Primaries have responded to the challenge of national test targets with some remarkable improvements, writes Geraldine Hackett.
CONFIRMATION of the leap in results achieved this year by 600,000 11-year-olds in more than 14,000 primaries brought praise from ministers for teachers and pupils.
This year's tables show rising standards in English, maths and science, bringing closer the Government's ambition that at least three-quarters of 11-year-olds should leave primary school able to read, write and with a grasp of numeracy.
More than 100 primaries managed to get all their pupils to the expected level in the three subjects, four times as many as achieved a perfect score last year.
Estelle Morris, the standards minister, said: "These results are excellent and show how well the literacy and numeracy strategies have been working."
The number of schools with improved scores has increased substantially, with 65 per cent getting higher scores in English than last year and 78 per cent in maths.
The Government intends to spend pound;170 million on literacy and numeracy next year, including pound;48m on "booster" classes - which give pupils out-of-hours help for the tests. A number of schools say they have found booster classes for Year 6 particularly effective.
The tables show remarkable progress by individual schools. Calverton primary in the London borough of Newham, which managed to get an aggregate score (the sum of the percentages of pupils getting level 4 in English, maths and science) of 45 four years ago, scored 269 out of 300.
Almost as impressive was the Micklefield Church of England school in Leeds, which improved its aggregate score across the three subjects from 56 to 248.
The more reliable indicator of progress is the measure of how schools have improved over the four years since the tests were first published. In small schools, with as few as 12 sitting the test, scores can vary a great deal from year to year.
Some of the problems schools face are made clearer this year with the inclusion of the percentage of children with special needs.
But schools with a more privileged intake are still likely to have higher scores than those in tough inner-city areas. The Department for Education and Employment is unlikely to publish "value-added" scores - measuring how much schools have improved the performance of individual pupils - before 2003. By then the data will be available to compare test results of 11-year-olds with the scores they achieved four years previously. According to the DFEE, a pilot of value-added tables is likely in 2002.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, is among those pressing the Government to produce more informative tables. He suggests the tables should record the success of schools in getting pupils to levels 5 and 6. Mr Hart also wants the Government to stop counting absent children as having scored zero.
Overall, the results suggest David Blunkett will not have to resign in 2002. The targets on which his job depends - 80 per cent of children reaching level 4 in English and 75 percent in maths - appear attainable. However, ministers have probably not forgotten that results can go down as well as up: in 1998 the proportion of pupils achieving the required standard in maths fell by 3 percentage points.
National primary league tables are not published in Wales, although local authorities do produce their own.
A spokeswoman for the National Assembly for Wales said: "They are not wanted. At the end of the day the local authorities and the schools are quite happy with the information distributed at a local level."
Regulations preventing, for reasons of confidentiality, the publication of test results of schools with fewer than 10 candidates would exclude about 30 per cent of schools from any national Welsh table and seriously undermine their usefulness, the spokeswoman said.