Sheffield’s primary schools are improving despite huge changes to SAT exams - although the city still falls below the national average for results.
Teachers faced even more pressure than usual in the 2015/16 academic year thanks to a reformed testing system. Standards were raised, and the national average of Year 6 pupils reaching the expected level fell from 80 per cent to 53 per cent.
In Sheffield, that score was 52 per cent. But Sheffield Council hailed the result as an improvement, given that in 2015 the city was two percentage points behind the national average, compared to just one this year.
Sheffield is now ranked 96th out of the 152 UK local authorities - a jump of 20 places on last year.
The number of schools falling below the floor standard also fell, from eight in 2015 to four this year.
Staff at Ann’s Grove Primary School in Heeley were delighted with their results. They achieved a 74 per cent overall score, with 87 per cent in each individual category - above the Government standard and well over the national averages.
Particularly pleasing for executive headteacher Sam Fearnehough were the progress scores. Ann’s Grove rated well above national and local averages for reading and maths, and also scored well for writing.
The school received a requires improvement grade from Ofsted three years ago, and improvement has been swift ever since.
Mrs Fearnehough said: “We are in the top five per cent nationally for progress in reading and maths, which is an astonishing result.
“Last’s year’s results were very good as well. This year with new and quite different tests we were unsure what they would be like. And actually we have done better this year.
“We are well above average in all subjects.”
Preparing Year 6 pupils for the new SAT tests was not the simplest task for teachers. Mrs Fearnehough said information from the Department for Education came in ‘dribs and drabs’.
“We always approach it in a ‘no fear’ sort of attitude,” she said.
“Tests are about showing what you can do. That’s what the pupils do, and we make it a good experience for them. And we get everyone through. We don’t drill them but they understand what’s going to be in the tests.”
Mrs Fearnehough, who is also executive headteacher at Birley Spa Community Primary School, is unashamedly proud of the transformation at Ann’s Grove.
“Two years ago we put some changes in and were building the school from the ground up. We took on some great staff, kept some existing staff and really focused on what our community needed.
“It’s difficult dealing with changes to exam systems but we have the type of team that just goes with it.”
Among the top performing schools in Sheffield this year was Greengate Lane Academy in High Green. The school is in one of the most deprived areas of the city, but 84 per cent of pupils met the new expected standard, and progress scores were also high.
Executive headteacher Wendy Wheldon said: “We know that our children always do well. The school is on a journey of improvement and we were confident.
“But what we also did was prepared our children very well for these harder tests.
“They were much harder this year. And the children coped brilliantly with the demands of the tests.”
The school’s progress scores were notable because the Year 6 cohort had already done well at Key Stage 1 - meaning their results at Key Stage 2 were particularly high.
Mrs Wheldon said: “We are in an area of really high deprivation. The number of pupils taking free school meals is almost triple the national level. It’s around the 20th most deprived school in Sheffield.
“To achieve the results we have done in an area that has got challenges is particularly good and shows it’s totally possible to do that.”
On the lower end of the school was Oasis Academy Fir Vale, where English as a first language is rare. Only five per cent of pupils met the expected standard.
A spokesman for Oasis Community Learning said: “At Oasis Academy Fir Vale our pupils face unusually high barriers to learning; the vast majority of our children speak English as an additional language and the proportion of children who eligible for pupil premium funding is above the national average.
“The academy has a good knowledge of these challenges and is very proactive in the local community to help alleviate them.
“Ofsted inspected the Academy this year and noted that the school is now led by ‘a strong and determined principal’ in Helen Round.
“Supported by her senior leaders and Oasis’s regional director for the north, Philip Beaumont, Helen has implemented the necessary changes to ensure that every pupil has the opportunities that they need to make great progress and fulfil their potential.
“Oasis Community Learning is confident that Oasis Academy Fir Vale has the leadership and processes in place necessary to swiftly improve pupil attainment.”
Sheffield Council's cabinet member for children, young people and families Jackie Drayton said: “It’s fantastic to see such an improvement in our results from our primary schools.
"Sheffield has yet again narrowed the gap to just one per cent below the national average. Our ranking amongst local education authorities has also significantly improved moving from 116 to 96 out of 152 authorities.
“Congratulations and well done to the children and young people. I know just how much hard work will have gone into these results. You should all be very proud of yourselves.
"Many thanks to those who have supported them along the way –schools, staff and governors, and parents and carers, family and friends.
“The results highlight a number of positive improvements we have across all our primary and secondary schools. This comes on top of this year’s increase in the number of schools judged as good and outstanding by Ofsted – now over 80 per cent compared to 73 per cent in 2015.
“We will continue to work in partnership with schools, other providers, families and young people to boost standards further.”
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