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Primary Education

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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I am publishing a document today that sets out the Government's vision for primary education. Copies of the document have been placed in the Library.Our primary schools are a success story. The best are the best in the world. We now want to build on this success. "Excellence and Enjoyment—A Strategy for Primary Schools" outlines our vision for offering every child the life chances they deserve.I believe that the key to success is the achievement of high standards through a varied, rich and exciting curriculum. This powerful mix of excellent teaching, high standards and enjoyment excites, engages and challenges children and shows them what they can do.I do not believe that there is any conflict whatsoever between rigorous high standards and engaging, creative teaching. Outstanding schools up and down the country already combine the two. Testing, targets and tables are tools that support excellence.

Tests for every child mean that teachers and parents can track the progress of every single child. They help to identify those pupils that need extra support as well as those who need to be stretched and given more advanced work. No child should be overlooked—every child matters.

Targets show what we need to achieve, provide clear focus and provide an important means of measuring progress and improvement. Every organisation that wants to succeed sets themselves goals and targets. And we want schools to succeed. Our target that 85 per cent. of children should reach the expected level—Level 4—at the age of 11, as soon as possible, is based on good evidence about children's performance and about the value schools add. It is a challenging target but it's right to give these chances to as many children as possible.

Performance tables—particularly now that value added measures have been introduced—enable all of us to assess the performance of individual schools and to look at where schools have made a real difference to the learning of our children. They give solid proof and real recognition of what teachers are achieving. As part of a wide range of relevant information, they help parents choosing schools for their children. Easy-to-use information must continue to be available to everyone, not only to a privileged few.

But though tests, targets and tables are here to stay, I have said that I am willing to listen to sensible suggestions about how they might be improved still further.

I have listened to the concerns of the primary headteachers who told me that they had set targets for their schools, based on what they know about their children, and on high aspirations for stretching them, only to be asked to set them again because they did not add up to the right number In future, the target-setting process will begin with schools themselves, and LEA targets will be set afterwards. Schools will set targets based on what they know about individual children's abilities, but also on high aspirations for the value they themselves can add. We want schools to aim to add more value each year. We also want them to look at the performance of other schools in similar circumstances. It is through stretching but realistic targets like these, focused on children, that real improvement will come.

I have also listened to concerns about testing and key stage 1. I believe that robust assessment is a vital learning and teaching tool. I do not accept that the sort of tests and tasks that children are set at key stage 1 are too stressful for children to do. They are similar to the sort of tasks and tests that teachers set anyway—for example, a spelling test, or a task where pupils read to the teacher. But we are prepared to look at the way these tests and tasks are used. We will trial an approach in which tests and tasks underpin teacher assessment, rather than being reported separately. We will use the trial to assess whether this approach gives results that are really robust and comparable; and to consider the effect on workload.

Thirdly, I have listened to comments about the reporting of the achievements of children with special educational needs. My first priority is to make sure that value-added measures recognise the achievements of all children—including those working below the level of the tests. And I am also prepared to consider ways in which schools' broader achievements can be reflected better in performance tables.

As well as outlining these changes, the document I am publishing today sets out how we will support schools in taking more control of their own improvement, and in providing children with a broad, rich curriculum. In particular, our new Primary Strategy, which will support teachers not just in literacy and numeracy but across the whole curriculum, will be increasingly focused on tailored support designed by schools themselves. There will still be challenge for schools that are underperforming compared to others in similar circumstances, based on tried and tested approaches, but where schools are performing well we want to help them drive their own improvement still further.

The document also outlines the support that will be offered to schools in meeting individual children's needs more closely; in working with parents and the community; in supporting positive behaviour, and managing challenging behaviour, in developing leadership; and in using networks to learn from others. It also outlines the support available for workforce reform, which will be key to success. More skilled adults in each primary classroom will help raise standards, and will also help enrich the learning experience. A survey carried out for the Department showed that seven out of ten of the headteachers asked said that they had more than one member of support staff for each teacher; and that numbers had increased over the last three years. 97 per cent. said that increased numbers of teaching assistants had improved the quality of learning and teaching in their school. Workforce reform has huge potential to act as a mechanism for school improvement.

We will be working closely with teachers and headteachers as we take our strategy forward. We spoke to over 2,000 primary headteachers at our first series of primary headteacher conferences in the spring, and their contributions have helped to shape our strategy. We will be speaking to another 6,000 headteachers, in a second series of conferences, by the end of the year. With their help, we will realise this vision and give every primary child the education they deserve.