'Some schools find it nearly impossible to reach the expected standard, but this doesn't mean teachers are doing a poor job'

6th July 2016 at 15:01
confronting-child-poverty-scotland
The Sats results are out, but many schools in deprived areas will still be waiting anxiously for the national progress measure to be released, says one primary headteacher

When looking at the outcomes of this year’s Sats, my initial reaction was of great disappointment. Our school is in an area ranked nationally as the second highest for deprivation. We have an area resource base for children with severe and profound learning difficulties and an unusually small cohort of 19 pupils. Of those 19 pupils, three are within the resource base.

This might sound like I am trying to make excuses for our results. Actually, we have cleared all floor targets and, when we remove the resource-base pupils from the calculations, we have significantly cleared the national outcomes.

My disappointment is not to do with our results − it is about the fact that my colleagues and I feel deflated and exhausted. The thought of having to try and reach these standards again, while maintaining the sanity and health of both children and staff, will linger over us all through the summer, as many of us are seriously considering our career options.

For several years now, we have known the challenges that our pupils will face. The vast majority of them have only been taught the revised national curriculum for two years, so we cannot be certain that this has hindered the outcomes. But it surely must have had an impact.

Recognising progress

Naturally, clearing national floor targets is a relief for the school. But there will be many schools like ours, in which children start from well below age-related expectations, which will find it near impossible to reach the expected standard within the revised curriculum. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the leaders and teachers at these schools are doing a poor job. It could actually indicate that they are doing an amazing job.

For this reason, we very much welcomed the government’s decision to recognise the progress measure for achieving floor targets. Unfortunately, this information will not be released until September, which brings undue anxiety and stress to school leaders, as they wait for the national progress measure to be compared with their own school.

If there is a failing school, that is one failing school too many. However, we need to apply caution to the world of assessment, while it moves through this transitional phase within the revised national curriculum. I am all for raising the bar, but I do hope the Department for Education reconsiders the expected standard, particularly for schools whose children come from a low starting point.

We must hold schools to account for their performance, but not to the point at which it is detrimental to the children.

Matt Middlemore is headteacher at Tregolls School in Cornwall. He tweets as @Matt_Middlemore

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