Has Tory policy on schooling worked?

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The Independent Online
New types of schools promoted by the last government feature prominently in a list of the most-improved schools published yesterday. Conservatives said their policies had been vindicated.

Just 240 schools out of more than 5,000 in this year's league tables have improved every year for the past four years. One in three is grant- maintained, including the London Oratory, where the Prime Minister sends his children, and four of the 20 most improved are city technology colleges.

City technology colleges and the 667 grant-maintained schools have been more generously financed than other schools. The colleges usually test and interview applicants to ensure they admit the full range of ability, and some non-selective grant-maintained schools interview prospective pupils. Under Labour, both will lose some of their independence over admissions and will be funded in the same way as other schools. Stephen Dorrell, shadow education secretary, said: "I warmly welcome the fact that Labour have adopted the important Conservative policy of publishing league tables. Why does Mr Blunkett [David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education] insist on destroying the grant-maintained system when the evidence points so unambiguously to its success?" Government sources denied the list was embarrassing: "There is a good cross-section of schools of all categories ... Of course a representative proportion will be grant-maintained."

Teachers, who criticise the tables for giving only raw scores and not taking into account schools' intake, questioned whether the new improvement index was a true reflection of performance. Mr Blunkett defended the index: he believes it gives parents a fairer picture of their children's schools. He promised that new "value-added tables" comparing a school's intake with its exam performance would be piloted from next year.

However, the tables reveal how difficult it is for schools to maintain that improvement: 416 had better results in both1995 and 1996, only to see them drop again this year.

The top local authority at GCSE, for the second year running, is the Isles of Scilly, with one school where 61.6 per cent of pupils are getting good grades. The bottom is Hull, which displaces last year's worst authority, Islington, London. Hull also has the highest truancy rate.

The best-performing school at A-level was fee-paying King Edward's School, Birmingham, where pupils scored an average of between three and four As per candidate. The best state comprehensive at A-level was Lady Manners' School, Bakewell, Derbyshire, where pupils scored an average of nearly three A grades each.