Amid the uproar, latest tables reveal quiet successes

4th December 2009 at 00:00

Publication of the primary school leagues was overshadowed this week by continuing debate over a decline in some areas and a potential boycott looming by teaching unions the NAHT and NUT. But the headline figures, provisionally published in August - 80 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 in English and 79 per cent reaching level 4 in maths - were confirmed. There was a slight movement from 19 to 20 per cent in the proportion of pupils getting level 5 in writing.

Diana Johnson, schools minister, said the huge progress made in raising standards over the past 12 years was down to teaching professionals' hard work. She added that the 1,472 schools - roughly 10 per cent - where fewer than 55 per cent of pupils reached level 4 in both English and maths would be targeted for improvement.

Helen Ward reports on the standout stories behind this year's tables

MOST IMPROVED SCHOOLS

The kids are to thank for great strides

David Deane took on his first headship almost three years ago, moving to St Thomas of Canterbury RC Primary School, Salford, in January 2007 when it was in special measures. Now the school is the most improved in England, with 95 per cent of pupils reaching level 4 in English and 90 per cent in maths this year - a massive leap from three years ago.

In 2006, exceptionally low Sats scores of 29 per cent reaching level 4 in English and 33 per cent in maths put the school in the bottom one per cent in the country and triggered intervention.

By July 2008, Ofsted rated the 240-pupil school as good - saying teachers have high expectations and a clear picture of how well they are doing.

Mr Deane says it is the pupils who attract good teachers. "When I first came round the school I could see there was a tremendous potential. You could see there was a great relationship between the children and the staff. What the school needed was the same excellence in teaching and learning.

"One of the key things I've had to do in the last three years has been to talent spot. People say that I'm a great salesman but it's not me. I know all I have to do is get people over that front doorstep and the children will sell the school just by being themselves."

There are 22 languages spoken in the school, and about half of pupils have an additional language to English.

Speaking on Tuesday Mr Deane said he may take staff out for a drink to celebrate, but added: "At 3.45pm we have a staff meeting and we're looking at effective questioning, a strand of Assessment for Learning. The reason we succeed is because we 'stick to our knitting', we focus on teaching and learning. Even on days when we have had good news."

THE BOYCOTTERS

Tests held in most basic sense

Parents at England's first Steiner Academy refused to let their children sit the national tests.

Their decision meant that the school scored 0 per cent in the tests in English, maths and science.

Trevor Mepham, principal of the Herefordshire-based academy, said that the tests were run as required. There were 24 pupils eligible to take the tests but 19 were recorded as absent after their parents wrote to Mr Mepham refusing to allow their children to take part. The remaining pupils had special needs or were in a different year group, meaning it was not possible to award a level.

Mr Mepham said: "The terms of the funding agreement with the Department for Children, Schools and Families are that the tests at the end of key stage 2 will be administered.

"The academy registered all the eligible pupils. We had the test papers in our safe, as you would expect anywhere else. We had the classroom set up, we had clocks, the teachers were available. In that sense we administered the tests. The papers were collected and sent back."

The school has 300 pupils aged four to 16 and follows a Steiner curriculum rather than the national curriculum.

OUTSTANDING SCHOOLS

Global focus is a winner

Changing the curriculum was the key to Hampstead Norreys CE Primary's rise to the top of the outstanding schools table, according to headteacher Alex Butler.

Two years ago the 105-pupil primary in West Berkshire adopted the International Primary Curriculum (IPC), which uses themed lessons on subjects such as chocolate.

This year, 93 per cent of pupils reached the higher level 5 in English and all did so in maths and science.

Miss Butler said: "When I came to Hampstead Norreys the children were being spoon-fed. The teaching was of a high level and they were busting a gut, but the learning was at a lower level.

"The IPC is about backing up knowledge with skills. I also liked the fact it is international, that our children in this small village 10 miles from Newbury have an understanding of how children are living in other parts of the world."

CONTEXTUAL VALUE ADDED

Icy reception aids children's progress

Ice skating has helped Blue Bell Hill Primary and Nursery in Nottingham glide to the top of the table for children's progress.

All children have the chance to take lessons at the city's Ice Arena - and headteacher Jo Bradley says such exciting activities are one of the reasons the school does so well.

This year, the 210-pupil primary in St Ann's has a contextual value added (CVA) score of 105, the highest in England.

Mrs Bradley said: "We do offer a very broad and exciting curriculum. We accept that our children need a lot of work on the basic skills for literacy and numeracy, but we also offer them a lot of experiences that we hope make them want to come to school and make them want to learn.

"We do a lot of dance, drama and ice skating.

"We do it because children love it and parents love it. For our children it's these experiences that matter. We don't live in an area in Nottingham where everybody thinks of enrolling their children in ice skating or ballet lessons."

The school was rated as outstanding by Ofsted in 2008. Inspectors praised the teaching, the curriculum and even the "amazing" daily assemblies.

About half the pupils at Blue Bell Hill speak English as an additional language, and a similar proportion are on free school meals.

Last year, 84 per cent of pupils got level 4 or above in English and 79 per cent in maths; 76 per cent had both. All these figures are at or above the national average.

The school had 38 pupils in Year 6 last year, who were taught in two classes of 19 since Year 5. Mrs Bradley said that the small class sizes helped ensure those children got the attention they needed. But reorganisation in the city now means the school has a one-form intake of 30.

Mrs Bradley said: "We are going to be sending cards to all last year's Year 6 pupils because we are celebrating but the children who did the tests have moved on to key stage 3 and we want to tell them what they have achieved."

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