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League tables face reshuffle

Changes announced this week will make national comparisons of primary schools more difficult, reports Geraldine Hackett.

Ministers this week announced changes to the school league tables that will allow parents to judge progress in GCSE results across four years, but will make national comparisons of primaries more difficult.

The Government will require local authorities to publish the 1997 test results their own 11-year-olds in January, but the full national table will only be available in the Commons library and on the Internet.

The first national table of primary school test results was published in newspapers in March from information supplied by the Department for Education and Employment.

However, Estelle Morris, education junior minister, said the Government wants the tables to be published locally and, in future years, to be available by November.

The minister stressed the intention was to have the information published earlier in order that it could be used by schools to set targets for improvement. The Government, Ms Morris insisted, was committed to providing early, accurate information, but wanted to leave publication at local level. The data on the results of all schools would continue to be made available, she said.

Local authorities will not be required to publish results on a particular date, but they will be expected to produce the results within a period of four weeks in November. Ministers have yet to decide on the detail of the results to be published, but the core information will be comparable across local authorities. The Government does not intend to require local authorities to publish the results of tests taken by seven-year-olds or 14-year-olds. Councils will, however, be free to publish the information.

The secondary school tables due in November will for the first time include the results of schools from 1994 to 1997. The improvement index will consist of bar charts showing the proportion of pupils gaining 5 or more A* to Cs and 1 or more grades A* to G in the four years from 1994 to 1997.

Ms Morris said: "Performance tables help focus debate on standards. Parents need the tables to inform their decisions about children's future; local education authorities and schools, to focus their attention on areas where action is needed. But playing the numbers game is not enough. They must - and will - give a fuller picture of how a school is performing over time and how it is helping pupils to improve pupils themselves to improve."

The teacher unions will continue to oppose the publication of primary school test results. The National Union of Teachers wants the primary table set aside to allow consultation on thew White Paper to include the means of monitoring and reporting on school effectiveness.

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