Tests do not keep head off beach

21st May 2004 at 01:00
One school is determined to give pupils a rounded education, even in the midst of Sats. Helen Ward reports

When Pete Burner, head of Kingsbridge community primary in Devon, says there is more to school than national tests he means it.

So while his 55 Year 6 pupils took their English, maths and science tests last week, he went on a residential trip to the seaside with his school's eight-year-olds.

"We don't make a big issue of Sats," said Mr Burner. "We do tests as well as we can, we prepare children as well as we can, but the tests are not the be all and end all."

Eighty per cent of the children at Kingsbridge achieved level 4 in English last year, compared to 75 per cent nationally. In maths, the proportion was 1 per cent below the 73 per cent national figure, and in science 82 per cent compared to 87 per cent nationally.

Mr Burner said: "Our scores are not exceptional but we achieve well. There are schools which do better than us, possibly because they treat the tests as an important week and prepare children for them. I think my role is about educating children in a holistic way."

Mr Burner was at the 400-pupil school on Monday and Thursday for meetings and popped in every morning. The rest of his time was spent at the residential centre in Slapton, eight miles away.

Eight-year-olds from the school were split into two groups, each spending half the week at the centre doing environmental projects like pond dipping and exploring a woodland and a freshwater lake.

Christine Slaughter, deputy head, was at the centre for the entire week.

The key stage 1 and 2 co-ordinators, both members of the senior management team, were left in charge of the day-to-day running of the school.

Mr Burner said: "We are fighting desperately to maintain residential trips in primary schools. Pupils can learn things that would be more difficult to do when schoolbound.

"It also means the school is that little bit quieter for Sats."

The school also runs two trips to Dartmoor for Year 6 pupils.

The Sats consist of eight papers spread over five days. There were repeated complaints about the amount of reading in the science tests on Monday. The writing tests on Tuesday had a mixed response. Wednesday's reading tests were about the paralympics and a girl whose grandfather was moving house after a stroke. The three maths tests, taken last Thursday and Friday, were considered well-pitched.

But the tests did not run smoothly for everyone. At Cummersdale school, Carlisle, the envelopes used to send the papers to the marker did not turn up in time. Shaun Halfpenny, headteacher, said: "The papers are meant to be dispatched within 24 hours and I have to sign a declaration form to say they have been. But the envelopes did not arrive until Thursday afternoon.

It was a total shambles."

Cumbria County Council said it was aware some areas of the county had difficulties getting their test stationery through in time.

A Qualifications and Curriculum Authority spokeswoman said: "Calls to our testing helpline are broadly in line with previous years, with an average of 500 calls per day."


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