In recent years, the focus of education policy has been on raising standards in our secondary schools. Here in Croydon Central, the closure of low performing schools like Ashburton and Selsdon High and their replacement by new academies has led to improvement not just in those schools but more widely. Many secondary heads tell me that too many pupils arrive in Year 7 not ready for secondary school and that the key to further improvement is therefore to raise standards in some of our primary schools. Yesterday, the Government announced plans to do just that.
First, it will raise the minimum standard it expects of primary schools. At the moment, the minimum standard is for 65 per cent of pupils to reach level 4c in English and maths. However, more than half of those who just manage to reach this level do not go on to secure five good GCSEs including English and maths. That is clear evidence that pupils need to be doing better than Level 4c at the end of primary school if they are to be on course to do well at 16. So the government will raise the level pupils are expected to reach. It will also expect 85 percent, not 65 percent, of pupils to reach this higher level but it will combine this with a measure of the progress that pupils are making - if only 75 per cent of pupils reach the new standard but they started from a low base and are making good progress no action will be taken; if 86 per cent reach the standard but they started from a high progress and have not made sufficient progress then action will be taken. This combination of absolute attainment and progress is the only fair way to judge schools. In order to measure progress, you clearly need a baseline and the Government is consulting on whether that should be tests at the end of Key Stage 1 or a teacher-led check in Reception (which would have the benefit of allowing us to measure progress during the Infant stage as well as Juniors).
Second, parents will receive information about the performance of their child relative to their peers nationally, making it easier for them than under the current level system to see how their child is doing.
Third, if we are going to ask primary schools to do better we need to give them more funding particularly to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Government is therefore increasing the pupil premium for primary schools (extra money that schools get for each pupil from a deprived background) by 44 per cent to £1,300 per pupil.
We inherited an education system that served some children well, but let down others (normally those from less well-off backgrounds which meant disproportionately those from black and minority ethnic communities). We are moving to a system of high expectations and standards for all children. Kids from less well-off background are just as bright, have just as much right to a rigorous education as anyone else. We're going to make sure that's what they get.