Many of the 6,800 schools which have won up to pound;25,000 each from the Government are undeserving winners of its new awards for excellence and improvement, according to researchers.
Schools minister Estelle Morris released the names of the 6,800 award-winning schools last week. The money is intended to provide bonuses for support staff and teachers. Governors, in discussion with headteachers, will decide who gets what.
Protests against the awards have come from both winners and losers.
Linda Trapnell, head of Alderman Pounder infants, Nottingham, described as "very good" in its most recent Office for Standards in Education report, is reconsidering her future at the school after it missed out on an award by one point.
She said: "There is a wedge in middle England where teachers are working hard, getting good results and just haven't got recognised."
Inspectors judged Thorne grammar school, in Thorne, Doncaster, to have serious weaknesses last November. Yet it is to receive an award, for improving its results from 16 to 32 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs between 1997 and 2000. Headteacher Tony Brooks is complaining to OFSTED about the inspection.
"This seems contradictory - I wonder how many other schools are in the sme position," he said.
And Barnwood Park girls' high school, Gloucester, got its congratulatory letter from the Department for Education and Employment the day after being told it was a "challenging" school, because only 20 per cent of pupils got five good GCSEs in 1999. Results rose from 16 per cent in 1997 to 32 per cent last year.
Professor Harvey Goldstein, of London University's Institute of Education, believes many successful schools have missed out on the awards because of the way the DFEE distributed the money.
He said the only way to accurately differentiate between schools' performance was to take account of pupils' prior attainment.
However, the DFEE used raw test results and free school meals indicators to decide if schools have improved over time or excelledin comparison to most similar schools.
"Research shows that perhaps 10 per cent of schools are doing better than the rest. But when you carry out a value-added analysis that takes account of pupils' prior attainment you find that even half of these 'top 10 per cent schools' are indistinguishable from the overall average," said Professor Goldstein.
"What this means is that many of the schools selected by the DFEE should not really be there and many schools which perhaps deserve to be there will not be."
School improvement, 26 www.ioe.ac.ukhgpersonalImproving-schools-what-%20is-the-evidence-htm