Dagenham school says increase in autistic pupils will lower its SAT results

Monteagle Primary School, Dagenham. Picture: PAUL BENNETT

Monteagle Primary School, Dagenham. Picture: PAUL BENNETT - Credit: Archant

A top primary has been accused of scapegoating autistic children after it warned parents its results would dip because there were so many in the school.

Monteagle’s executive headteacher, Paul Campbell, sent a letter home in World Autism Awareness Week saying the Dagenham school’s results wouldn’t be as high as in previous years because pupils with the condition would not sit the tests but still be counted in performance data.

The number of pupils at Monteagle’s with autism has increased from six three years ago to 48 now taught in the school’s specialist Phoenix unit.

“Often, we do not ask children in Phoenix to sit these tests. However, the children are still included in the data published.

“This is why this data will not be so high this year”, the letter states.

A copy of the letter sent to parents of children at Monteagle Primary School. Picture: JON KING

A copy of the letter sent to parents of children at Monteagle Primary School. Picture: JON KING - Credit: Archant

It ends telling parents: “I trust you share with us an ambition for all children at Monteagle to thrive.”

But Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society (NAS), said: “While we don’t know all the details, we have seen this letter and find it hard to imagine how hurtful it would feel if you were an autistic child or a parent reading it.

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“You would feel like you, or your child, were being used as a scapegoat for these disappointing results. That’s not the supportive environment autistic children need.”

Ms Harris added it was especially shocking during World Autism Awareness Week when thousands of schools were helping staff and pupils understand autism better.

The Society’s report, Held Back, found 60 percent of autistic youngsters and 70pc of parents it surveyed said having teachers understand autism better would make the biggest difference to their child’s education.

“We know that teachers want to do the right thing and that many don’t feel confident without the support and resources they need.

“But this letter strikes the wrong note,” she said.

Monteagle’s executive headteacher, Paul Campbell, defended the letter saying senior managers and governors had given it their blessing.

“We are a model of outstanding practice when it comes to our Additionally Resourced Provision. But the SATs don’t measure the breadth of our children’s growth because they are a purely academic measure.

“I would be devastated if there was any suggestion [in the letter] we were apportioning blame.”

He added that none of the parents or children reported being upset by the letter.

On whether it had struck the right note, he said: “If it hasn’t for one person, then I feel bad about that. My staff work incredibly hard to do the best for these children and their families, and I wouldn’t wish to misrepresent that work.”

Last December Monteagle was named the best school in the borough according to a pupil progress measure.