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Primary tables go ahead despite protests

The first English primary school performance tables are to be published next March, despite complaints from teacher unions and assessment specialists who say more time is needed to establish a fairer reporting system.

The tables - not due in Wales until 1998 - will provide information on the key stage 2 test results of more than 14,000 primary and middle schools.

They will show the percentage of children who achieve level 4, the standard expected of a typical 11-year-old, in the English, mathematics and science tests to be taken by 600,000 pupils later this month. A consultation document from the Department for Education and Employment emphasises, however, that the performance tables will give equal weight to class teachers' assessments of their pupils' ability.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State, has also attempted to assuage critics by excluding the 1,425 schools with five or fewer 11-year-olds from the publication exercise.

Small schools fear that it would be possible to identify individual pupils' results and have pointed out that scores could fluctuate dramatically from year to year.

Independent schools' results will not be published either - under half give pupils national key stage 2 tests - but special schools' scores will be listed separately.

Unlike the secondary school tables, there will be no information on truancy rates or numbers of statemented pupils. The tables will, however, show whether pupils have been "disapplied" from national curriculum assessment because they have severe special needs or substantial language difficulties.

Lord Henley, education and employment minister, claimed this week that the tables would prove to be a vital tool for parents, governors and teachers, and would be widely reproduced. But both the National Association of Head Teachers and the National Union of Teachers have said that they are dismayed by the Government's plans.

Arthur de Caux, senior assistant secretary of the NAHT, said that the tables would be "highly misleading" and warned that the association would do all it could to prevent their publication.

"This will put key stage 2 teachers under even more strain than they are experiencing at present," said Mr de Caux. "At GCSE level the responsibility for pupils' performance is at least shared by several teachers, but these new tables will mean that the burden will fall on the Year 6 teacher. Who will volunteer to be in that position year after year?"

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the NUT, also said he was "profoundly disturbed" that Mrs Shephard had gone back on her January 25 promise not to publish results until the tests were properly "bedded in".

Mr McAvoy noted that the Welsh Secretary had accepted that there was a need for caution and said he could only assume that he was immune to the political pressures that had constrained Mrs Shephard.

The Welsh Office denied that there was any difference of opinion with the DFEE but, ironically, used the very words that Mrs Shephard uttered in January to explain why it would not be possible to publish Welsh results until 1998. "Welsh ministers have said that information on named schools will be published when the arrangements for testing are fully bedded in," a spokesman said.

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