It comes as a shock, therefore, to learn that standards are not uniformly high and that there may be significant failures at a much earlier stage in the educative process.
It has been revealed that about a third of children leaving States primary schools fail to reach expected standards in literacy and mathematics. The performance of the fee-paying sector is, however, much better, fewer than one per cent of students in the same age group failing to reach the relevant standards.
The figures for States schools are certainly alarming, but they – and additional factors – must be looked at in detail before firm conclusions can be drawn. All too often bald statistics can be misleading.
It can, for instance, be argued that because the intake at States primary schools represents a cross-section of students from all sorts of backgrounds – though with the exception of those from well-off homes who are educated privately from the outset – apparent poor performance merely reflects natural intellectual variability.
Moreover, as Education Minister James Reed has pointed out, States schools accommodate children with special needs and those for whom English is not a native tongue.
These are not justifications for complacency, but they help to emphasise that the picture painted by the raw data is anything but complete. They also emphasise that any changes in policy and practice must be based on a comprehensive understanding of exactly what is going on.
That said, we must recognise that the world is a very different place than when, in the not-so-distant past, it was accepted that a substantial number of students would never aspire to anything more than manual work and, because of this, had no need of sophisticated skills in either maths or language. In this information age, literacy and numeracy are basic tools for getting on in a far wider range of occupations and situations.
With this and the potentially misleading influence of headline-making figures in mind, Deputy Reed and his professional advisers need to take a long, hard look at primary education with a view to framing measures aimed not at producing more impressive statistics but at equipping children with all that they need for success in life as well as the classroom.