Minister accused of ignoring progress in schools

A LEADING head teacher has grilled Schools Minister Nick Gibb over why the Government is “ignoring” improvements at a primary school which has been branded as one of the worst 200 in the country and is now set to be turned into an academy.

David Kirk received loud applause from delegates at the North of England Education Conference yesterday as he told the Minister that some pupils at a primary in the region on the Government’s hit-list would never be able to hit national targets as they did not speak English and had not been in school long enough.

Mount Pellon Primary, in Halifax, is among 200 primary schools which the coalition plans to turn into academies to raise standards.

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Mr Kirk, who works with Mount Pellon as a National Leader of Education and is an executive head at two other Halifax schools said: “I want to know why the Government is not taking the improvements this school showed in 2011 into account.”

He said he had been told by the Department for Education that Mount Pellon’s latest standard assessment test (SATs) results – which lifted the school above the Government’s floor targets – had not been considered.

Speaking after the event in Leeds, Mr Kirk said: “There is improvement at Mount Pellon and it is bedding in. Why is the Government not looking at these results? Is it just hell bent on getting more academies open?

“There are 70 per cent of children at that school who do not have English as a first language some have only been there for a short time. Would Mr Gibb be able to read Russian in 18 months? To suggest all pupils can meet these targets is a nonsense.”

Answering Mr Kirk’s question at the conference, Mr Gibb said: “The trouble is, one hears reasons why schools can’t achieve.

“I do understand there are challenges that are faced – areas of deprivation, children from very dysfunctional backgrounds and some schools clearly have high proportions of children who come from very difficult backgrounds.

“These schools face bigger challenges. But we are absolutely determined that the background of a child should not affect the ultimate education they receive or the achievement they make.

“Now we know this is difficult. We know it requires resources and that’s what the pupil premium is about. We are giving schools the resources to tackle these underlying problems. But we can’t allow these underlying problems to affect that child’s education throughout their lives.”

Mount Pellon’s headteacher Janet McPhail said: “The Government only sees numbers and does not see what is behind that. Around 70 per cent of our children are of Pakistani heritage and even though many of their parents are second or third generation Britons they often do not speak English at home. We serve an area where there is cheap rented houses available and we have economic migrants moving in and out of the area looking for work. We have children who come from Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Somalia, Algeria, Iran and Vietnam. Some of our children from Roma families can move out of the area for months and come back. We have just taken on two pupils who have come back into year six who have been away because their parents moved for work. They haven’t been in school for a long time and yet this year we will be judged on whether they get to the average level expected of an 11-year-old who speaks English and has had a full education.

“It is just not going to happen. It is like asking someone to be two inches taller than they are. Children like this can represent 20 per cent of our results.”

Mount Pellon has previously been in special measures but was brought out after two years. Its latest SATs results from the English and maths tests sat by 11-year-olds this summer brought it above the Government’s floor targets.

Ministers have set schools the target of having at least 60 per cent of pupils reaching level four – the standard an average 11-year-old is expected to reach – in English and maths. Pupils are also expected to keep pace with the national average of progress shown by children between the ages of seven and 11.