A report into the state of education in the Leeds shows that the city ranks 148th out of 152 local authorities for writing at Key Stage 1 (year 2), and 146th for both mathematics and reading.
It also showed that fewer than half of disadvantaged pupils at Key Stage 2 (year 6) were not meeting expected requirements for reading, writing and maths.
Council officers told a meeting of the children and families scrutiny board that the city was improving on the previous year, and that progress at GCSE level was 44th in the country.
But councillors questioned why Leeds was struggling to educate its younger children compared with similar cities.
The figures were published in the authority’s recent annual standards report.
So what did the statistics show?
In a section of the report titled: “Summary of Academic Outcomes 2018”, it stated that, at Key Stage 1, 69 percent of all students reached expected teacher-assessed reading levels (compared with 75 per cent nationally); 63 per cent reached expected writing levels (70 per cent nationally); and 71 per cent gained expected maths levels (76 per cent nationally).
This leaves Leeds 146th out of 152 authorities for Key Stage one writing and maths levels, and 148th for writing levels.
The score for disadvantaged Key Stage 1 pupils is even grimmer.
Expected reading levels among low income students in Leeds was 55 per cent (63 per cent nationally), maths was 56 per cent (63 per cent nationally) and only 47 per cent reached expected writing levels (55 per cent nationally). No rankings for local authority performance on disadvantaged pupils were available.
At Key Stage 2 (year 6), reading, writing and maths levels are calculated as one figure. But again, less than half of disadvantaged children (45 per cent) in Leeds were reaching the expected levels.
However, the numbers show a marked improvement when it comes to Key Stage 4 (GCSE level), as both attainment and progress levels were closer to national averages.
What reasons were given for the performance at Key Stage 1?
A council officer told the meeting: “There are increasing complexities in children entering early years settings in schools – there are funding issues in families identifying for free school meals – schools have challenges in encouraging families to claim.
“There are also increasing special educational needs, emotional and mental health issues. Children are entering early years settings with more complex needs.
“There is support and partnership work to provide additional work based on research.”
What did panel members say about this?
Coun Dan Cohen (Con, Alwoodley) told the meeting: “Where we are as an authority with a lot of these figures is very concerning.
“If you look at all the early interventions that we do, we still seem to be towards the bottom end of local authorities in terms of our performance, in a whole range of early years and primary data.
“It doesn’t seem to me, after many years, to be any clearer as to why we are where we are, and what we are going to do to address it.”
A council officer responded: “Rather than give a one-size-fits-all answer, which is not valid in a city like Leeds which is very diverse, we are looking at how we target our approach to a very fine level.
“It’s about looking at what is working in certain areas.”
Coun John Illingworth (Lab, Kirkstall) suggested schools only had limited scope to deal with problems around the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.
He said: “There must be an effect of poverty per se. What worries me is this report refers to various things we do, but part of the variation is simply due to the fact people are poor and it compromises the life chances of our children.
“The gap between rich and poor has increased since 1970. There must be a direct effect of being poor, you haven’t got enough money to buy food, you haven’t got enough money to get decent housing.
“The answer to that is to reduce the gap, to give money to poor people and fix it the direct way. That’s something as politicians we should be looking at. Narrowing the income gap will increase standards of living.”
Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab), the authority’s executive member for schools and learning, responded: “There is a correlation between poverty and attainment in education – as poverty is increasing, we are seeing more difficulties in schools.
“It’s not the poverty itself that is causing it, it’s the things that poverty causes. You have teachers in school who are acting like social workers, washing children’s clothes, you have children turning up in the morning who haven’t had a proper breakfast. You have parents working two or three jobs to make ends meet.
“It is perhaps beyond the role of this scrutiny board to solve this crisis, but we as politicians should be looking at addressing this.”
What else did the report show?
The report looked at the number of pupil exclusions from schools in Leeds between 2015 and 2017.
It showed an alarming rise in the number of fixed term exclusions – otherwise known as suspensions – in which a pupil is removed from lessons for a set period of time.
The number of fixed term exclusions from secondary schools rose from 4,796 in 2015 to 6,601 in 2017. It added that permanent exclusions were at a much lower level, with only eight made in 2017.
A council officer told the meeting: “We are challenging schools and academies on that, we are saying that this isn’t appropriate.
“What we don’t want is children missing out on education full stop due to poor management from a school.
“The best schools are good at making sure all students stay in schools and stay in lessons.”
What happens next?
The report came up with a 15-point “key actions” plan, which included prioritising reading improvement by giving special training to social workers, and providing book packs for disadvantaged homes.
It added that attendance and lowering fixed term exclusions was also a priority to raising standards.
The report can be read in full here.