher has told ministers they are “humiliating” good schools and subjecting them to a “climate of fear and derision”.

Rebecca Loader, head of Clare Primary, Suffolk, wrote to school standards minister Nick Gibb after her school appeared in a newspaper’s list of “England’s worst primary schools”, which was based on the key stage 2 performance tables.

She said that the school, which is below the floor standard, had been “misrepresented” due to the narrow statistics which were published in the tables.

“Frankly, I am sick of this ‘naming and shaming’ approach which completely contravenes your own Department’s current stance on staff wellbeing, mental health and Ofsted’s move towards a wider and less test-orientated school curriculum for KS1 and 2,” she wrote to Mr Gibb in a letter seen by Tes and also signed by Keith Haisman, the school’s chair of trustees.

She added: “I care deeply about my school and I am striving as hard as I possibly can to give my pupils the education they deserve. Do your performance tables help me to do that?

"Does it actually help anyone to compare schools in this humiliating way which ignores any narrative and limits progress to an out-of-date comparative measure which has since been replaced?”

Ms Loader said the school, which has not yet been inspected by Ofsted, was a "good" school with "outstanding" features, and added “this has been verified by several independent bodies associated with the local authority and even a DfE representative when we were visited by Pippa Bull, an advisor for the Regional Schools Commissioner in January 2018.”

The head concludes: "Unfortunately, dropping the bare minimum into the public arena is creating a climate of derision and fear. No wonder there is a recruitment crisis for headteachers – who in their right mind would put themselves up for this lottery of success?"

The Department for Education does publish information on how primary schools have performed in the key stage 2 assessments but does not publish this in league table form and a spokesperson said it could not be held responsible for how other people present the data.

Ms Loader told Tes that she absolutely agreed with transparency, but felt the government should provide more context.

Primary schools fall below the floor standard if less than 65 per cent of pupils reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and their pupils have not made sufficient progress.

The performance tables show that 63 per cent of pupils at Clare primary reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths - just below the national average of 64 per cent.

But Ms Loader points out there has been a rise in the percentage of children reaching the expected standard in individual subjects. But these pass rates are no longer published.

Meanwhile, the writing and maths progress scores, which she says were affected by circumstances beyond her control, are published flagged up in red as "well below average".

“They are putting information out there and it’s giving a one-dimensional picture of schools,” she said.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said: “Whilst we all know that pupils need to develop their skills in numeracy and literacy, test and exam results are only part of the picture when judging a school’s performance or a pupil’s success. SATs results and league tables provide nothing more than a snapshot, and yet the impact on schools, as well as the teachers and children within them, is hard to overestimate."

This month, Tes columnist Jo Brighouse wrote about how she was contacted by a parent after her children's school was also 'named and shamed' without mentioning that there had been an unusually high number of children with special educational needs in Year 6 that year.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our annual performance data is an important resource to help parents decide on a school for their children and for schools to measure their performance. We do not rank schools.  

“Schools whose results are of a lower standard are entitled to extra support to help them overcome any issues they may be facing.

"We cannot account for how media outlets choose to interpret our data.

“In general, standards are rising in our schools, with 86 per cent of schools now rated good or outstanding as of August 2018, compared to 68 per cent in 2010 and these statistics show that the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers has closed by 13 per cent since 2011.”

The spokesperson added that Mr Gibb would also respond formally to the letter.



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