Primaries' test success masked by SEN scores

1st August 2008 at 01:00
With special needs pupils not included, new government figures for primary targets show the chief inspector's `national disaster' comment could be wide of the mark, reports Warwick Mansell

Almost all 11-year-olds in England without special educational needs (SEN) are achieving the Government's targeted test levels in English, maths and science, a TES analysis has revealed.

Some 92 per cent of non-SEN pupils achieve level 4 in English, while figures for maths and science are 88 and 95 per cent respectively.

The new data, published without publicity on the Government's statistics website, puts into perspective the national soul-searching over primary test results.

In 2006, Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said the fact that only 83 per cent reached the expected level 4 in reading, which was once the national average, was a "national disaster".

But teachers' leaders believe the new figures show schools are doing all they can with the pupils they educate, as many SEN children will struggle to gain a level 4.

Seven out of 10 pupils who fail to achieve level 4 in English have special needs, the figures show. In maths and science, the comparable figures are six and seven out of 10 respectively. Nationally, one in four 11-year-olds was listed last year as having some form of special need.

Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of the National Association of Special Educational Needs, said: "If schools are getting 85-90 per cent to what was once the national average, they are doing a damn good job, given that we know that at least 20 per cent of young people have a special need."

John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said: "Criticism of schools based on their results reaching a plateau is ill- informed, since it utterly fails to take into account the impact of special needs."

The figures also show that among SEN pupils without a statement 46 per cent achieved level 4 in English last year, while figures for maths and science were 46 and 69 per cent respectively. Among children with a statement, in each subject only 19, 20 and 34 per cent achieved level 4.

Success rates are higher across all pupil categories for key stage 2 science tests than for English and maths. Pupils with visual impairments had the highest rates of success among the categories of special need, with 53 per cent of those with statements achieving level 4 in English, 56 per cent doing so in maths and 69 per cent in science.

A DCSF spokesman said: "There have been major improvements in standards over the last decade with record numbers of 11-year-olds reaching the expected level for their age in English, maths and science. Schools and pupils should be congratulated for their hard work.

"It is important that schools do their best to remove barriers to achievement for children with Special Education Needs. "Schools have a statutory duty to make every endeavour to ensure that necessary provision is made for pupils with SEN."

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