Schools rated 'good' told they are under-performing

Witney Gazette: Michael Gove Michael Gove

SIX primary schools in the county, including four rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, could be forced to become sponsored academies after the Government said they were not good enough.

The Department for Education (DfE) said the Oxfordshire schools were not getting high enough test results and warned if they continue to “under-perform” they could be forced to be sponsored by higher performing schools.

The schools are Larkrise Primary in Oxford, Enstone Primary near Chipping Norton, Gateway Primary in Carterton, Grove CofE Primary, Ewelme CofE Primary near Wallingford and St Joseph’s Catholic Primary in Banbury.

The majority of those have been rated as “good” by Ofsted and just Gateway Primary School and St Joseph’s are graded as satisfactory and requiring improvement, respectively.

The Government says schools are not making the grade if they are not considered to be hitting a “floor” target.

This applies if less than 60 per cent of pupils achieve the benchmark of a Level 4 in reading, writing and maths in tests in their final year of primary school aged 10 or 11, and if pupils are not making the expected progress in these three subjects between the ages of seven and 11.

Criticism about the announcement has come in from both headteachers and politicians.

Oxfordshire County Council education chief Melinda Tilley said: “I think they need to give the schools a chance, particularly small schools where one child in a class of, say, 11 can make a huge difference to results.

“There are a number of factors other than test results which need to be looked at.

“But I wish they would speak to us and the schools before lumping us in these categories.”

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Grove CofE Primary became an academy earlier this month when it joined the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust. But headteacher Wendy Foster said it was a decision the school took itself.

She said: “We have a very small cohort [class] and we know we were below for attainment but we made better than expected progress.”

Enstone headteacher Sarah Mann said the figures needed to be read in context.

She said: “We are a small primary school with small and very varied cohorts of children.

“For many years, our Key Stage 2 results have been excellent and this will be the case again in 2014 – we predict a pass rate of 100 per cent across all subjects.

“2013 was a blip year caused by the fact we had a large number of children in the cohort with special or additional educational needs, including some who had to be disapplied from the tests but still counted in the data.”

Ewelme headteacher Margery Slatter said the school has a strong history of high attainment.

She added: “In 2013, our very small cohort of 12 contained several children who had recently moved school as well as 33 per cent with special educational needs. A single mark can significantly skew the overall percentages.”

Angela Briggs, an acting headteacher at St Joseph’s, said the school was planning on joining a multi-academy trust next year.

She added: “St Joseph’s Catholic School has gone through a very difficult period, including leadership upheaval. However, we are delighted that our school will be led by a new leadership team in January as a new headteacher will take up the role.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “It’s ill-conceived for the DfE to rush to judgment on these schools, especially where their Ofsted inspection has shown them to be good.

“Forcing schools to become academies is itself very disruptive and there is all the uncertainty about sponsors.

“The DfE approach looks driven by ideology rather than the best educational interests of the children.”

Gawain Little, of Oxfordshire NUT, said the schools were highly regarded by parents, adding: “The floor target seems to be a completely pointless process. There is no evidence it improves results, learning for students or the education system. The approach of naming and shaming schools is unhelpful.”

DfE spokesman Oliver Lane said: “This Government brought in higher primary school floor targets with one aim in mind – to drive up standards with immediate effect to end years of entrenched failure.

“Schools respond to this challenge. The floor standards we introduced were tougher and performance is improving.

“Schools with a long history of under-performance that are not stepping up to the mark, will be taken over by an academy sponsor.

“The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils the best chance of a first-class education.”

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