Tens of thousands of 11-year-olds leave primary school practically illiterate

About 35,000 11-year-olds left primary school this year unable to read and write properly, test results are expected to show today.

Telegraph | Aug 3, 2009

By Jon Swaine

The figure will bring to half a million the number of pupils who have left primary school without attaining basic language skills since Labour came to power in 1997.

The pupils are those who have failed to obtain a level three in their national curriculum English tests, meaning that they will enter secondary school with “no useful literacy”.

About 600,000 primary school leavers will today receive their results in the controversial Sats tests in English, maths and science, which are used to compile annual league tables.

Teaching unions said that they expected results to have improved slightly overall. Yet critics said that Labour had failed to lift standards among the worst pupils.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools spokesman, said: “These children are far more likely to fall further behind and be turned off education altogether.

“Ministers need to cut class sizes and ensure schools receive additional funding so that teachers can give struggling children the extra support they desperately need.”

Those awaiting the results face having their records tainted after the tests were condemned by teachers as “unacceptably narrow” and poorly marked.

Thousands of their test papers have already been sent back by schools to be marked again. Teachers, who had already seen their pupils’ results, described some of the marking as “bizarre and petty”.

Some of the most talented pupils were penalised because the formulaic marking did not allow for flair. Others were punished for not dotting the letter i, while some had is dotted for them by markers.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that “considerable numbers” of heads had complained about marking of English writing tests.

Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the NAHT, said: “We need to know whether the complaints we received were the tip of the iceberg.”

Kathleen Tattersall, the chairman of Ofqual, the exams watchdog, said that she was “continuing to monitor the quality control of the marking of this year’s papers”.

Today’s results are expected to show that about one in five of the pupils failed to reach the level four target in English and Maths.

Last year saw a slump in results for the brightest pupils, with the number of top grades suffering its biggest year-on-year drop since Labour came to power in 1997.

Teachers across the country have such little confidence in the tests that they are preparing to refuse to teach the courses in the new school year, which begins next month.

Earlier this year, two of the biggest teaching unions voted to boycott next year’s tests for both 11- and seven-year-olds, which they said have become “unacceptable for the future of children’s education”.

The NAHT and the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which together represent most of the teachers in English schools, both agreed to industrial action.

The unions yesterday declined to comment on when industrial action would commence.

However it has been suggested that it may have to begin soon after the start of the school year, when teachers are asked to start teaching material for the tests.

John Bangs, the NUT’s head of education, said yesterday: “The tests are unacceptably narrow. We are arguing for a completely different approach, in which teachers have a bank of different tests and have the time and space to assess pupils individually.

“What these results will again illustrate is the utterly inappropriate way that they have damaged the curriculum and put enormous pressure on kids, parents and teachers.”

Mr Brookes said: “Children are simply having to rehearse the tests. You can train them to jump through hoops, and they’ll jump through hoops, but that’s training, not education.”

He reiterated that the teachers would “pursue every avenue” in pushing Ed Balls, the Children’s Secretary, to abandon the tests in favour of a new system.

The corresponding tests for 14-year-olds were scrapped last year, after a disastrous marking process.

Hundreds of thousands of pupils’ results were delayed after ETS, an American firm contracted to oversee the tests, failed to deliver.

Diana Johnson, a schools minister, said that many pupils not reaching the literacy level had special educational needs.

“Thousands more children have started secondary school with a firm foundation in the basics” under Labour, she said.

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