Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A third of British primary pupils 'will fail new tests'

One in three 11-year-olds are expected to fail rigorous new tests being introduced next year, it was claimed yesterday.  Almost 200,000 primary pupils will be told they are not properly prepared for secondary school after the exams next summer.

The tests in maths, English and science will be made harder from 2016 in a bid to raise standards for those in the last year of primary school.  It is hoped the tougher tests will help pupils gain a better grasp of basic skills before they start the next phase of their education.

But yesterday it was claimed thousands of children will fail to meet the required standards, with secondary schools expected to lay on summer classes to help those who are behind.

The new sample tests, due to be released after the election, will cover the 12 times table and calculating the area of a parallelogram.

One question asks children to divide 1,652 by 28 using long division, while another requires them to work out which fraction needs to be added to 1/3 and 1/4 to make up one whole.

Pupils will also have to recognise adverbs, use the subjunctive and identify a subordinate clause.

Around 85 per cent of children who sit the current Year 6 Sats achieve at least a level 4B – the standard expected of an average 11-year-old.

But the failure rate for the new tests is expected to be twice as high. The Tories have already announced that if they win the election, any child who fails the tests will have to resit them in their first year at secondary school.

A source close to the Education Department told the Sunday Times: ‘I do not think all politicians are aware of the problem that there will be such a massive drop in pass rates in these new tests.  ‘Conscientious parents will of course be worried if they are told that their child is not school-ready.  ‘But this is really a measure of the school and not the child.’

The tests are being brought in next year at the same time as a harder curriculum in primary schools.

They are designed to be a similar level to those taken by pupils in the highest-performing countries in the world. The UK has failed to make the top 20 in rankings for maths, reading and science, based on the international Pisa tests for 15-year-olds.

Last night a Conservative spokesman said: ‘Those primary schools that have prepared well for the new curriculum ... should not see a drop in the pass rate. The new curriculum is well within the ability of all pupils.’


British private fees are too high for the 'squeezed' middle classes, says headmaster of Eton

Britain's most elite independent schools have become too expensive for middle class families, according to the head master of Eton College.  Tony Little said many private schools had become out of reach for those who might traditionally have hoped to send their children there.

Many top public schools charge more than £30,000 a year, and overall fees continue to rise above the rate of inflation, recent figures show.  A study by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) this week showed that fees at independent schools have increased by 3.6 per cent this year.

Mr Little said that while heads had increased efforts to recruit pupils from poorer homes with bursaries, the soaring costs were still an issue for most families.  He said: ‘If you’re talking about this phrase “the squeezed middle” not being able to afford [fee-paying schools], that is a concern to a lot of people.’

Mr Little said Eton was able to afford to offer fees assistance to students from a range of backgrounds, but that was not the case with other schools.

He added: ‘We look at everybody individually and see … whether they measure up to have financial assistance. But we are all very aware of this effect [of high fees] on the middle classes.’

Boarding fees at Eton, Winchester and Harrow all exceed £34,000 a year, while at top day schools they can be more than £20,000.

Mr Little said that the top boarding schools had no choice but to charge high fees because of the pastoral support and facilities they offer.

He suggested that parents who could not meet the costs should consider ‘no- frills’ alternatives. He said: ‘Not all boarding schools need to offer all the facilities and all the subjects. As a parent, my advice [would be] to look closely at the options of what they can afford and what they think would be good for their child.’

Mr Little, who has been the headmaster at Eton since 2002, is due to leave this summer to join a chain of independent schools based in Dubai.

He suggested that in the future, there should be a ‘needs-blind’ admission system in which clever pupils would gain a place regardless of their family circumstances.

He said private schools had a ‘moral imperative’ to admit children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  He said: ‘[At Eton] we’ve got the infrastructure in place to be needs-blind but we need more money and that’s what we are seeking to do and that’s what we have been seeking to do for the last 10 years.’

Mr Little added that the arguments about selection and grammar schools in the state sector had become a political ‘hot potato’.

‘I believe in streaming pupils by ability and individual subjects, and how you do that … is almost immaterial,’ he told the Sunday Telegraph.

‘The important thing is that when it comes to a subject like maths you’re putting young people into groups where they can go along at a similar pace and can be extended and challenged properly.’


Atlanta judge reduces sentences for three educators in cheating case

An Atlanta judge on Thursday reduced the sentences of three former school administrators convicted of participating in a widespread test-cheating scandal, saying he was uncomfortable with the stiff sentences he handed down earlier this month.

In a rare move, Judge Jerry W. Baxter reduced each of the administrator’s prison terms from seven years to three, with seven years of probation instead of 13. He also reduced their fines from $25,000 to $10,000, but he maintained the requirement for 2,000 hours of community service.

The original prison term — far longer than prosecutors had sought and longer than many violent criminals serve — triggered public debate and a flood of criticism. Baxter, hinting that he might retire soon, said that he wanted to “modify the sentence so I can live with it.”

He urged the three defendants, all former high-level administrators within Atlanta Public Schools, to begin their community service now instead of waiting for their appeals to play out, a process that could take years. By doing so they could possibly earn a suspended prison sentence, he said.

“I’m not Oliver Wendell Holmes, but I do have a feel for trials and cases, and it’s my humble belief that this case is going to be affirmed,” he said. “If I am reversed and you are correct, you will still have served the community, so it’s not like you have wasted time.”

Critics had accused Baxter — who called the cheating scandal “the sickest thing that’s ever happened to this town” — of initially sentencing out of anger, doling out particularly harsh punishments to defendants who rejected his advice to admit guilt and take plea bargains.

On Thursday he seemed more weary than furious, and he made a plea on behalf of the poor children who bore the brunt of the cheating scandal when they were told they were working on grade level even though they were behind.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution uncovered the cheating scandal in 2009, and state investigators later concluded that nearly 180 educators had cheated in dozens of Atlanta public schools. High-level administrators had ignored or covered up cheating allegations since at least 2005, the investigators said.

Investigators found that a climate of fear and intimidation pervaded the district, and teachers and principals helped students get more correct answers on standardized tests largely because they were afraid for their jobs or reputation.

“There’s a lot more to this tragedy than the cheating,” Baxter said. “I mean the poverty, and the utter hopelessness in a lot of these neighborhoods. . . . Teaching in these areas — and there are fine teachers and dedicated teachers — that alone is not going to solve the problem.”

Baxter said he hopes that the cheating scandal forces Atlanta to “put a microscope” on the problems facing poor communities and “make things better for these children that didn’t ask to be born in these conditions.”

The three former administrators — Tamara Cotman, Michael Pitts and Sharon Davis-Williams — were among 11 former public school educators who were convicted April 1 of taking part in the conspiracy to falsify student scores on standardized tests.

One gave birth to a baby recently and has not been sentenced. Sentences for the others will apparently stand. Five were sentenced to either a year in prison plus four years on probation or two years in prison with three years on probation.

Two defendants chose to negotiate lighter sentences in exchange for admitting their guilt, apologizing for their actions and waiving their rights to appeal. One must serve six months of weekends in the county jail; the other has been sentenced to a year of home confinement, meaning she must stay home from dusk until dawn but is otherwise free.


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