Statistics - and critics - aplenty
This is the sixth year of official performance tables, but it is the first which allows a comparison of school results over time. Four years' of results have been included, from 1994-1997, in the most comprehensive set of league-table data yet produced by the Government.
Education Secretary David Blunkett said this week that the tables give parents an "at-a-glance" view of how their child's school has performed.
Grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, both favoured by the previous Conservative administration, have done particularly well over the three years, and feature heavily in the top 100 improvers. CTCs account for four of the top 20, GM schools for seven.
The tables give GCSE, GNVQ, and A-levelAS-level results. The GCSE totals have, in another new departure, incorporated vocational qualifications.
"This is an important start to ensuring that performance tables give parents as much useful information as possible and is the first step in providing tables with an element of 'value-added'," said Mr Blunkett.
The Government is committed to introducing still more detailed value-added tables, with a pilot scheme starting next year. These should show how much schools have helped their pupils to progress, relating exam results to pupils' previous attainment at primary school.
Since 1994, 225 schools have showed continual improvement at GCSE - only a fraction of the 4,000 secondary schools. But the percentage of pupils obtaining at least one pass has remained static across the country. This supports those who suggest that schools have concentrated their efforts on the high-profile A*-C grades, where there has been a notable improvement. The national percentage achieving five top passes has risen from 43.3 per cent to 45. 1 per cent.
In comparison with last year, the latest GCSE results show a slight improvement. The percentage getting five A*-Cs rose from 44.5, to 45.1 per cent. However, the performance A*-G has declined slightly.
The new, four-year tables show Harris City Technology College in Croydon has made most progress, with 64 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-Cs, an improvement of 37 percentage points on 1994.
The grant-maintained Archbishop Temple School, Preston, comes next with a 35 per cent hike and Bowland County High School in Clitheroe, Lancashire, follows with a 32 point improvement.
At the other end of the table Wyndham School in Cumbria and Ringmer Community College, East Sussex, both fell by 24 points over the period. Broadwater School, Surrey fell by 23 points.
Among the local authorities, Newham in London, one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, came out as the most improved, raising the percentage of pupils with five A*-Cs from 23 to 33.4. It was followed closely by other inner London boroughs: Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Southwark, Hammersmith and Fulham and Hackney.
Despite Mr Blunkett's assertion that this year's tables contribute to value-added analysis, the teaching unions remained sceptical.
"The tables remain dangerously unreliable," said David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "In particular the Government's refusal to change the crude threshold measurement of five A*-C grades at GCSE and replace it with a points score system comparable to A-levels is an error of judgment.
"This not only encourages schools to concentrate on the C-D borderline candidates, but it prevents schools from demonstrating their full range of achievements."
Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "This measure of school achievement is flawed and tinkering at the edges will not detract from that ."
The general secretary of the NASUWT, Nigel de Gruchy, said: "At best they are a bureaucratic and expensive confirmation of the obvious - that schools do better in posh than poor areas."
The most successful local authorities in terms of straight GCSE passes are comparatively leafy. The Isles of Scilly (with one school) heads the list, followed by Buckinghamshire (not including Milton Keynes); Kingston upon Thames; Sutton; North Yorkshire; Harrow; Bromley and Redbridge. At the bottom are Hull, Knowsley, Islington, Tower Hamlets, Manchester, Haringey and Sandwell.
Among the top comprehensives were the Old Swinford Hospital, Stourbridge where 98 per cent of the pupils gained five GCSE passes at grades A*-C; Watford grammar school for girls (93 per cent); Coopers Co. and Coborn school, Upminister, and Hertfordshire and Essex high school, Bishop's Stortford.
Others fared less well. Only 1 per cent of pupils got five A*-Cs at Ramsgate school in Kent, 2 per cent at Campton boys' RC comprehensive in Liverpool, High View school in Derby, Our Lady of Fatima in Liverpool and William Crane comprehensive in Nottingham. Our Lady of Fatima was one of the 18 schools named as failing by the Government earlier this year.
At A-level, the best performing state schools were Chelmsford county high school for girls, King Edward VI grammar school, Chelmsford and King Edward VI Handsworth school, Birmingham.
Sixth-form and further education colleges notched up an average 17.3 points for students taking two or more A-levels, falling below the 18.6 for school sixth forms. Top-performing colleges outstipped the best comprehensives, however, adding fuel to the the debate on clsoing small sixth forms. The results for Scotland will be published next week while the Welsh tables have been delayed for a month.
Booklets giving full results for each authority can be ordered from the DfEE on (freephone) 0800 242322.