Leading article: What really helps pupils to learn

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The Independent Online

This year's primary school performance tables should come with a government health warning – results from 4,000 schools are missing thanks to the boycott of national curriculum tests by teachers earlier this summer. Having said that, they do give modest cause for celebration in that the number of schools where all pupils can read, write and add up has increased.

They also show there is much more work to be done, as nearly 1,000 are missing the Coalition Government's new "floor standard" of 60 per cent of 11-year-olds being capable in maths and English. This figure would obviously have been higher but for the boycott.

So what has to be done? The Government's intervention measures are sound – particularly linking under-performing schools with successful neighbours in the conviction that some of their good practices will be transferred. And ministers deserve credit for taking a more nuanced approach to under-performance than has been the case previously. They acknowledge that if a school in a challenging area is making great strides in improving pupils' performance, but has not yet met the minimum standard, there is little point in rushing to some new intervention.

What ministers do have to sort out, however, is the nature of the tests themselves. Teachers have long claimed that their high-stakes nature has led to excessive levels of coaching and, thus, a boring curriculum for pupils. It is counter-productive in that all of the successful schools that have been interviewed by The Independent make the point that if learning is more fun for pupils they tend to do better.

The Government has set in train a review of the tests which is due to report next spring. Regrettably, it will be too late for its conclusions to be implemented before next year's tests. But the review has a key role to play. If it can come up with a way of making the primary school curriculum more challenging and fun, then it could be more successful in achieving improved standards in maths and English than any other intervention that the Government might come up with.

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