‘EDUCATION IS NOT A CONVEYOR BELT’ NUT leader Christine Blower condemns plans to conveyor belt ‘secondary ready’ children

Over two thousand NUT members marched in London in defence of education on June 25th
Over two thousand NUT members marched in London in defence of education on June 25th

TORY-LIBDEM plans to ‘rank’ 11-year-olds were denounced as potentially the return of the hated 11-plus by the NASUWT on Wednesday, while they were also condemned by the other teacher and headteacher unions.

Pupils aged 11 would be ranked in 10% ability bands and parents told where their children are placed.

Announcing the move on Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Clegg said: ‘For children to achieve their potential, we need to raise the bar.’

Under the plans, pupils’ national curriculum test results, known as Sats, would be divided into bands of 10%, and parents and schools would be told where their children were placed on a national scale.

The Coalition also announced plans for ‘baseline tests’ against which to measure progress, although it has yet to be decided whether this should be at age of five or seven.

And there would also be a ‘tougher minimum level of achievement’ for schools – the so-called ‘floor-standard’ – below which an Ofsted inspection would be triggered.

The current minimum is 60% of pupils achieving the required level in Sats tests for English and maths, this would be replaced with an 85% minimum.

The new threshold for the tests would be that children were ‘secondary ready’ in maths, reading, spelling, punctuation and grammar and teachers’ assessments of writing, said Clegg.

He also said there will be extra funding for poorer pupils, with a rise in pupil premiums, from £900 this year to £1,300 in 2014-15.

Commenting on the plans, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The description “secondary ready” will be seen as offensive and insulting to so many hard working teachers in the primary phase.

‘Education, from the earliest years, is not a conveyor belt to the end of secondary school.

‘Children, in their primary years, experience at best a wide-ranging curriculum through which they develop skills and abilities and accumulate knowledge.

‘What primary teachers achieve is well rounded and grounded 11-year-old individuals who are so much more than “secondary ready”.

‘The increase in the Pupil Premium for 2014-15 is not unexpected but, as has been seen already, schools are having to make ends meet and will in many cases have used this additional money in order to plug funding shortfalls created by the deterioration or wholesale abolition of central services traditionally supplied by the local authority.

‘All teachers are concerned about the wellbeing and prospects of disadvantaged pupils, but the uneven distribution of Pupil Premium funding across the school system is insufficient to counteract the on-going real terms cuts to school funding.

‘Teachers are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances but children who are arriving hungry at school, or are unable to access a healthy free school meal, are not necessarily going to achieve to the best of their ability.

‘In many cases, their home life may well be disruptive and not conducive to quiet study.

‘The closure of so many libraries and the newly introduced benefits cap will do little to help many struggling families. The Government should invest in children by introducing universal free school meals and provide funding for breakfast clubs.

‘It is simply not fair to make the poorest children pay the price for an economic crisis not of their making.

‘It is difficult to see how a 25% increase in the primary floor standard between 2010 and 2016 could be realistically achieved without wide-scale teaching to the test and other inappropriate drilling techniques.

‘Given that approximately 20% of children have some form of special needs, this new target will doom many of them to “failure”.

‘Considering that half of all secondary schools are now academy status, often through coercion or force, an increase in floor targets for the primary sector is surely nothing more than a further land-grab for the academies programme.’

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said: ‘Every child is entitled to a great education.

Teachers and schools are ambitious for their pupils and seek to do the very best for all of them.

‘Additional per pupil funding through the pupil premium will of course be welcomed.

‘Schools will, however, need to be assured that this is in fact additional money at a time when schools have been subject to year-on-year real terms cuts.

‘Schools will also be concerned that as a result of the Government’s changes to the welfare benefits system, fewer families will qualify for free school meals and may miss out on access to additional support.

‘Since the pupil premium’s inception, the NASUWT has been calling for measures to ensure that the pupil premium was targeted on those pupils for whom it was intended and not just absorbed into school budgets.

‘We note that the Government has now recognised the need for stronger accountability in this regard.

‘The Government needs to be cautious about potential unintended consequences arising from a number of the proposals it has announced today.

‘School level assessments are fine in principle but in the context of current high stakes accountability, with no framework for support or provision of resources, the outcome is likely be a bureaucratic nightmare for teachers which could undermine high standards.

‘The tests at 11, which will determine if pupils are “secondary school ready”, could risk establishing a modern-day version of the discredited and deeply damaging 11-plus system.

‘Producing performance tables which rank individual pupils against their peers nationally could also result in children being labelled as failures at an early age.

‘The Government should consider carefully whether this sensitive information should be made available to other schools given the risk of a return to an 11-plus system of selection.

‘The Deputy Prime Minister may inadvertently be heralding the expansion of selective education so favoured by the Conservative Party.’

The National Association of Head Teachers described the plans as ‘disappointing and destructive’,’ warning that labelling an 11-year-old child as a failure was ‘totally unacceptable’.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT said: ‘We have no argument with the vision but the government is in danger of building accountability for schools on foundations of sand.

‘All the “rigour” in the world won’t matter if you’re rigorous about the wrong things.

‘The government has a fondness for testing young children in the belief that the tests create reliable measures of performance.

‘They don’t.

‘And, by relying only on what can be measured, they risk missing what matters. There is far more to being “secondary ready” than a score on an hour’s test.

‘A teacher’s judgement, built up over four years, has much to contribute.’

Brian Lightman, head of the ASCL heads’ union said: ‘I worry what will happen to those children who have tried hard yet are told that they are in one of the bottom bands.

‘Children at that age mature differently and their confidence can be easily damaged.’