This year’s key stage 2 results paint a national picture of schools struggling to deal with the demands of a tough new curriculum. Just 53 per cent of 11-year-olds reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in 2016, a drop from 80 per cent in 2015.
But the performance tables reveal that some primaries are coping with the challenge better than others.
At Tennyson Road Primary, in Luton – an authority where results overall were below the national average – 100 per cent of children reached the expected level across the board.
And pupils didn’t just scrape it – average scaled scores (where 100 represents the expected standard) were 109, 110 and 111. To set the achievement in context, the school has a high proportion of pupils with English as an additional language, high mobility and high deprivation. Children start reception with below national average development.
Tennyson Road is an “outstanding” school and used to performing well. However, two years ago, when the results in Year 5 assessments were below what was expected, Head teacher Hilary Power knew the school had to raise its game.
“It was a wake-up call,” she said. “One of the things we did was to put an extra three teachers in to Year 6 who have the best subject knowledge. We have specialists in maths and science, the Deputy Head teaches writing and the class teacher is also an outstanding teacher. We have fantastic teachers at Tennyson Road and it is that strength of the school that provides such good teaching from Reception up to Year 6. That is what makes the difference for our children.”
The school is also a Rising Stars partner school, which means they trial new materials, work with the educational publishers to develop resources they need and use a huge amount of its resources throughout the school.
This association meant staff felt they had their “finger on the pulse” of the new curriculum. The resources they were using were much more challenging than those used previously and the Rising Stars assessments had the kind of questions that the children would face in the new national tests. On top of this, professional development courses for teachers, such as Mastery in Writing, helped embed knowledge.
“We knew what was happening with the new curriculum and we were able to put in place what we needed to do as it was happening, not finding out at the last minute,” said Carla Gotch, Assistant Head teacher. For instance, the school helped trial and develop the Rising Stars practical approach to spelling. Pupils would use mini-activities to break down sounds, match words in tables, fill in sentences and spot prefixes and suffixes. Children used Achieve 100 on the iPad for maths and grammar, punctuation and spelling, tackling sets of challenges that unlocked different levels as they went along, not just in class but at home as well. Groups would also use it after school in booster sessions.
Rising Stars Assessment Bank allowed teachers to create bespoke resources, for instance creating a fractions test, helping to pinpoint any knowledge gaps or problem areas.
Switched on Science and Switched on Computing, Rising Stars resources, also created engaging lessons in other areas of the curriculum.
“If you are teaching fantastic science with good writing opportunities, that is going to help the children experience a broad and balanced curriculum and have the best experience in all subjects,” said Jo Quince, Deputy Head teacher. The philosophy is to make lessons as varied, exciting and interesting as possible. The “Mastery Curriculum” is about challenging pupils and offering them more opportunities for open-ended investigation and employing knowledge in different ways.
“We don’t teach to the test at all,” said Nicola Lloyd-Jones, Assistant Head teacher. “But through our own information and the people that create these resources, we know what is going to come up and we use that to inform our teaching. It’s not about the test, but that knowledge of the test is there and can we can feed that in to everything else we are doing.”
As a result, staff have felt more confident and prepared for the challenge and are able to pass this on to the children. The high expectations of teachers prompted children’s high expectations of themselves. A cohort with a broad ability span and some special educational needs was no barrier to success.
“We are very, very good at tracking our pupils,” said Hilary Power, Head teacher. “We have a brilliant assessment manager and we ensure that no child slips through the net at all. We provide support, one-to-one where necessary, and we make sure we boost morale. It is about making the children feel good about themselves and making them feel like they can do the tests.”
Tennyson Road is oversubscribed and growing. Its current 450 roll will rise to 630, when the school reaches capacity. But according to Mrs. Power, the ethos of targeting children individually with a personalised curriculum that developed when the school was one form entry, is as pertinent now as it has ever been.
“Our children are not scared of the curriculum – they see it as exciting and interesting,” she said. “They want to learn and we push them as much as possible. Rising Stars give us the tools we need. They inspire us and we go on to inspire our children.”