The city, whose chief education officer is Professor Tim Brighouse, has pioneered school targets and a series of initiatives to spread effective teaching methods. School targets and the spread of good practice are at the heart of the Government's strategy for raising standards disclosed in a White Paper published last week.
In a report to Birmingham's education sub-committee, Professor Brighouse, who is vice-chairman of the Government's new standards task force, points to an improvement in eight-year-olds' reading performance between spring 1995 and this year. However, one in eight city children still has a reading age two or more years below his or her chronological age.
Nearly 2,500 children in 50 representative city primary schools were set tests designed by the National Foundation for Educational Research and marked by their teachers.
The children's raw scores were compared with the scores achieved by children of the same age nationally and then converted into standardised scores. A standard score of 100 represents the national average.
In 1995, the average score by Birmingham children was 93. By spring this year, it was 97.
The report says: "Importantly, most of the improvement has been in reducing the proportion of children in the lowest reading bands."
Two years ago, the city introduced a "primary guarantee" under which schools set their own targets in return for support and funding from the local authority.
There was also "a year of reading" during which schools were encouraged to focus on literacy. Teachers have been offered extra training, and a survey of teaching methods was carried out earlier this year with the results being sent to all primary schools.
Standards have improved for all children, including those from ethnic minorities and those on free school meals. "However, differences still remain with children with first languages other than English and children from disadvantaged backgrounds tending to perform less well."
Children who had received nursery education did better than those who had not.
The report says the results must be treated with caution because this is the first time reading standards in the city have been compared in this way.
National research published recently by the National Foundation for Education Research suggests that reading standards have remained much the same for the last 50 years. There was a slight drop in the late Eighties before they returned to their previous level.
Professor Brighouse said he was delighted with the results which reflected schools' efforts. "However, we are not being complacent. We realise that we are still below the national average and there is work to be done. Targets are being set by schools for the year 2000 in an effort to continue this improvement in reading standards."
Ministers have set a target for 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the expected standard in English by 2002.