Schools are being forced to “sideline” key subjects such as art, music and physical education in the race to hit government targets, teachers’ leaders warned today.
The “relentless push” to raise standards in literacy and numeracy has caused large numbers of schools to marginalise other areas of the curriculum, said Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She said that children were missing out on a varied timetable because of the need to boost their position in official league tables.
The comments were made despite the publication of research by Bristol University that found rankings had a highly positive effect on schools – raising results relative to those nations that refuse to publish the data.
It came after primary league tables published by the Department for Education showed that 767 state schools in England failed to meet minimum standards in the three-Rs this summer.
The number of failing primaries jumped by almost 50 per cent over the last 12 months after the Coalition changed the key indicator used to assess pupil performance.
For the first time, schools in England had to ensure at least six-in-10 pupils gained good results in separate reading, writing and maths assessments taken at the age of 11 or face being turned into an academy under new leadership. Previously, reading and writing results were combined to form a generic English result, meaning that poor performance in one discipline could be propped up with relatively good results in the other.
David Laws, the Schools Minister, insisted that tougher targets acted as an incentive for schools to improve, adding: “We are determined to drive up standards as quickly as possible in schools where there has been stubborn under-performance for years.”
But Dr Bousted said the move was often achieved by improving the three-Rs at the expense of all other subjects.
“We agree that it is vital for schools to focus on reading, writing and maths, but in the relentless push to get 60 per cent of students to level 4 in these subjects, other important areas of the curriculum such as art, music and PE get sidelined,” she said. “Primary education should not be solely about getting children ‘secondary school ready’.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “However important it is, there is more to a child’s development and their readiness for secondary school than their score in a flawed test. There is more to a school than their ranking, which conceals how hard the school must work to achieve its results.”
The comments came as research published by Bristol University suggested that league tables do improve performance in schools. A study by the university’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation assessed the impact of the abolition of secondary school league tables in Wales in 2001 – comparing it to England where rankings have been maintained. It found that the decision had a negative impact on Welsh schools relative to those in England, with pupils dropped by two GCSE grades on average. This effect was concentrated in the lower 75 per cent of schools, with the poorest and low average ability schools falling behind the most.