Age-Related Expectations in Primary Schools

Can the vast majority of primary pupils achieve age-related expectations?

The national mission is to ensure 90 per cent of children leaving primary school in England are reaching the expected standard in reading, writing, and maths by 2030.

The 2023 White Paper is now out!

Is the bar set too high?

In 2019, sixty-five per cent of pupils met all three standards. I’m not convinced that 90 per cent of all children have the potential to reach this standard under the national curriculum. That is not me putting a glass ceiling on achievement, instead, an observation of the current state of affairs and challenges faced by our primary schools.

By 2030, out of a class of 30, reaching 90 per cent means 3 pupils are ‘allowed’ to be ‘below standard’.

Alternatively, across the primary sector, there are ~4.7 million pupils. This means the expectation is that ~4.23 million pupils should reach the expected standard. What’s not to like? More pupils reaching a high standard of education …

Four million pupils include taking into account social and emotional needs (SEMH), special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and English as an additional language (EAL) pupils, who are increasing steadily year on year. Ofsted’s ‘recovery education‘ reports published this week highlight the challenges schools have faced throughout COVID, and still battle with! If we use SEND as an example, statistics across England suggest:

  1. The percentage of pupils with SEN but no EHC plan (SEN support) has increased slightly, from 12.1 to 12.2%, continuing an increasing trend.
  2. Therefore, 15.9 per cent of children nationally are identified as having SEND.

Age-Related Miscalculations?

I appreciate that some children who are identified as being on their school’s SEND register, are also working at age-related expectations (ARE), but taking this minority into account, plus adding on other needs that are barriers to achieving ARE, already the numbers don’t add up.

Furthermore, in our current climate, new teachers have an average career expectancy of about five years., with most leaving after the first year of qualification! Experienced teachers are also increasingly looking for an exit, and the lack of government investment in this section of our profession is woeful.

The percentage of pupils with an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan has increased to 3.7%, continuing a trend of increases since 2017.

The next questions are:

  1. Is ‘ARE’ actually an age-related expectation?
  2. Has the national curriculum been too challenging for 35 per cent who didn’t achieve ARE?
  3. With a recruitment crisis, who will be supporting these children with this target?

Teachers place a great deal of effort on the lowest pupils in any cohort – Government only recently told parents: “If your child falls behind in maths or English, we are asking schools to intervene and help them get them back on track” (DfE, 2022). Many of these children are not on the SEND register.

Teachers work hard to ensure good progress but, does their ultimate potential, under this narrow set of criteria fall short of being able to achieve age-related in all three subjects?

Can the English education system deliver?

As a parent-teacher, I really don’t care if my children are ARE under this curriculum – I want my children to have the basic skills, but I don’t want their creativity stifled due to the need for perfect grammar and spelling. I don’t want my daughter anxious because the maths in class moves on too quickly. Instead, she needs the basics embedded to foster love and confidence for the subject.

Ask most parents and they’d rather their children were motivated, happy, and developing good social skills. This would make them employable and ensure their wellbeing was not negatively impacted by school.

Imagine the progress students would make if the curriculum gave them the space to believe they could achieve anything, rather than attempt to squish them into being academic carbon copies of each other.

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