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Top of the class, but Clifton plays down its success

The irony of school league tables is that only those at the top have the confidence to voice reservations, while those at the bottom jostle to be seen to endorse their value.

High-scoring Clifton Church of England Primary, tucked in a valley near Ashbourne in the Derbyshire Peak District, will not be proclaiming its success from the hilltops.

Despite being one of only 15 to gain 100 per cent in the English, maths and science tests last summer, the school is keen, if anything, to play down their significance. "They are just a part of what we do," says the headteacher, Anne Oliver. "We certainly don't teach to the tests, and they don't tell us anything about the children that we don't already know. We are about getting each child to fulfill their full potential."

Clifton's test scores confirm the findings of inspectors, who two years ago praised its standards in English and maths and noted the high quality of preparation and planning. Mrs Oliver, sitting beneath rows of neatly- labelled box files of curriculum materials in the 150-year-old school's tiny staffroom, agrees long- and medium-term planning is "meticulous". Hard work and commitment from staff and enthusiastic support from parents provide the extra ingredients for success.

Though Clifton is spared many of the challenges faced by the urban primaries further down the league tables, its 88 pupils represent a wide range of abilities. "We've come top this year because each child performed as well as they could, and no one was absent. Next year, it could easily change," Mrs Oliver said.

Parents, she finds, have had little understanding of the tests and tables, but are beginning to become more concerned. "Everyone wants their children to do well but I am wary of too much pressure."

At the other end of the scale, Grange Primary School in Bermondsey, south London, is in no position to challenge the concept of tables.

The new headmaster, David McElroy, describes last year's results - the worst in the country at 8 per cent for English and science and zero per cent for maths - as "entirely unacceptable".

The school has gone back to basics; teaching reading through phonics and testing spelling and tables. It is on course for a 30 per cent improvement in results this year across the board.

Mr McElroy does not offer excuses, though fellow heads gazing down from the highest echelons of the tables might do so for him. Almost 40 per cent of Grange's 221 pupils do not speak English as a first language, and two-thirds qualify for free school meals.