LEAGUE tables loom. This year's GCSE results are due on November 16 and will no doubt create the usual mix of horror and fascination as heads eye the competition and bewail the
injustice of a system that measures them so crudely.
Value-added tables - measures of the real progress pupils make at each stage of their schooling - have long been on the agenda. Over the past few weeks the Government has put in place some of the measures needed before new-style tables can become a reality in 2002.
Pilot value-added tables will be introduced next year for secondary schools, while the introduction of a standardised baseline assessment at the end of the foundation stage will provide a starting point for the whole
But perhaps some schools ought to view these new tables with some trepidation. The Office for Standards in Education has already highlighted the problem of schools in leafy suburbs that are said to be "coasting", achieving average success on the back of a middle-class intake and not doing as well as they could.
But the value-added approach holds few terrors for Clare Considine, head of Bordesley Green girls' school, Birmingham, an inner-city comprehensive that, earlier this year, was identified as one of the top 10 value-added schools in the country. OFSTED said the school demonstrated "an unusual combination of high expectations and ... care and support which are based on close knowledge of and concern for individuals."
This year, 44 per cent of Bordesley Green's girls gained five or more A*-Cs at GCSE - an improvement of 8 per cent on last year's figures. And it is happening at a school in one of the most deprived area of the Midlands, with a predominantly Muslim intake.
Ms Considine will not attribute the success to any one factor, but the very close monitoring of individual children is high on the list of measures the school uses to raise achievement. Alongside an individual focus she and her staff look at benchmark figures on how much progress a year group is making.
"Take the 1996 intake," she says. "They came in with 37 per cent reaching their expected national curriculum level. By the end of key stage 3, 47 per cent were reaching it.
"As a senior management team, we make sure that at least two of us have a discussion annually about the GCSE scores with each department - not just the head - so that everyone could be involved."
Each class teacher has a tracking sheet for every child they teach that gives KS3 results, a target based on prior attainment and the child's reading age. The sheet will also show whether the child is on the special needs register and whether they speak English as a second language.
"It means that you know what yo are working towards," she says. "It encourages a more focused interrogation of how the child is doing."
Small groups of children are also the subject of review teams which include senior managers and specialist teachers.
Bordesley Green operates from dilapidated buildings that, despite having had pound;350,000 spent on them in the past five years, look ripe for demolition. Accommodation was the only issue resulting from the last OFSTED inspection.
The contrast with Thomas Telford school in Shropshire could not be more marked. The city technology college is based on a campus site that boasts the latest facilities.
"We're a comprehensive school with a full range of ability," says headteacher Keith Satchwell. But nevertheless, this year every single student gained five or more A*-Cs. It was a result at which Mr Satchwell has been aiming for some time. For several years the school has been at or near the top of the state school league tables with five A*-C figures in the high 90s.
Thomas Telford bristles with technology and has introduced a new working day and other revolutionary changes to the school's curriculum and management.
But the monitoring methods are very close to Bordesley Green's. Mr Satchwell and his senior staff identify every single child at risk of falling below the magic five grade Cs threshold at the beginning of Year 10. From then on those children are monitored on an individual basis.
Heads of department meetings are spent poring over the progress of these children, and targeted support is offered to those who need it.
Both schools offer simple reports to parents on a termly basis and both stress the importance of parental support as a factor in children's success. But the key factor appears to be teachers' awareness of where they expect children to be at any one point.
"You say, 'This is where you were, this is where you're at now and this is where we think you can go'," says Ms Considine.
It is a technique which appears to work.
WHO GETS THE MONEY?
SCHOOLS facing the toughest challenges in inner cities may not be getting any more money than those serving much more affluent areas according to OFSTED.
In its report 'Improving City Schools' OFSTED found the local authority area of a disadvantaged school determined whether it received between the extremes of pound;1,417 per primary pupil or pound;3,164 (pound;1,977 to pound;3,070 for secondary pupils).
But the report found little difference in funding within local authority areas between advantaged and disadvantaged schools.
"The differences are particularly small in primary schools but are only slightly greater in secondary schools where funding levels (per child) can vary by less than 10 per cent," the report says.
'Improving City Schools: Strategies to Promote Educational Inclusion', published by OFSTED and available on www.ofsted.gov.uk