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How are England's primary schools performing?

By the time they leave primary school children are expected to be able to construct a sentence using the correct grammar and carry out simple mental arithmetic in their head.

However, according to the league tables published by the government late last year, in almost 1,000 schools in England fewer than 60 per cent of pupils are able to do this.

Education Secretary Michael Gove believes if schools are failing to reach this standard, which is described as level four, then they are underperforming. Measures laid out by the previous government stated only 55 per cent of students must reach this standard.

Writing for the Guardian, Jessica Shepherd explained under this new system 1,631 institutions would have been classed as underperforming, much higher than the 962 which failed to reach the required level this year.
A small increase was also seen in the number of primary schools where 100 per cent of pupils reached level four, from 282 in 2009 to 289 in 2010.

The results, however, differed widely depending on the background of the young people in question and this led the Schools Minister Nick Gibb to claim: "It is unacceptable that after seven years of primary school, these children are not the standard in English and maths that they need to be to flourish at secondary school."

He also reiterated how the government was looking to focus on phonics to address the problems relating to literacy in England's schools. Under the plans all children will be given a test in Year One to determine how they are performing in reading.

By the time children leave primary school they are expected to have reached what the government refers to as level four, a target which will allow them to progress on to secondary education.

In English, children reaching this level must be capable of "read[ing] between the lines and writ[ing] reasonably complex texts," according to guidance from the government published by the BBC. Pupils reading at level four are classed as "active", which means they must be capable of drawing inferences and meanings from the text in front of them.

To achieve a level four in maths, students should be capable of carrying out sums involving adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in their heads, doing their times tables up to ten, calculating the area and perimeter of shapes and showing how sums were worked out.

Those falling below this desired level are capable of literally understanding a text and writing simple sentences, but will not be able to read between the lines. They will be capable of finding the main points of a story and can write a correctly constructed sentence.

In maths, children working at level three have a basic grasp of numeracy, are capable of carrying out additions and subtractions in their head and doing some of the easier times tables, as well as understanding some of the simpler decimals and fractions.

Although league tables are designed to demonstrate to parents and those involved in education professions how schools are performing in comparison with others based on these levels, there are those who argue they are not the best measure.

Schools' scores are calculated by awarding a set amount of points for the levels achieved by children, then dividing them by the number of tests taken. A number of contextual factors are also taken into account, including the progression children make between the ages of seven and 11.

However, some believe they do not provide an accurate picture of how a school is performing.

Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, speaking at a briefing on the document Common Ground on Assessment and Accountability in Primary Schools, said recently: "A league table based on attainment does not tell you how good a school is. It tells you a lot about the intake within that school and the area that it serves."

He added many secondary schools are having to retest children when they arrive as they cannot rely on the data provided in league tables.

Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, also had some criticism for the latest league tables saying: "This is a snapshot picture which does not tell us the whole story about children's performance. Level four was supposed to be the level that the average child achieved, not every child."

Both called for a system based on moderated teacher assessment to be introduced instead.

The latest league table results were affected by boycotts of the SATS tests which took place in a number of schools across the UK, however it would seem regardless of this many of those in the education community believe they do not paint a clear picture of the true situation in England's primary schools.