Banding for primary schools to go ahead, says minister

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has rejected calls to abandon plans to rank primary schools in a banding system.

He insisted the proposals, similar to the controversial scheme for secondary schools, will go ahead later this year.

BBC Wales revealed on Wednesday the exact scores for every high school after more data was released.

Politicians and teaching unions have been calling for a rethink over the system which measures school performance in a number of areas.

Under plans for banding in primary schools, the Welsh government confirmed in December that many schools - around a third across Wales - will be exempt from banding on the grounds of their small size and other factors.

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas claimed more than half the primary schools in rural areas would be excluded from the measurement, and called for the proposals to be scrapped, saying the exercise would be meaningless.

He told Wednesday's plenary session of the Welsh assembly: "That does not make sense - pupils and teachers won't understand it, governing bodies won't understand it.

"I think the government, and I call on the minister now, should abandon banding for primary schools before it is introduced and before it is too late."

But Mr Andrews rejected the call, saying he wants to adopt an approach which is objective, and consistent with the banding system monitoring secondary schools.

He also rejected criticism from opposition parties that the system was a return to league tables by the back door.

Highest mark

Banding places schools in one of five sets based on an number of factors including exam performance, improvement, attendance and number of pupils on free school meals.

Mr Andrews said: "There are greater challenges in developing an objective model for primary schools compared to secondary schools, and the greatest of these is the large number of schools which have a small number of pupils.

"Primary schools will be provided with a provisional band before Easter - we shall then provide the final band in the summer term."

The Conservatives' shadow education minister Angela Burns told BBC Radio Wales she was never against the measurement of schools, but was concerned about the way the categories were weighted.

"We have got 12 categories on which a school is being measured. I don't have a problem with that," she said.

"What I do have a problem with is those 12 categories where you might get an 'A' in one category and an 'F' in another then squashed into a really rough framework to give you some kind of average score.

"It simply doesn't tell the story of the school. I would be much happier if you were to look at each category and, if you want, do a band across the categories."

Information published by BBC Wales on Wednesday showed Ysgol Tryfan in Bangor, Gwynedd, recorded the highest mark in each of the 12 categories which make up the secondary school banding system.

The latest banding data was released following a request from the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act.

Detailed examination

It gives parents further detail on the position of their children's school within the system.

NUT Cymru secretary David Evans has reiterated the union's call to ditch banding.

"Parents in the community know how their school is performing from local authority data and reports such as [education inspectorate] Estyn reports," he said.

Image caption Ysgol Tryfan in Bangor, Gwynedd, received the highest marks in the secondary school banding

"Estyn reports are a detailed examination of the school that occurs every six years and goes into the school looking at the school, looking at the way that lessons are delivered, speaking to governors, speaking to pupils as well.

"That's a far better system than this issue, which has obviously hit the headlines."

And Anna Brychan from the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales (NAHT) said: "They don't describe the whole of what a school does but the perception out there will be that this tells the whole story."

Dr Stevie Upton, a research officer at the Institute of Welsh Affairs, said: "If we get too tied up with the sort of who's better than who analysis... then the data become a type of stick to beat schools with."

She added that banding is supposed to be used to enable government officials and local authorities to prioritise resources to schools in most need.

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