Value-added scores suggest best primaries are not in leafy shires but deprived urban areas, reports Warwick Mansell
Inner-city schools with many pupils who speak English as a second language dominated a list today of England's top-performing primaries in 2005.
Eight of the top 10 primaries, ranked according to the progress pupils make between the ages of seven and 11, have large numbers of children who entered school with a poor grasp of English.
Several also have many children of refugees, the national "value-added"
league tables for 2005 revealed.
Ofsted inspection reports show striking similarities between many of the schools in the top 10.
Vicar's Green primary, in Ealing, west London, came second nationally, with pupils making on average five terms more progress than would be expected, given their achievements at aged seven.
The school serves a deprived area where much housing is overcrowded. Many pupils are refugees or asylum-seekers, an inspection report in 2003 said.
Some 70 per cent of pupils speak English as a second language. Yet by the end of key stage 2, 83 per cent achieved the expected level four in English tests. For maths and science, the figures were 96 and 92 per cent (see case study).
At the third-ranked school, Gateway primary in Westminster, London, the figures are even more stark. An Ofsted report from May 2005 said that almost all pupils spoke other languages, most joining at the age of three with little understanding of English. More than a quarter are refugees. But 87 per cent of pupils reached level four in English this year. For both maths and science, the school scored 98 per cent.
Heath Mount primary, in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, came seventh in the "value-added" list, after topping the rankings last year. Almost all key stage 1 pupils are in the early stages of learning English.
The "value-added" list was headed by Manor junior and infant school, Wolverhampton, where one in four pupil's native tongue is not English.
Anita Cliff, the headteacher, said success was down to regular out-of school visits and after-school clubs in subjects ranging from karate to journalism.
Professor Peter Tymms, director of Durham university's curriculum, evaluation and management centre, said the success of inner-city schools could simply reflect the dedication of their teachers. However, schools with many youngsters with low achievement on entry might find it easier to demonstrate progress than those starting from a higher base.
He said: "I would want to look at the background of these pupils a bit more before making a judgement. Some refugees are from relatively affluent, educated families with a strong commitment to education."
Statistical modelling now used in inspections reveals that children with English as an additional language tend to make more progress than native speakers.
England's most improved school, Eastborough in Kirklees, has many ethnic minority pupils. More than half speak English as a second language.
One school in special measures until last year - Millbrook primary in Stalybridge, Tameside - finished in the top five both for value-added and overall points score, only 18 months after coming out of special measures.
Two years ago, 54 per cent of its pupils achieved level four in English.
The figures for maths and science were 54 and 77 per cent respectively.
This year, all 17 pupils gained level four in all three subjects. All of them also achieved level five in science.
The school turned itself round with few changes of staff since failing an inspection in 2002.
Sue West is in her fifth year as its headteacher. She said: "We had to sharpen up a great deal after going into special measures. The determination of staff to get out of that category has been one of the main reasons why we have improved."
Four of the five top-performing schools in terms of "raw" scores were church schools. At Combe CofE primary, in Witney, Oxfordshire, every pupil achieved level five in all three subjects.
DANCE AND BUBBLES MAKE CLASSES A GAS
If this doesn't grab pupils' attention, what will? Anita Sandhu, Year 5 teacher has been introducing science lessons by standing on top of her desk and "dancing" under a cloud of bubbles to get pupils talking about gases.
This is just one of the techniques for enlivening lessons used by Ms Sandhu and her school, Vicar's Green, in Ealing, west London, to help it climb the national league tables.
Today the primary is named as having the second best score in the country for "value-added", a measure of pupils' progress during key stage 2.
Vicar's Green has a diverse pupil population: the children speak 18 languages and 70 per cent have English as a second language. There are many refugees.
Yet 83 per cent of pupils achieved level four in English in this year's KS2 tests. For maths and science, the figure was 96 and 92 per cent. A personalised approach to learning is said to be key to its success.
Mary Sergides, head, paid tribute to Ms Sandhu, who taught Year 6 pupils last year and ensured that lessons were "of the highest calibre". Personal learning targets were set for each child, and Ms Sandhu used her own creativity to motivate pupils, Ms Sergides said.
As well as using a bubble machine to bring teaching to life, Ms Sandhu also recently illustrated a lesson about a polar expedition by laying out a tray of ice and encouraging pupils to walk across it.
Ms Sergides said: "Anita understands her children and uses formative assessment to understand the areas in which they need to make progress.
This is a tremendous vote of confidence in her and the whole school."
Top five schools at KS2 (value-added) 1 Manor junior and Infant, Wolverhampton.
2 Vicar's Green primary, Ealing, west London.
3 Gateway primary, Westminster, central London.
4 Millbrook primary, Tameside.
5 Ingram Road primary, Leeds.
Top five most improved schools (2002-05) 1 Eastborough junior infant and nursery, Kirklees.
2 Chafford Hundred Campus primary school, Thurrock,Essex 3 Burnt Tree junior and infant, Sandwell.
4 St Mark's Church of England primary, Surrey.
5 Crane Park primary, Hounslow, west London.Top five schools (overall score) 1 Combe Church of England primary, Witney, Oxfordshire.
2 St Joseph's Roman Catholic, Oldham, Lancashire.
3 St James Church of England primary, Malvern, Worcestershire.
4 Millbrook primary, Stalybridge, Tameside.
5 Broughton-in-Amounderness Church of England primary, Preston, Lancashire.