Since the launch of the 2014 curriculum, I have always felt uncomfortable with the binary divide among 11-year-olds that the language of ‘reached/not-reached expected standard’ creates. No matter how caringly and skilfully Year 6 teachers frame things for the ‘not-mets’, I fear that evidence of some psychological or self-esteem damage may later emerge around the long-term impact of this language of failure.

And this language also plays into the hands of lazy journalists, who can (and will) pick up the ‘news’ that 39% of children who sat the test did not reach the required standard in writing, reading and maths combined.

Having said all that, I tend to agree with Richard Garner of the Independent, who says, “… after all, ‘39 per cent of 11-year-olds can’t read, write or add up properly’ makes a better headline than ‘Steady progress made in improving standards among 11-year-olds’. A pity – because that is what the real story is.”

Indeed. This was the second year of the more difficult tests under the new national curriculum and last year was traumatic for many of us. After all, the percentage reaching national standard fell from 80% in 2015 to 53% in 2016. Yet, this year there is a bounce nationally to 61%, which reflects a commendable effort all round to get to grips with the higher standards involved. The average combined in our own local authority, West Sussex County Council, was dreadful last year, among the lowest in the country. And yet initial figures show that there has been a step up from that figure of 45% to 55% this year.

Happily, the picture is even more positive in our Trust. Across the 5 schools that have been part of Schoolsworks for at least a year, the increase in attainment across all three subjects has risen from 40% in 2016 to 60% – very close to this year’s national average.

Things are even more positive this year when looking at data from our infant-aged children, where, for example, percentages for children reaching the expected standard in reading in Year 2 have increased from 58% in 2016 to 74% this year, and in writing from 49% to 65%. Best of all, in maths the Year 2 data has increased from 63% to 77%, which is 4% above last year’s national average.

As with other schools, this data represents a great deal of effort by all our staff and children and I am both proud and delighted that these numbers appropriately reflect everyone’s very hard work. In short, the results signify a considerable achievement.

All schools in the Trust have shown progress in their results, but I am particularly pleased to see that the schools that have been in the Trust longest are showing the highest levels of attainment this year. If we look at the schools that have been with us for 4 years or more, we see that the combined total for expected attainment in reading, writing and maths is 70%, a full 9% above national average. The reading test caught out of a lot of schools this year, but in the schools that have been with us the longest, 84% of children achieved the expected standard, a full 13% above national average.

We are only at the beginning of the analysis of our data, but I believe that this last point tells two important stories. One is that multi-academy trusts can make a positive impact on the outcomes for children: these good results really do give children a better start to the next stage of their learning. The other is that school improvement takes time. Quick fixes and silver bullets may be attractive, but sustained improvement requires patience and should be judged over a number of years.

So let’s not have gloom and despondency around this year-end: standards are rising and I am convinced that outcomes for children are improving. And that – ultimately – is what we are all here for.

Chris Seaton
15 July 2017