Case study Southampton
Headteacher Sue Nicholson found the primary performance tables a painful experience last year.
Her school, Mason Moor primary, was in the bottom 200 in England. A year on, twice as many of its 11-year-old pupils - 40 per cent - are at the expected standard for literacy. Results in the maths and science key stage 2 tests also improved.
Mason Moor was created in 1994, replacing the first and middle schools on a council housing estate. In a city with above average numbers of deprived children, Mason Moor's pupil profile is still exceptional -56 per cent of its children have special needs while 47 per cent are on free meals.
"Recognising those deprivation factors is important, but only so that schools can counterbalance with the appropriate interventions. They don't have to be excuses for underachievement," says Mrs Nicholson.
"The vast majority of my parents are hard-working, are interested in their children's education, and want to feel their children are going to a good school. They don't want to feel they are going to the worst school in Southampton."
Boosting the self-esteem of staff as well as pupils has been vital, says Mrs Nicholson, and has been helped by the literacy hour.
"The children do respond to the predictability and structure of the literacy hour, and the staff know what they are doing is of national importance and relevance," she says.
"The way they were presented last year in rank order was very demoralising for schools at the bottom, as we were, and gives misleading information to parents and the community about the school.
"To be told you are bottom when you know professionally it is not totally your fault does not motivate you to do very much. To be doing something and then to get the recognition we have got has been very helpful."
Southampton heads asked the authority to add extra information to the tables and Mrs Nicholson believes it is now possible to compare similar schools.
But there has to be realism about about the pace of change, she says. Mason Moor has a long way to go to reach its target of 70 to 75 per cent of 11-year-olds at the standard expected for their age by 2002. It does not expect another leap in literacy standards for the next two years.
But the signs are good and when Mrs Nicholson visits classrooms, she hears Year 3 children talking about nouns, adjectives, and alliteration, and Year 6 doing Macbeth.
"Those are things in the past I would never ever have thought the children were capable of. Their response is amazing."