Size does matter in the classroom;PovertyResults index

15th October 1999 at 01:00
A TES analysis of national test results shows that the performance of small unitary councils falls below expected levels.

THE LEGACY of poorly-performing small local education authorities created by the last government, has left present-day ministers with a headache.

An analysis by The TES of national test results suggests schools in a string of new unitary councils are producing results lower than might be expected given their levels of deprivation.

In the main, results in both primary and secondary schools are poor in areas such as Reading, Thurrock, City of Nottingham and Milton Keynes where the number of children eligible for free school meals is on or around the national average.

In the relatively affluent unitary of South Gloucestershire, (with fewer than 9 per cent of secondary pupils eligible for free schol meals, compared to the national average of 16.9 per cent), test results for 14-year-olds are at the same level as North Tyneside where 20 per cent of pupils receive free school meals.

Overall, the results show remarkable rates of improvement at key stage 2 among a number of smaller London councils with high levels of deprivation. They include Tower Hamlets, Lambeth and Kensington and Chelsea.

However, the results for 14-year-olds suggest ministers have rightly identified the need to direct greater effort towards raising standards in secondary schools.

The scattergraph opposite suggests there is considerable variation in performance between those local authorities that have about average or above average levels of deprivation.

Secondaries in the Wirral, where 26.6 per cent of pupils receive free school meals, achieve an aggregate score at key stage 3 that is 45 points higher than Sandwell in the Midlands, where only 22 per cent of pupils are eligible for free meals.

At key stage 3, councils that have higher than average rates of deprivation but better than average results include Redbridge, Lancashire, St Helens and Sefton.

At the other end of scale, authorities with levels of poverty below the national average but which have achieved results worse than the national average include Reading, Swindon, Wigan and Slough.

At key stage 2, the local authorities with relatively good results in spite of higher than average rates of poverty include the London boroughs of Westminster and Camden, Lancashire and Gateshead.

In the larger cities, ministers are likely to be concerned that schools in the north, particularly Bradford and Manchester, are not improving in line with the national average.

Ministers have taken action in the London borough of Hackney, where two services are to be run by the private sector. The borough's key stage 2 aggregate results this year improved by 8 per cent. In Islington, where all the education services are to be run by the private sector, aggregate results in the primary schools have improved by almost 20 per cent.

Ministers are taking action to improve results in secondary schools through the Excellence in Cities initiative. But many of those authorities that appear to be least successful at overcoming the problems of disadvantage are not in the programme.

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