Portsmouth education leaders to meet government minister after worrying drop in exam results

Mike Stoneman (left) and Nick Gibb
Mike Stoneman (left) and Nick Gibb
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Education leaders in Portsmouth have been told to attend a government meeting because youngsters are not doing well enough in school.

Nick Gibb, minister of state at the Department for Education, wrote to Portsmouth City Council asking to meet education leaders after a drop in results.

The meeting, on Monday, has been welcomed by deputy director for children, families and education, Mike Stoneman – who says it will be a good chance to highlight the challenges in Portsmouth schools.

The summons came after schools in Portsmouth failed to achieve average national standards for outcomes across the pre-16 Key Stages and were also below average when compared to similar areas, known as Stat Neighbour Authorities.

Results in infants school (Key Stage 1, Years 1 and 2), were the closest to national averages with 74 per cent of pupils meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths compared to 75 per cent nationally. This was one per cent higher when compared to Stat Authorities.    

However, by the end of Key Stage 2 (junior school, Year 6) 57 per cent of pupils were described as meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to 65 per cent nationally and 62 per cent for Stat Authorities.

The area for greatest concern was in maths where 68 per cent of pupils attained the expected standard, falling from 71 per cent in 2017. The national average was 76 per cent and the Stat Authority average was 74 per cent.

Mr Stoneman said that the fall in maths ‘had been predicted’ and that plans were in place to address the situation.

‘A plan is in place working with Solent Maths Hub targeting seven particular schools. The Solent Maths Hub is also able to provide a range of professional development for schools - most of which is free,’ he said.

The percentage of students meeting the standard for reading improved from 67 per cent in 2017 to 69 per cent. But across the country the average went up from 72 to 76 per cent and a similar increase for Stat Authorities from 69 to 73 per cent so Portsmouth actually fell further behind.

For writing, pupil performance fell from 74 to 73 per cent whilst nationally it increased from 77 to 79 percent and from 76 to 77 per cent for Stat Authorities.

Mr Stoneman said: ‘Key Stage 2 is a concern. These were disappointing results.’

But the biggest area of concern for the council was the fall in pupil progress at GCSE.

Whilst the number of students achieving Level 5 and above (equivalent of a high old grade C) in maths and English remained at 37 per cent, this was still six per cent below the national average and three per cent below comparable authorities.

The overall Progress 8 score - which measures whether pupils improve, not the grades they get -  also dropped from -0.13 to -0.33. A 0 would mean children made the expected progress throughout their secondary school, and a negative score means they would fall behind that. Anything under -0.25 is seen as a concern.

Mr Stoneman said: ‘It is fair to say 2018 is not where we want to be. It is a disappointment that Progress 8 scores dropped back considerably and there are a number of schools which pulled our score down.’

Mr Stoneman said the new GCSEs were harder and could have contributed to the fall in performance.

‘These are more challenging exams,’ he added. It is a sentiment shared by Simon Graham, headteacher at St Edmund’s - the city’s best performing state school.

‘We found the new GCSE far harder for students,’ he said. ‘The exams demand a far higher level of skills, language and even life experience. The level of depth and detail required is very high.’ Mr Graham also feels the new system was introduced in a rushed manner with little guidance which did not give schools the chance to prepare.

There are also fears that schools in Portsmouth are not offering a wide enough choice of subjects for students.

The city sees a higher than average number of pupils (45 per cent compared to 39 per cent) being submitted for the English Baccalaureate which covers traditional subjects, viewed as academically more challenging.

Mr Stoneman said: ‘This does raise questions as to the breadth of curriculum on offer and some schools need to reflect on whether the EBacc is an appropriate pathway for some students.’

The council believes that next year will be better after it launched the ‘Challenge the Gap’ improvement programme.  A pilot scheme, which involved 120 primary and 86 secondary children, resulted in 80 per cent of pupils involved making better progress than predicted.

‘Based on local intelligence and predicted results the expectation is that there will significant improvement next year,’ said Mr Stoneman.