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Health warning on primary league tables

A WARNING about the dangers in publishing the results of primary school tests has been sounded following research into the differences between practice in Scotland and England.

Peter Tymms of Durham University found that data from Key Stage 2 tests in England may have "significant dysfunctional effects on the long-term management and organisation" of schools.

In Scotland there was pressure, as south of the border, to meet Government targets but because national test results are not published, Scottish schools escaped the management problems, Professor Tymms said.

He and his colleague Andy Wiggins collected information from teachers and headteachers in 54 randomly selected schools on both sides of the border. They found that league tables may contribute to a "blame culture" in schools, reducing co-operation and trust among staff.

Children with special needs may lose out as money is directed at boosting the performance of borderline classmates. Subjects in which children are not tested at 11, such as art and physical education, may e marginalised because of the need to obtain good scores in English, mathematics and science.

Professor Tymms said that although the two systems of primary education were similar, differences in attitudes attributable to publication of tests results had to be treated cautiously. "Indicators do not exist in isolation but are part of the overall management system, which may affect people's perceptions."

But he added: "Evidence from other public sector and commercial organisations suggests that publishing performance data can be harmful. The differences we found were statistically significant, and lead us to conclude that publishing school performance data can have long-term dysfunctional consequences."

Follow-up research is under way to identify any differences between Scottish and English schools and their management which might affect the findings on published reports.

Government sources south of the border dismissed the conclusions and insisted that league tables were helping primaries to make significant improvements.

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