Richard Garner: Didn't they do well?

As a result of a radical revamp, this year's primary school performance tables make more interesting reading than in previous years. Ministers have included a "value added" measure for the first time, showing just what difference a school's teachers have made to its pupils.

The indicator looks at what pupils have achieved in their national curriculum tests at the age of seven and then predicts what they should achieve by the age of 11. If they have done better than expected, that is reflected in the school's ranking, and the school will score more than 100 in its value-added score. If they have not come up to scratch, the school's ranking will be less than 100. If they have done exactly as expected, the score will be exactly 100.

A glance at the names of the schools coming top of the tables as a result of the value-added exercise shows that they are mainly in the inner cities.

The one that comes at the very top is Delaval Community Primary School, a 170-pupil school serving the Scotswood area of Newcastle - one of the city's most deprived areas. For years, many schools in the inner cities have had to take bad results on the chin when the league tables have been published, but Delaval's head teacher, Sandra Marsden, was overjoyed that the school was able to celebrate its success nationally for the first time this year.

It is worth noting, though, that schools near the bottom of the value-added league table also come from inner-city areas - showing that, while there are some schools in deprived areas that inspire their pupils, there are also some that may give up the ghost when it comes to grappling with the poverty they see around them.

In general, the national picture this year shows little improvement in test results over the past four years - lending weight to the theory that the rapid improvements in literacy and numeracy of the late 1990s has stalled. Four years ago, the aggregate score of the percentage of pupils reaching the required standards in maths, English and science tests was 231. This year it is the same as last time - 234.

In English, the figure remains the same at 75 per cent and in maths it is 73 per cent, which makes it difficult to see when the Government is ever going to meet its now notorious target (now an "aspiration" in New Labour-speak) for 2002 of getting 80 per cent of pupils up to scratch in English and 75 per cent in maths.

Despite the changes this year, the new format has still not won over the hearts and minds of the teachers' and head teachers' organisations, who claim their very existence forces schools to concentrate on teaching for the tests to the detriment of a wider and more interesting curriculum.

As a result of teacher opposition, the Government may well have a battle on its hands just to publish the primary performance tables next year. If, as expected, members of the National Union of Teachers vote for a boycott of the tests for seven- and 11-year-olds and there is no successful legal challenge to their industrial action, it is likely the tests will be cancelled in a majority of schools.

Therefore, the inner-city schools that have won their moment of fame as a result of the hard work they have put into improving their pupils' education will have to bask in their glory now. They may not be able to next year.

r.garner@independent.co.uk

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