Schools 'driven to cheat by pressure of tests'

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The Independent Online

The pressure of national tests was blamed for driving schools to cheat after a string of primaries were stripped of their results.

Five schools in England were found to have broken the rules in the national curriculum tests SATs taken by 11-year-olds. Four saw their results wiped out in all three subjects, English, maths and science. A fifth school was stripped of its English results.

The controversy followed warnings from academics, charities and teachers that the national tests dominate primary education.

Schools are under enormous pressure to help meet government goals for 85 per cent of pupils to reach the required standard in English and maths. The league tables published today show ministers are almost certain to miss the goals which were set as targets for 2006 and still have not been met.

This summer, 80 per cent of pupils reached the required standard in English, 77 per cent in maths and 88 per cent in science. This means about 120,000 pupils still leave primary school unable to read or write properly, and 140,000 have difficulties with maths.

Among those accused of cheating were two primaries which were among the best in England in previous years. But St Charles' Catholic School in Liverpool and Brockswood School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, fell to the bottom of the latest league tables.

Other schools to score zero in the tables were St Bernadette's RC Primary in St Albans and Springfield Community Primary in Hackney, east London. William Cowper Primary School in Birmingham had its English results annulled. The National Assessment Agency, which oversees the tests, said officials had to be sure pupils' answers were "their own unaided work".

Results for a whole group of children can be annulled if it is found that a teacher discovered what questions would be asked in the tests and tried to coach pupils beforehand. Results can also be annulled if it is found a teacher "over-aided" pupils during the test or made "changes to pupils' scripts after the tests".

Hertfordshire Council said Brockswood School and St Bernadette's would change the way their tests were run after the NAA found test papers altered. It said "lax administrative procedures" were partly to blame. The teacher at the centre of the incident at St Charles' Primary is understood to have left the school.

Birmingham City Council said the annulment of English results at William Cowper followed concerns about the way one group of pupils were prepared for the writing test. An inquiry is still under way into what happened at Springfield.

The National Association of Head Teachers said the pressure on schools could lead to cheating as a small number of teachers felt they could not risk failure by being honest. It said incidents involving malpractice showed "we need an assessment system that promotes professional integrity and this one does not".

Lord Adonis, the Schools minister, said it was "unacceptable and unnecessary" for any school or teacher to cheat but added: "Five out of 13,000 primary schools is not at all representative of what is happening in our schools and cannot be seen as any indication of national tests causing increased pressure on teachers."

Top of the class

A school which uses activities including maypole dancing to improve pupils' teamwork and motivation has been ranked the best primary in the country for "adding value" to education.

A culture of "work hard and play hard" has seen St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary in Oldham, Greater Manchester, top a league table of nearly 15,000 primaries published today. The pupils were judged to be more than four terms ahead of the standard expected.

The school, which has a range of extra-curricular activities which have seen them receive football training from Manchester United coaches and visits from rugby stars, also ranked seventh for its raw scores in the national tests taken by all 11-year-olds in England this summer. Andrew Dickinson, the headteacher, and an ex-pupil, attributes much of his school's success to its family atmosphere, strong Catholic ethos and staff. School clubs, which meet daily and during the evening, include gardening and stamp collecting.