Labour may scrap primary tables

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The Independent Online
National primary school league tables could be scrapped in favour of local tables under a Labour government.

The shadow Education Secretary, David Blunkett, said yesterday that a final decision would be made after the first performance tables for 11- year-olds are published in March. But he is understood to be convinced parents would be better served by tables giving information on schools in their local area than by a mass of national data.

The first tables will provide information on the curriculum test results of more than 14,000 primary and middle schools in England.

The Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, yesterday claimed Labour had "let the cat out of the bag" over its views on schools' accountability. The party had made it clear it would deny parents wider information on primary school performance.

Mr Blunkett said Labour would review the Government's tables "to see whether they are the most efficient and helpful way of providing information to parents and lifting standards in primary schools".

He went on: "We would need to be persuaded by parents that information on how other schools many miles away are doing would be of value to them - or that the pounds 2m it would cost could not be better spent helping their school in a more direct way." He was referring to the pounds 1.8m estimated cost of producing the tables and Labour would want to examine whether this was a worthwhile use of resources.

As an alternative to national tables Labour would require education authorities to compile data on schools in their areas, allowing parents to compare performances locally and against a national average.

Mr Blunkett also wants authorities to provide information for parents on how schools add value, comparing performance at the age of 11 with assessment of pupils on entry at five.

Labour have said it would retain secondary school league tables, introduced six years ago, though it wants more value-added information as well as public examination results.

Mr Blunkett's stance opens a clear policy rift with the Government, which says national comparisons are as important at primary as at secondary school level, and the key to raising standards.

The Government's primary tables will show the proportion of pupils in each school in England who reach national target standards in English, maths and science. They include teacher assessments of pupils as well as the results of tests taken by 600,000 11-year-olds last May.

Mrs Shephard provoked a boycott of the tests for 11-year-olds by teaching unions last year when she went back on a promise to delay publication of results until the tests had "bedded down". The move was widely seen as a concession to her party's right wing. She justified her U-turn by pointing to the poor results achieved in tests the previous year, when more than half of 11-year-olds failed to reach expected standards in maths and English.

The general election could disrupt preparations for publication which are already well under way. In the event of a poll before March, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, and the education permanent secretary, Michael Bichard, would decide whether civil servants would stop work on the tables.