Clare Dean opens a page of case studies that tell the true story behind a school's position in the performance tables
Ben Thompson did seven hours' homework last weekend, something the 16-year-old would not have dreamed of a few weeks ago. He used to get by on the bare minimum, scribbling down answers in class.
"I thought I could get away with it but now I know I can't." He's seen the GCSE grades his teachers expect him to get - four A-Cs - and what he could achieve if he really tried - seven top passes. But that means hard work.
This week's league tables, which show the number of pupils at his mixed comprehensive gaining five or more good grade GCSEs has dropped, bothers him little.
Three years ago 43 per cent of pupils secured five or more A-C GCSEs; this year 30 per cent did.
"I'm just 1 per cent," said Ben, one of 100 Year 11 pupils at Shaw House in Newbury. "But I have got to get my 1 per cent right. It doesn't matter what went on before."
What the tables do not show is that, as the percentage securing top grades at the school has fallen, so too have the pupils' scores in the non-verbal reasoning tests taken when the children join at 11.
Nor do the tables show that the percentage of children gaining five or more good grade GCSEs is the same at the end of the 1990s as it was at the beginning.
Or that last year 20 per cent of pupils got four or more top grades at GCSE, that one girl got 10 A* or A grades and that last year a boy got 12 A* or As as well as a B at AS-level.
Shaw House, a 464-pupil comprehensive in Berkshire, is set in stunning grounds with banks of yew trees, tennis courts and a 500-year-old mansion.
Until 11 years ago lessons where held in the Great House where Charles I was once shot at (the bullet is said to be still lodged in a wall) but pupils were moved out after a crack was spotted in one of the beams.
Ben is a house captain, but admits to being a "bit of a lad". His teachers' prediction that he will leave school with only four exam passes has spurred him into action.
"I was shocked and at first thought 'does it matter?' but I have seen that it does. I'm finding it hard, but there is no point in doing the bare minimum. "
Like all Year 11 pupils he is on a "raising achievement programme" introduced by Rosemary Roscoe, who took over as head eight weeks ago. A document on each pupil details their expected and potential achievement and what they could do to improve. It is shown to parents and regularly discussed with pupils through a teacher mentoring scheme.
An inspector who visited Shaw House called it a "useful initiative" and said "the school is benefiting from the work of a recently-appointed, strong and effective headteacher".
The inspector added: "Standards declined in maths and science in 1996 but returned to satisfactory levels in 1997. English results improved markedly in 1997. The proportion of pupils achieving level 5 or higher in 1997 was 81 per cent which is well above the comparative national figure of 57 per cent. The proportion of pupils achieving level 7 or higher in English was also high. "
Mrs Roscoe attributes the results' decline to the pupil profile - in the non-verbal reasoning tests carried out in 1989, 47 per cent of pupils scored more than 100. In 1994, 43 per cent of that intake gained five or more good grade GCSES. Five years ago, only 30 per cent of pupils scored more than 100 in the tests. Yet the same percentage from that intake this year gained five or more A-Cs.
She adds that some pupils may not have been trying as hard as they could. However, parents appear to be happy - the pupil roll has increased by more than 16 per cent in the past three years.
Mrs Roscoe said: "This raising achievement scheme gives children much more responsibility. It puts their success in their hands. League tables are good for schools because they make you analyse what is going on but they don't give a good enough picture to give parents without all the explanation."