Case study: Eastborough school, West Yorkshire
Three years ago we finished 19th from bottom in the national KS2 tables. We were branded the "worst primary school in Yorkshire" by the Yorkshire Post.
Then in December last year, when the 2005 tables were published, it turned out we were the most improved primary school in the country. That brought plenty of good publicity, though it wasn't quite as prominent as the negative stuff had been.
Coming in the bottom 20 schools was a difficult experience. It affected the way the community saw us: people became quite confrontational and a lot of parents moved their children elsewhere. What was so frustrating was that the tables didn't reflect what the school was like. There had been weaknesses in the past, which might have affected those children who had just finished KS2 and not done too well, but things had changed. We had new management, new teachers and better funding. The league tables came out in November 2002, showing us near the bottom, and then in February 2003 we had an Ofsted inspection in which all lessons in English, maths and science were rated as good or better. An Ofsted report can tell you what a school is like at that moment in time. League tables don't show what's really happening, as they're out of date before they even appear.
From being 19th from bottom, we're now above both the LEA and national average. But I still believe it would be better if tables didn't exist at all. Certainly, not for primary schools. For one thing there are too many small schools, and so results fluctuate. I can tell you now that our results next year will be down on this year's - that's just the nature of that particular cohort. The year after they'll be up again. There's nothing we as a school can do about that. With around 30 children in each year, it's bound to be volatile.
I've tried to milk some good publicity out of this year's success. It's given parents and children a bit of a lift. But I won't be afraid to talk to the media if we do worse next year. The fact is, I don't really care about the tables. This year I'd forgotten about them until people started calling to say how well we'd done. Far more important to me is the data we generate internally.
Our Fischer Family Trust package allows us to monitor every pupil's development (the trust provides analyses and data which help LEAs and schools use pupil performance data more effectively. For instance, the detail that traces why a child goes from being class star in Year 2 to underachiever in Year 6). We can tell exactly who is making progress and who isn't. It takes account of socio-economic factors and so allows us to set realistic targets for our children.
If future league tables also take social factors into account it will be good for a school like ours, with a high proportion of Pakistani and Kashmiri children. But I worry there will be too much information. The Government should decide what to focus on, then keep it simple and clear. A lot of our parents just don't understand the different figures. But whatever form the tables take, our motivation will always be to ensure every child fulfils their potential. If we do that, I really don't care where we are in the tables, and I don't think parents will either.
Nicola Roth is headteacher of Eastborough junior infant and nursery school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. She was talking to Steven Hastings