Mark of approval open to all

Nadene Ghouri

A new Quality Mark for primary school achievement in basic skills was launched this week, after a six-month pilot across 63 local authorities.

The mark, awarded by the Basic Skills Agency, recognises continuous improvement in numeracy and literacy.

Winsford Darnall primary school in Cheshire is one of the first schools to be awarded the mark. Headteacher Colin Pritchard said: "When the local authority approached me with the idea, I thought 'Oh please no, not another initiative'. But when I looked at it, I was pleasantly surprised."

To achieve the mark a school must be able to prove that the basic skills of pupils are continually assessed and have been improving for more than a year.

Mr Pritchard said: "We were already doing all that anyway. The criteria were things like producing regular reports on individual children, having regular staff sessions to discuss across-the-board skills, promoting literacy hour and so on. It was just a question of compiling it all as proof."

Alan Wells, director of the Basic Skills Agency, is keen to spread the word that any school can achieve the mark, even those not meeting national standards.

He said: "We do recognise the external factors which can determine the level of basic skills within school. What we are interested in is what the school is doing to address the difficulties it faces, and how well it is doing this, not judging it on national factors beyond its control.

"It's all about maximising the added value a school is able to bring out in its pupils. Primary schools with a high number of under-attainers should be able to get our Quality Mark just as readily as a school that has very few children who struggle with basic skills."

Gifford primary school in Ealing, west London, is an inner-city school with 600 pupils. A total of 50 per cent have English as a second language and 25 per cent are on the special educational needs register.

Although the school had a positive Office for Standards in Education report last year, its overall standards are below national average. However, headteacher Val Crookes has decided to start working towards the Quality Mark.

"I'm not usually a particular believer in these kind of awards. But as we already had an action plan to raise attainment this hasn't become an extra burden for staff, rather just part of what we are already doing," she said.

"It's helped us to see exactly what we were good at and where we were weak. We need to have some kind of target beyond national tests - a target to boost morale."

Colin Pritchard agrees: "We are below the national tests average. I find that such an insult. All children develop differently, especially ones that come from a deprived area like this one.

"Children can fail their key stage 1 tests, but be transformed three months later due to the professionalism of my teachers. This mark is simply a way of saying: 'well done, you're doing something right'."

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