League tables 'too late to give parents choice'

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Primary school league tables to be published by the Government for the first time next year may appear too late in many areas to help parents choose a school for next September.

Results of the tests to be taken by 600,000 11-year-olds next month will not be ready for publication until next March. Many school choices have to be sent to local authorities before March for entry in September, though some schools also admit primary pupils in January.

Secondary school league tables of GCSE and A-level results which have been published for five years are released in November, but ministers say the primary tables will be delayed because four times as many schools are involved.

The Department for Education and Employment said that the publication of both primary and secondary tables would amount to the biggest public information exercise in history.

Yesterday ministers issued a consultation document about the form the publication should take. The document says the table will list all 16,000 state primary schools containing 11-year-olds but results will not be published for schools which have five pupils or fewer taking the tests (1,425 schools).

Ministers originally proposed that schools with 10 or fewer pupils (2,850) taking the tests should not be listed. Critics say it is unfair to list small schools because their results are likely to fluctuate sharply from year to year. Tests in English, maths and science are used to place pupils on a "level". Most 11-year-olds are expected to reach level 4, with below average pupils at level 3 and above average ones at level 5. Pupils' teachers will also give them a level, based on their classwork.

Officials say that it is not possible to produce the information earlier than March even though the results come out in July. Schools are allowed to appeal against the results and the final result of appeals is not known until the middle of October.