News In Depth
DfE hails school results increase
The number of primary schools failing to give pupils a good grounding in the three Rs has halved in the space of a year, official figures suggest.
In total, 521 schools in England are below the Government's floor target for primaries, according to an analysis of data used to create new primary school league tables.
Last year, 1,310 schools were below the threshold.
The results show that schools have "responded to the challenge" that was given to them, the Department for Education (DfE) said.
The latest tables show how more than 15,000 primary schools performed in national curriculum tests - known as SATs - in English (reading and writing) and maths.
Under the Government's current target, schools are considered failing if fewer than 60% of 11-year-olds reach the expected standard - Level 4 - in English and maths SATs tests, and fewer youngsters make two levels of progress in these subjects than the national average.
The national average for English progress this year is 92%, and for maths it is 90%.
Schools that fail to reach this threshold are at risk of being closed and turned into academies.
The latest figures show that of the 521 schools which are below the bar, 45 have already closed, with 37 becoming academies.
The rise in performance this year could be partly down to the Government's decision to scrap the externally-marked writing part of the English SATs test.
Traditionally, marks for the test were lower than for the reading and maths papers.
This year, for the first time, schools were given the option to mark the writing paper themselves, or to send it to an external marker.
A DfE spokesman said that the aim of their floor target was to boost standards and "end years of chronic under-performance."
"Today's figures demonstrate that schools have responded to the challenge. The floor standards we introduced were tougher and have improved performance. Heads, teachers and pupils deserve credit for meeting the challenge head on," he said.
"Schools with a long history of under-performance, and who are not stepping up to the mark, face being taken over by an academy sponsor."
Academy sponsors are the "best way" to turn around weak schools, he insisted.
This year's top school, for the second year running, was Newton Farm Nursery, Infant and Junior in Harrow. It gained the highest average points score at 34.1.
Second was Grinling Gibbons Primary School in Deptford, south east London.
Cynthia Eubank, executive head teacher of Grinling Gibbons and nearby Lucas Vale primary, said: "We are very proud of our school and proud of the community which we serve.
"We are here for the children in supporting and enabling them to achieve, and we are truly proud of them."
Grinling Gibbons has 305 children including its nursery, with 43% of pupils eligible for free school meals.
The most improved school was Thornhill Primary School in Southampton, which saw results rise from 24% reaching Level 4 in English and maths in 2009, to 88% achieving it this year.
Deputy head Kerry Harris, who is shortly to take over as a co-head, said the rise was down to a three-year drive to improve teaching.
A recent Ofsted inspection had found that more than half of the teaching at the school was outstanding and the rest good, she said.
"We are over the moon at these results, very, very much so," she said. "It has been a team effort and we hope that we will continue to improve further."
She added: "The results are a great recognition of all the hard work and it has given us all a real sense of positivity."
The school, situated in a housing estate in an area of high deprivation, has 289 pupils, 59% of whom are eligible for free school meals.
Mrs Harris said 15% of the pupils do not speak English at home.
At the other end of the scale, among schools with more than 30 pupils eligible for the tests, was Ladygrove Primary School in Telford, which had 85% of students reaching Level 4 in English, but recorded no results for maths.
Vane Road Primary in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, which had 60 eligible pupils, recorded 0% for both English and maths.
Maharishi Free School in Ormskirk, Lancashire, also recorded 0% for both tests. It had 11 pupils eligible and does not appear in the national table of schools with the lowest performance.
The school, which used to be fee-paying before it became one of the Government's first flagship free schools, failed to sit the tests.
A DfE spokesman said: "Pupils at the Maharishi Free School did not sit the tests this year. We have written to inform the school it must administer the tests."
SATs tests in English and maths were taken by hundreds of thousands of 11-year-olds in England in May.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the results were "excellent news".
"It shows the hard work that's going on in the system and has been going on for some years."
He said the majority of primaries will not be academies, which shows that schools can improve "no matter what their status".
Asked about the influence of changes to the SATs writing test on school performance, Mr Hobby said: "What I would say is that this year the marks were accurate, and it is a fair reflection of accurate performance."
He also cautioned ministers against making changes to the floor target.
"There is a danger that every time schools meet a goal that they shift the goal posts," he said.