Test tables are trickery, say teachers

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Controversial league tables for English primary schools, published by the Government for the first time yesterday, involve the biggest public information exercise since the Second World War.

But Labour said they came too late to help most parents in their choice of primary school and promised that a Labour government would insist they were issued four months earlier.

Teachers argued that the tables were a confidence trick on parents because they made no allowance for those who were absent for the tests and for pupils with severe learning difficulties.

The tables, costing more than pounds 1m, show the results of tests in English, maths and science sat by more than 500,000 11-year-olds at more than 14,000 schools. Just 15 schools succeeded in getting all their pupils to reach or exceed the expected level in all three subjects.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education, said the tables would raise standards: "Today for the first time hundreds of thousands of parents will be able to compare the performance of primary schools."

David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, said the party would continue to publish test results. "But it is a mark of a government which has completely lost touch with the needs of parents that it waits until March to publish information about tests from last year. It is very odd indeed that they don't know that most parents pick their primary school before Christmas."

Under Labour, the government would place a duty on local authorities to publish them in November.

Many of the schools at the top of the table are church schools with mixed- age classes who entered a comparatively small number of pupils for the tests.

Some of the inner-city schools at the bottom of the heap hit back. Birmingham City Council pointed out that at Cromwell Junior and Infant School 75 per cent of pupils are on free school meals compared with a national average of 19 per cent and said that pupil turnover in the area was high.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Two or three children with flu can mean the difference between success and failure on the league tables for small schools. The tables ignore the strong influence of background factors outside schools' control."

Mrs Shephard attacked the teacher unions' "foolish attempts to cast doubt on the validity of the tables. Such action will not increase parents' confidence but it will spoil the pleasure of high-achieving children."