Family & Education

League tables aren't the be-all and end-all

The head of a top-performing Jewish primary warns of the pressure put on schools by Sats


Like Chelsea or Manchester City in the Premier League, North Cheshire Jewish Primary is consistently among the top-placed Jewish schools in league tables.

Last year, for example, it had the largest percentage of children in any Jewish school who reached the higher than standard level in School Assessment Tests (Sats) in their final year..

But despite its strong showing over the years, headteacher Michael Woolf is not one to crow about it. “Personally, I am against league tables, I don’t think the results should be published,” he said. 

While it might be important to benchmark progress, he would rather final-year Sats were internally examined, just as they are now for the tests pupils sit at age seven. “I have a lot of faith in my teachers’ ability to assess children’s work. I’d be quite happy with that.”

The publication of results has certainly increased pressure on schools. “Parents look at the league table to see where you are,” he said. “They don’t always realise that one child can make a huge difference — if you have a child who has moved to the school from another country or has special needs or who on the day doesn’t perform.”

In a smaller school such as North Cheshire, which has around 40 pupils in a year, a single child’s performance can affect the overall percentage more significantly than in a larger, three-form entry school.

Only last week, a cross-party group of MPs called for changes in the tests, saying that the grammar and spelling element should be voluntary. They also recommended publishing the average of results achieved over three years rather than for a single year and urged the government to ensure that external assessment does not put “unnecessary stress” on pupils.

Last year’s revised Sats were reckoned to be unduly hard by many teachers in English schools. The amount of material for the reading curriculum was particularly challenging, Mr Woolf said. “I hope this year they have taken on board our comments and modified the paper a bit.”

Schools are also having to teach maths topics previously introduced at secondary school. And whereas before children could sit the standard and higher maths papers separately, now students take the same paper.  “If you have a child who potentially might struggle at maths, for them to sit a paper where there are many questions above their level, it’s pretty demoralising,” he said. “Before you could select which children could sit the higher papers.”

But for the children sitting their Sats this week, North Cheshire will have done its best to prepare them. “We go over sample papers, make sure they are familiar with them and we have regular pupil progress meetings,” he said. “If there are children we feel need that extra intervention in reading, writing, maths, we will help them.”

For seven-year-olds taking Sats, the school tries to reduce the pressure. “We don’t call them tests, we say we are giving a quiz. We try and make it relaxed.”

But however the experience is dressed up, he said, children still know they are undergoing a form of assessment.

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