Westerhope First School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne joined Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) four years ago, while the project, based at Durham University was undergoing pilot tests. National curriculum assessment had not then bedded down and the school was looking for other monitoring tools.
"The value-added element attracted us particularly," says Sue Dix, until recently head of this 360-pupil primary school and now a local authority adviser on performance analysis. "We felt we were doing very well as a school but we didn't have anything other than the objective test measuresI The value-added element was able to confirm what we were doing well and what we needed to do better."
Areas where the school decided it could improve included boys' reading, which over the last four years has made steady progress. Mrs Dix believes the governors' decision to keep key stage 1 classes as small as possible was an important factor in raising reading attainment, although she stresses that it isdifficult to pinpoint exactly where improvements come from.
The PIPS project is intended to make fair comparisons between schools possible. It starts with a baseline test and monitors pupils' progress, their self-esteem and the quality of life within the school. As well as offering assessments in maths, reading and - for Year 6 only - in science, the project collects data on areas that are largely outside the control of schools, including the amount of home support. The Curriculum, Evaluation and Management Centre at Durham then feeds back value-added scores for every pupil and school in the system.