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Black Country pupil attainment is worse than before the coronavirus crisis - but schools are closing the gap

Education chiefs in the region insist primary school attainment is improving despite new figures showing skills in the three Rs are worse than before the coronavirus crisis.

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The latest Department for Education (DFE) data shows that Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on development of the young pupils across England with abilities in reading, writing and arithmetic remaining significantly worse than before three successive lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

Across Staffordshire and the Black Country where many schools are being operated by academy trusts and not town halls, more than half of 27,074 eligible pupils, aged seven to 11, meeting the expected standard in the 2022-23 academic year.

In Walsall, an Priority Education Improvement Area meaning the borough is getting extra DFE support in an effort to raise attainment levels, 58 per cent of 4,070 eligible pupils are making the grade - in 2018-19 it was 61 per cent.

In Wolverhampton 63 per cent of 3,798 eligible pupils are attaining the targets - in 2018-19 it was per cent. In Sandwell the figure is 56 per cent of 5,113 pupils are meeting the targets, in 2018-19 it was 62 per cent. In Dudley 55 per cent of 4,134 pupils are meeting the targets, in 2018-19 it was 59 per cent.

While in Staffordshire 60 per cent of 9,959 pupils are meeting targets, in 2018-19 it was 65 per cent.

Wolverhampton's children services director Alison Hinds said: "It is no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic was very disruptive to our children's education, as can be seen in the fall in attainment levels nationally in 2020 and 2021.

"It is very pleasing that attainment levels here are recovering strongly and are now significantly above the national average, with 63 per cent of pupils in our city meeting the expected standard in reading, writing and maths at Key Stage Two last year, compared to 59 per cent nationally.

"This is almost on a par with pre-Covid attainment levels and we should therefore be celebrating the performance of our children, young people and schools given the disruption posed by the pandemic.

"We are also seeing continued improvements in standards in our city's schools, with 89 per cent of schools in Wolverhampton now rated either 'Good' or 'Outstanding', above the regional and national average, and this should have a knock-on effect on attainment levels in the coming years.

"Improving educational outcomes is a key priority for the council as it will enable pupils to grow up well and achieve their full potential, and we will continue to support our schools to deliver for our children and young people."

Walsall's education chief Councillor Mark Statham said: “Ofsted outcomes in Walsall are improving, and at a faster rate than national. As of July 19 - 89.3 per cent of schools were 'Good' or 'Outstanding' compared with 86.2 per cent in the West Midlands and 88.5 per cent nationally.

Staffordshire County Council education chief Councillor Jonathan Price said: “Staffordshire's schools have maintained their performance compared to the national average, but school performance is still below pre-pandemic levels.

"With the majority of schools in Staffordshire now academy schools they are responsible for their own performance. Where we have concerns about performance in a local authority-maintained school, we will work with the school to identify the appropriate support.”

The said schools are working hard to improve results, but they are "hamstrung by Government's inadequate education recovery programme".

Nationally, just 59 per cent of pupils reached the expected standard. Hackney in London was the only area with comparable data that saw improvement during the pandemic.The Government wants 90 per cent of pupils to meet the standard. No area is above 75 per cent.

Association of School and College Leaders primary specialist Tiffinie Harris said: "Primary schools are also suffering from a lack of funding, as well as teacher shortages that are having an impact across the education sector. It is very difficult to raise standards under these circumstances.

The DFE said its "mission is to make sure every child has a world-class start in life".