Controversial SATs exams criticised for being too hard are “raising pupils’ ability”, a head teacher has said. Last year, just 53 per cent of 10 and 11-year-old pupils at Oldfields Hall Middle School, in Uttoxeter, met the government’s new expected standard in reading and maths.

Forty-nine per cent did so at Windsor Park Middle School and 43 per cent achieved the grade at Ryecroft Middle School in Rocester.

This year, national media outlets reported pupils were “in tears” after their exams and quoted head teachers labelling the tests “too hard”.

However, newly-released results for 2017 have seen marked improvements for all the Uttoxeter Pyramid’s middle schools.

Windsor and Ryecroft, in particular, have turned last year’s results on their head. And Ryecroft head teacher Rachael Baramuszczak believes pupils are benefiting academically from the challenging exams.

She said: “I think the tests are incredibly challenging and looking at what the pupils are expected to do, it’s very, very difficult. The tests are so much harder than they were two years ago.

“I think that raises pupils’ ability and challenges them to reach their potential. However, realistically, you’re not going to get all your pupils reaching the expected level.”

Eighty-two per cent of Windsor pupils got the “expected” mark in reading, 84 per cent did so in maths and 87 per cent made the grade in writing.

In spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG), 81 per cent of entrants reached the requisite level.

These results stacked up well against the national averages of 71 per cent for reading, 77 per cent for SPAG, 76 per cent for writing and 75 per cent in maths.

Windsor, in Uttoxeter, did not provide the percentage of pupils who reached “expected levels” in reading, writing and maths.

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The national average for pupils hitting that milestone, which will form the basis of school league tables at the end of August, was 61 per cent.

A spokesman for the Windsor’s governors said: “Well done to everyone. Thoroughly deserved. This recognises the achievements of the pupils and staff, and the school’s high expectations of them. This sets a new benchmark of what can be achieved with inspirational teaching.”

Ryecroft, in Rocester, saw 63 per cent of its pupils achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and maths combined.

A total of 83 per cent met the required level in reading, 78 per cent did so in SPAG and 82 per cent hit their target in writing.

Just 70 per cent attained the expected level in maths – but this represents a 15 per cent improvement on last year’s results.

Ms Baramuszczak said: “When I came here in September, we looked very closely at the data and identified where things needed to improve. I think our forensic approach to addressing weaker areas is the main reason for the success we’ve seen this year.

“I could see reading and writing, in particular, were already on an upward trend and we’ve continued to improve both. We got 65 per cent in last year’s SPAG, so I’m so proud we’ve managed to reach 78 per cent this time around.

“Similarly, our maths score was only 55 per cent and we’ve managed to haul that up to 70 per cent. A 15 per cent improvement is such a huge turnaround and I’m absolutely delighted with the attainment the pupils have reached across the board. It’s testament to how hard they and the staff have worked.”

At Oldfields, in Uttoxeter, all but one of the scores provided fell slightly below the national average. However, the results were still significantly improved when compared to last year’s.

Seventy per cent hit the expected standard for reading, 73 per cent did so for writing and 75 per cent reached the level in maths.

A total of 60 per cent got “expected” in reading, writing and maths. Oldfields did not provide its pupils’ average SPAG score.

Head teacher Carl Gliddon said: “Pupils and staff worked really hard and we are pleased to see the outcome improved from last year.”

Last year, Mr Gliddon said he was “cautious about concluding too much” from the 2016 scores.

Speaking after 2016’s results were released, he said: "In the SPAG paper, there are some questions that a reasonably bright, university-educated person would not understand.

“While I always support helping youngsters make progress and have higher expectations, the tests need to be relevant and helpful."

A recent Childline report concluded children were “overwhelmed” by stress and anxiety during exam periods.

The three schools released their exam results to us early, but they could change after close inspection by exam moderators.