Children finished primary school in England this summer better equipped than ever before, after official figures showed a further improvement in the results of national tests in literacy and mathematics taken by 11-year-olds.
Some 81% of pupils at mainstream state primary schools passed key stage two tests and assessments in reading, writing and mathematics, reaching the government’s benchmark of level four, indicating they are ready to start secondary school.
In mathematics the proportion attaining level four or above rose for the fifth consecutive year, to 87%, continuing a trend of improvement dating back to 2001 and closing the gap with reading, which was unchanged at 89%.
The key stage two exams were taken by 566,000 year six pupils in nearly 15,000 state schools. They are the first externally marked national exams sat in England.
“I am delighted that 90,000 more children are starting secondary school with a firm grasp of the basics compared to just five years ago,” said schools minister Nick Gibb, referring to the 62% combined pass rate in 2009.
“These results vindicate our decision to expand the valuable academies programme into primary schools, with thousands of children on course to receive a better education.”
However, the details showed wide variation in the results achieved by different types of school. Local authority maintained schools saw a two percentage point improvement in those reaching the benchmarks compared with 2014, to 81%, while formerly good or outstanding schools that converted to academy status improved by one percentage point, to 84%.
Sponsored academies – often maintained schools deemed to be failing and taken over by academy chains – showed a faster rate of improvement but their overall results remained well behind at 71%.
A breakdown of figures supplied by the Department for Education’s statisticians showed that schools made to became sponsored academies enjoyed rapid improvement, with those that have been sponsored academies for two years or more bettering their earlier results by 10 percentage points.
However, so-called converter academies – good or outstanding schools that voluntarily chose academy status – improved more slowly than local authority schools.
The figures also included the results of 626 pupils at 21 mainstream free schools. Just 73% attained level four or better in all three categories, well below the 81% in other state schools. But the statisticians cautioned: “The number of free schools with 11-year-old pupils is too small to allow robust conclusions to be drawn about their performance.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, which represents many primary school leaders, said the improving results were a testament to the hard work by pupils and teachers.
“It’s clear that it’s not the type of school that’s important, but the quality of teaching and leadership within it that matters most,” he said.
The detailed figures showed little improvement in terms of progress. While maintained schools and converted academies showed similar success rates in reaching expected rates of progress, sponsored academies and free schools lagged behind by as much as 14 percentage points.
There was faster progress in the grammar, punctuation and spelling test introduced in 2012, but results in reading remained static and fewer pupils reached level five than in 2014.
Girls continue to outperform boys overall, but the two achieved the same results in mathematics with a higher proportion of boys gaining level five or above.