How to read the class results

2000 primary school tables
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The Independent Online

The success of English primary schools, trumpeted on this page by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is undoubted. Only the most grudging observer would deny that primary school culture has been transformed during the five years in which the tables have existed.

The success of English primary schools, trumpeted on this page by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, is undoubted. Only the most grudging observer would deny that primary school culture has been transformed during the five years in which the tables have existed.

In 1996, when the primary school performance tables were published for the first time, only 15 primary schools got all their 11-year-olds up to the Government-expected standard in English, maths and science. This year, 148 did.

When Labour came to power in 1997, heads and teachers were sceptical about the targets set by the Government: 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standard in English by 2002 and 75 per cent in maths. One senior civil servant in the Department of Education confided privately that it was the education pledge which worried him most because "we can't fiddle the tests".

This year's improvement in standards is smaller than last year's. Then the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching the standard - Level 4 - was up by 10 percentage points on the previous year in maths and 5 percentage points in English. This time, the rise for English is 4 percentage points and for maths 3. Ministers are not surprised by the smaller rise because improvements usually slow down as the targets near. Some of the biggest improvements are in the inner cities. With two years to go, three-quarters of children are at the required English standard and 72 per cent in maths.

Today's tables, which list 14,800 schools, will not identify the most suitable school for a child, but they may reduce the options. The following pages rank schools by the aggregate of their scores in English, maths and science. They compare performance in this year's national tests with results four years ago. Full tables published by the Department for Education on their website - www.dfee.gov.uk/perform.shtml- give the results in intervening years.)

A consistently good performance is generally a good sign, but the tables fail to take into account pupils' backgrounds, so some schools with only middling scores may be doing well with children who have fewer advantages. Only the value-added assessments promised will show how much of the success is due to quality of teaching. Until then, the full tables give some indication of a school's intake because they provide details of the proportion of pupils with special needs.

Even the raw results convey some useful messages. Parents should look twice at a school whose English results are much worse than its maths results unless the school has a high proportion of pupils whose second language is English.

The full version of the results also shows how many pupils were absent on the day the tests were taken. In small primary schools, a single absence may make an important difference to results. Those with fewer than 11 eligible pupils do not appear in the lists. Independent prep schools are also excluded because they are not obliged by law to take national tests.

Test averages in the tables are not much help to parents of high-fliers who are looking for a school that is used to coping with able pupils. A growing number of 11-year-olds now reach Level 5, the standard expected of 13-year-olds. In science, 34 per cent of the age group reach Level 5, in English, 29 per cent, and in maths 24 per cent. Within English, 42 per cent of the age group get to Level 5 in reading and 13 per cent in writing. A small number reach Level 6, the average expected of 15 year-olds. But the tables do not record these successes.

No one should choose a school just because of its performance in the tables. A full account of a school's test results, including the proportion of pupils reaching Level 5, should be available in the prospectus. The inspectors' report is another valuable source of information not only about academic work in subjects other than the three core ones, but also about out-of-school activities and relationships between teachers and pupils.

Parents should watch out in these reports for the word "underachieving". Ofsted has recently begun to identify "coasting" schools which appeared to be flying high - until the inspectors went in and found that, given their pupils' intelligence, they should be doing much, much better. A few friendly village schools, which are popular with parents, have already been caught out.

A visit is still a must. Atmosphere and ethos cannot be gleaned from a table. Choosing the right primary school may make a difference to a child throughout life.

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