Tuesday, December 1, 1998 Published at 14:21 GMT
A measure of success
The league tables show girls are still outperforming boys
The government says this year's school performance tables for England emphasise how much schools are improving, with ministers seeking to highlight progress rather than the best and worst school results.
The government dropped its planned measure of this 'added value' following complaints from schools with good GCSE results, whose pupils were already doing well early on - so showing no apparent improvement.
The Chief Inspector of Schools in England, Chris Woodhead, told BBC News: "What we need is reliable data from different stages of a child's school career, so that the value that later school adds to a child's academic development can be calculated.
"We don't have that data yet."
Among the state schools named in the performance tables as showing the most improvement are Bacon's College, a technology college in Southwark, south London and the London Oratory School, attended by the children of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
At the bottom of the local authority table are Kingston-upon-Hull, Knowsley, Islington, City of Nottingham, Hackney and Haringey - a predominance of Labour-run authorities that was seized upon by the Conservatives as evidence of the failure of the government's education policies.
The Shadow Schools Minister, Theresa May, said that "this is the Labour reality in education locally. Buckinghamshire is the first major authority in the table - it is Conservative controlled and has grammar schools".
The overall figures for exam performance, released earlier this year, show a slight improvement in results. The Schools Minister, Charles Clarke, said he was "particularly encouraged that there has been a significant reduction in the numbers of pupils leaving school without any qualification".
According to this year's tables, more pupils achieved higher grades than last year, with the proportion of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs grades A* to C rising by 1.2% to 46.3%. The number of pupils gaining at least one qualification rose by almost 1% to 93.4%.
The national average for pupils gaining five or more GCSEs grades A* to C includes the widest possible range of individual school results - from the minimum of 0% at Middleton Park High School, Leeds to a maximum 100% at over 100 schools.
Truancy rate increases
But despite a government initiative to cut truancy by a third by 2002, the average truancy figure for state schools continued to rise - by 0.1% to 1.1%.
However there were wide regional variations on pupils missing school - with the education authorities with the poorest records on truancy, Kingston-upon-Hull and City of Nottingham, registering rates of 3.7%.
Girls once again have outperformed boys, with 51.5% achieving five or more grades A* to C at GCSE, compared to 41.3% for boys.
Among the state schools achieving 100% of its pupils getting five good GCSEs, girls schools are prominent, including Townley Grammar School for Girls, Bexleyheath in Kent and Bournemouth School for Girls, Dorset.
However in this top group of schools, there are no non-selective comprehensives, with the majority being independent schools, followed by grant-maintained and grammar schools. There is also a predominance of single-sex schools among the schools with 100% records.
Unions oppose league tables
Despite the government's emphasis on school improvement, the largest teachers' union, the National Union of Teachers, remains dismissive of their fairness.
"Top of the list will be selective schools in leafy glades and at the bottom will be schools attempting to overcome the social problems that beset the communities they serve."
Rather than reforming the tables, the NUT argues the government would be "better off throwing them away".
The General Secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, also attacked the league tables, claiming they were "inherently unfair" as they "gave the impression that they are comparing like with like, when schools start from very different situations".
The use of five good GCSEs as a benchmark was criticised by David Hart, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who said that this was "an unreliable and unfair indicator of schools' achievements".