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'The idea that schools should get a 100 per cent pass rate for times tables is grandstanding'

Richard Gerver, former primary headteacher and leadership expert, writes:

It has been reported that the Conservatives want to academise any school where, for two years running, less than 100 per cent of students achieve their times tables test. Really? That is an extraordinary statement.

That statement raises a number of issues. The first is that academisation improves standards and leadership. The jury is still out on that. The sub-issue is that they have struggled to get primary schools to convert to academy status in the same way that secondaries have and it seems they are desperate to find ways to get schools to convert. That worries me. As a former headteacher of a highly successful school, I think it doesn’t matter who manages schools as much as how well led they are.

If the debate is about school improvement, then the arguments should be about how we are recruiting headteachers, how we are preparing them for leadership and how can we give them the tools they need to lead effectively.

The second issue is the attitude behind that statement. I think headteachers will react with absolute horror. It is another stick to beat school leaders with. Even the most successful educators in the most successful schools could not guarantee a 100 per cent pass rate in tests. Headteachers are passionate about children’s learning. But this statement seems to be based on the idea that if you don’t threaten and push teachers they won’t go into school wanting to do their best. Having spent the past seven years working not just in the education sector but looking at the most innovative companies in the world, I’ve seen that excellence only comes if you develop cultures of trust and empowerment.

The idea of a 100 per cent pass rate is almost unattainable; if it were introduced, it would push every primary school to divert teachers from the job of educating students properly into a more intensive culture of tests.

And who can say what will happen on the night before the test? Some primary school children are carers, some live in dysfunctional homes and have parents who are drug addicts or are in abusive relationships. Is all that to be ignored?

But there is an almost defeatist attitude among headteachers now. This latest statement hasn't come as a surprise or shock; it’s the kind of crass political statement they have grown used to. It’s bullying, unnecessary and demotivating.

It is not the way to drive up educational performance. It is grandstanding. What parent wouldn’t say: "Of course I want my child to learn their times tables. If this party can guarantee that. it seems like a great idea"? But what they might not ask is: "What impact does that statement have on the quality of education on offer in my child’s school?" And that is what I think they should be asking.


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