Early results show new two-tier system introduced after middle schools were axed is a success

Standards in primary schools in areas which have moved to a two-tier education system show signs of

Standards in primary schools in areas which have moved to a two-tier education system show signs of improvement - Credit: PA

The first schools to transfer from a three to two-tier system in Suffolk have significantly improved results in some areas, according to new statistics.

For several years the authority’s education bosses were criticised by some parents and teachers who were concerned that closing middle schools was the wrong decision.

But Suffolk County Council robustly maintained its position that results are stronger in a two-tier system of primaries and secondaries rather than a three-tier approach.

New statistics show rising SATS standards in schools in Lowestoft and Haverhill – the first places which converted to two-tier. The percentage of 10 and 11-year-old children meeting expected standards – known as ‘level four’ – in writing in their SATS rose between 2010 to 2014 by 23% – from 59% to 82%.

Likewise maths and reading results also improved. The percentage of children meeting the expected standard in maths went from 71% in 2010 to 80% in 2014.

The improvement in writing has now equalled the overall figure of 82% for schools elsewhere in Suffolk. The gap in maths narrowed from 5% in 2010 to 2% in 2014. The difference in reading stayed largely the same – from 2% in 2010 to 3% in 2014.

Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said “real progress” was being made to drive up standards in Lowestoft and Haverhill.

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“Schools in these areas have worked very hard to establish themselves,” she said. “We work hard with schools to drive their performance and improvement in results.

“This is a demonstration that real progress is being made in Lowestoft and Haverhill and is testament to the work of the pupils and the support they receive from their parents, teachers and the wider school community.”

Carol Child, has been headteacher at Carlton Colville Primary School, marked by Ofsted as ‘outstanding’, for 13 years.

She said there needed to be more recognition of pupils’ achievements in two-tier. “I think, considering all the particular changes: change of curriculum – an enormous change – and the change of school status – the first school to be an all-through primary – we have done incredibly well in a short time.

“I think that needs to be recognised, we need to see the positive side of this, from our point of view. I think having the older children at the school has been really beneficial for them.”

She added that improvements are being seen “all the time” following the move from three-tier to two.

Bury St Edmunds is the final area to transfer to a two-tier model – with some middle schools there closing next year. But the town is split between schools which stayed loyal to the council’s two-tier plan and those which broke away.

Vicky Neale, headteacher of the ‘outstanding’ Ofsted-rated County Upper School, spearheads the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust.

She said that model erodes both two and three-tier models in favour of a one-tier approach, with the aim of all the trust’s schools working to provide a cohesive education for children.

Mrs Neale said: “I am pleased to see any improvement but obviously as the recent Ofsted and national data would show it’s still far from satisfactory.

“The Ofsted report was particularly critical of school improvements in Lowestoft. The all-through model does not have to be two or three-tier so long as we work together for children from four or five years of age.”

She was referring to last month’s major Ofsted inspection of Suffolk County Council’s plan to improve schools where inspectors found progress to be “too slow” but also praised a number of moves to raise standards.

The council calls the process to close middle schools in favour of two-tier, the School Organisation Review (SOR).

Primary schools now deal with children between the ages of four-11; secondaries have students between 11-16.

Teaching unions’ views: ‘Caution is needed’

Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers, said no case had yet been proved on the two-tier model.

“It is encouraging that pupils achieving level four is increasing and all staff should be congratulated on this,” he said.

“These results/data indicate what the NUT has been saying for some time which is that SOR will not, in itself, improve outcomes for pupils, although over time it is likely that attainment levels for all pupils will increase.

“Pupils are individuals and the intake in any one year varies so it would not be unusual statistically for there to be variations in reading scores, writing scores or maths scores from one year to another.

“Five to six years of data begins to show a possible trend which in this case shows that the SATs results vary by subject and vary between years and there is no clear trend.”

Dan McCarthy is executive member for teaching union NASUWT in Suffolk.

He was pleased with the signs of progress but said there could not be a clear comparison between results.

“We are not necessarily comparing like-for-like, we are talking about SATS and they have removed the SATS marking in the last two years,” he said.

“Back in 2010 it was assessed via written examination, marked by external markers, now a lot of marking on some exams is done by the schools through coursework.

“So there is a difference in the system in the way the marking is carried out, but it is an increase, I can see that. The quality of the teaching has gone up as well; does it prove them right? I do not know, it’s too early to say.”

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