The publication of the Key Stage 2 results of the tests taken by 11-year-olds this May has resulted in the customary “state school” bashing in the press. The Daily Mail claims that the brightest pupils are being failed by primary schools, while The Telegraph has pointed out that one in three pupils have not mastered the basics by the time they’ve left school. But the crucial fact to remember is that overall, standards have gone up massively since I started teaching in the 1990s. Standards have risen immensely since they were introduced, with 49% of pupils getting a level 4 (the expected level) for English in 1995, whereas this year 81% attained a Level 4 or above. Furthermore, achievement amongst the brightest pupils has risen dramatically, contrary to what you read in the Mail. In 1995, only 7% of pupils achieved a top Level 5 in English (above the expected level) whereas this year it was 29%.
I have to say that I’m delighted with the progress my son made at his local state primary school, Columbia Primary in Tower Hamlets; this May he achieved top levels in all his SATs — as did many other pupils, from all sorts of different backgrounds, in his class. He had a superb teacher who not only drilled the pupils in the basics, but most importantly made these subjects fun. In particular, he’s motivated to study Maths in a way that he never was when he went a private school. A few years ago, disappointed with the progress he was making at the private school he was attending, my wife and I pulled him out and put him in the local primary school. The standards of teaching at his private school were very low because the teachers liked to lecture to silent classes and not actively engage the children in learning.
He was tested when he entered the local primary school as “average” in the basic subjects; he’s now progressed to be well above the national average. My personal story is an illustration that the notion that private schools are better than state ones is a myth; on the whole, state school teachers are better trained and much better at motivating children than teachers in the private sector, many of whom are untrained and have little idea of how children learn.
I am particularly annoyed with the suggestion that state schools don’t stretch the brightest pupils. This just wasn’t the case with my own son and the other bright pupils at his school. He’s had nothing but constant stimulation at his local primary and within the borough generally; he’s participated in numerous clubs and the local music service, THAMES, where he has learnt the bassoon and played in the Borough orchestra. His reading skills are good because he’s constantly been pushed in class to read challenging texts.