Primary school works hard to turn results around

Sidmouth Primary School Head Teacher Claire Fegan with pupils celebrating their great Ofsted report.

Sidmouth Primary School Head Teacher Claire Fegan with pupils celebrating their great Ofsted report. Ref shs 23 19TI 6080. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Sidmouth Primary School has had to introduce a series of measures over the last year to improve its results.

And after a tough 12 months staff and students are celebrating a 'good' Ofsted report and looking forward to the latest SAT results in July.

The school has 528 pupils, aged 2-11, across three sites, with the main primary school in Woolbrook Road.

Last year, the SAT results showed that only 48 per cent of the pupils leaving the primary school met all three of the expected reading, writing and maths standards - 16 per cent below the national and local authority's average of 64 per cent. In total, 67 per cent met the expected reading standard, 77 per cent the expected writing standard and 60 per cent the expect maths standards.

In 2017, the school was converted into an academy and joined First Federation Trust - which runs 13 other schools.

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At the time parents were told the move would free up more money to be spent at the school. However, due to changes in funding, this did not happen.

Concerns have also been raised about the merging of the classes - years three and four, and years five and six.

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Claire Fegan, head of teaching and learning, at Sidmouth Primary said the school has made a number of changes in the last year to drive up standards, including:

- Introducing 'consistent approaches to teaching and learning in reading, writing and maths, working hard to ensure the work in lessons closely matched the needs of pupils'.

- Launching a new curriculum model which allows children to use their English and maths skills more within other subjects.

- Introducing different support programs to develop children's key skills - including precision teaching and Nessy spelling - giving 'high quality' support to the staff in their roles.

- Encouraging parents to focus on core areas of spelling and timetables in homework, through online home learning.

- Introducing weekly after school learning clubs and Easter School sessions to help children prepare for SATs.

- Supporting young children in phonics learning - a method of whereby pupils are taught words using the sounds of the letters. Last year, the school was in the top four per cent of the country, with 98 per cent of children passing the National Phonics Check in Year 1.

Mrs Fegan said: "We recognise that previous KS2 data has not been strong enough and we remain doggedly determined to improve it.

"It is particularly disappointing when test data does not reflect the significant progress we have seen pupils make in their daily learning, or in their approaches to learning.

"Published data is based on the number of children who reach a scaled score of 100 or more, but when a child perseveres to raise their score from 80 to 99 within a school year, we are rightly proud of their achievement."

She said last year, 25 per cent of the Year 6 group had some element of special educational needs.

She said: "For some of these children, developing their abilities within spoken language, friendships and understanding their emotions are equal priorities alongside their academic learning.

"The recent Ofsted report recognises that our current approaches to teaching and learning are having a rapid and positive impact, however this cannot be achieved overnight for all children. It takes times for these measures to translate into end of primary test data."

Paul Walker, the trust's executive headteacher, told the Herald: "Academies are the same as schools and get no extra money or funding.

"All our teachers' pay goes up each year, pensions have gone up 23 per cent, and although the Government has put extra money into it, it doesn't match the rising cost.

"Unfortunately, the year the school 'academised' was the year the funding changed. At the time when we said the move would make more money available - that was factually correct."

He added that a number of grants the school wanted to access were discontinued that year.

Mr Walker said that three years ago the primary school had 12 classes and about 320 children - around 20 to 25 pupils per class. But government funding was based on 30 children in a class, so only paid for 10 of the 12 teachers. He said this was why the school had to restructure and introduced mixed age groups.

He said there were no issues in having mixed-age groups, which is the case at around 75 per cent of Devon schools.

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