Cllr Stephen Lane, Werrington First member on Peterborough City Council:
I am disappointed to hear of the knee-jerk reaction to news of this year’s SATs results by some of our local politicians.
True, it is not a position that any education authority wants to be in, but to demand a change of figurehead at this time is not the solution, in my opinion. I say this because the main problem is the new and more rigorous tests issued by the Department for Education, and not a failing of this authority. We are asked to treat this first year’s results with caution, and told that parents should not be alarmed, nor try to compare this year’s results with previous years as the tests are entirely new. In light of that, I think it would be incorrect and misleading to make direct comparisons for at least the next two or three years.
At the moment I cannot see the need, nor strength of argument to warrant a change sufficient to meet my colleagues’ expectations. There is no champion, nor education ‘czar’, that could make changes that are not already being dealt with by our knowledgeable and experienced education team.
The nub of the problem is the Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests, which assess children in reading, writing, spelling, grammar, punctuation and maths, and are part of a new primary national curriculum that was introduced in 2014. Last term’s Year 6 cohort were the first to sit these papers but had only two years to prepare, leaving most authorities and school leaders to consider the time-scale as inadequate. School governors were told of teachers’ anxiety to meet statutory requirements as they grappled with the new curriculum and its expectations of them, as well as continuing to deliver our children’s education. The National Association of Head Teachers actually called for the publication of results to be cancelled. They warned of “serious mistakes” in how changes had been introduced and said that results would be too unpredictable for creating league tables, and that comparison between schools would be risky. In my view, it will be at least a couple of years before all children have experienced four years of the new curriculum - when results will be more aligned and progress will better reflect that learning journey.
On this occasion, and as a result of Government raising the bar quite significantly, there are some authorities that have not been best-placed to deliver a result according to their usual reckoning because of influences outside their control. For Peterborough, one impact on education is its higher than average pupil churn. To put this in more detail, there are a large number of city schools with a substantial pupil turnover as a result of the transient nature of the city’s population. Studies have shown that pupil turnover will have a detrimental impact on a pupil’s academic achievement. Basically, they might join a class at the start or perhaps mid-way through the school year. The placement may be permanent, but invariably will be temporary before the family moves across the city or leaves this area on a permanent basis. The pupil does not hit the ground running, and their expected progress may be delayed because of language difficulties or the change in culture and environment they experience at their new school. Many will underachieve at first, and the confusion will impede their academic progress. Multiply these factors by whatever number of new pupils each school may receive in a given year, and we can see what impact that will have on the academic results for both the school and the local authority that oversees this occurrence in most of its city primary schools. Our teachers do a marvellous job in handling these situations, and the child does eventually get on track, but these periods do affect a school’s performance tables.
This authority’s reaction to the national league tables will be handled appropriately, but I am pleased to see at least one sensible commentator, Shailesh Vara MP, when he said it is not about one person waving a magic wand. I hope he thinks as I do, that there is sufficient experience on the local education authority and its leadership is sound. As a school governor myself I will not be joining a campaign for change and have put all thoughts of league tables behind me. Instead, I will simply focus on helping my school’s leaders to deliver the education that every child deserves.