By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education editor
An inner-city church school which has steadily raised its exam results in recent years typifies the sort of performance that has delighted England's education ministers.
Sir John Cass and Redcoat school is top of two tables
Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat Church of England Secondary School in east London has topped the secondary school "most improved" league table for the second year in a row - the first school to have done so.
It also heads the newer "value added" measures.
These are intended to show how much schools brought on their students since they took their national curriculum tests two years earlier.
Sir John Cass had a count of 113.5 on the value added measure, in which the middle score is 100.
The school's GCSE/GNVQ result has gone up to 79% of the 15 year olds getting five or more good grades, from 22% in 1999.
The head teacher, Haydn Evans, said there had been a culture shift, with his students now believing they were in a successful place and responding accordingly.
One factor is that the school has become a language specialist - offering, apart from French and German, Russian and other east European languages, the two main Chinese languages, plus Urdu, Turkish and Bengali.
"We used one of our major strengths - because we have a large proportion of students for whom English is their second language," Mr Evans said.
An early focus on vocational courses had created an expectation that students could do well - which had produced significant improvements in other subjects.
The rise of 10 percentage points in performance over the past year had come from gains in what were considered to be "hard" subjects, he said - such as maths and modern languages.
Significantly, this was not in the vocational GNVQs but in GCSEs.
In that respect Sir John Cass illustrates a new phenomenon.
The combined GCSE/GNVQ results published nationally mask the fact that the percentage getting the top grades in GCSEs alone fell in 2003 for the first time since the exam was introduced, as BBC News Online first revealed.
Government statisticians have now confirmed that the final - unpublished - figure for those getting five grades at A* to C last year was 49.9% - down from 50.2% in 2002.
The continued improvement in the "headline" rate, to 52.9%, was sustained by the huge increase in the numbers of 15 year olds doing GNVQ vocational qualifications - intended for post-16 study, and each worth four good GCSEs.
But an interesting effect is at work.
The statistics reveal a doubling in each year recently of those who took a vocational qualification as well as GCSEs - but who got five or more good GCSEs anyway.
Experts say it appears the intermediate GNVQ is increasingly a sort of insurance policy.
But Sir John Cass's experience suggests that it has raised expectations and provided a basis on which schools can build.
"Success breeds success," Haydn Evans said. "Certainly the students are turning on the style."
Six of the best 10 schools for adding value in 2003 are independent schools and as well as Sir John Cass, four others are faith schools - two Jewish, two Islamic.
The Queen was shown round Fir Vale by head, Hugh Howe
Snapping at their heels is a Sheffield school that was one of the few "named and shamed" by the incoming Labour government in 1997 for failing its pupils - Earl Marshall School.
It was given a "fresh start" and renamed Fir Vale. Less than a third of pupils got five or more good GCSEs or the GNVQ equivalents last year - much improved, but still well below the national average of 52.9%.
But its value added score of 108 is among the very best in the land, indicating that its students are doing far better than would have been predicted from their previous attainment.
The Department for Education and Skills published separate value added tables in December for the 11 to 14 age group - in which grammar schools did especially well, reviving the debate about selection.
It has now produced a combined list of the top 25% of schools on both measures - top was Lordswood Girls' School in Harborne, Birmingham.
Campaigners against selection hailed the fact that 97 of the 133 schools on this list - 73% - were comprehensives.
But comprehensives make up a bigger proportion than that among all schools - so although they might be doing better than people would expect, they are if anything under-represented in the value added list.
Topping the league table on the traditional measure - the proportion of pupils getting at least five GCSE/GNVQs at grades A* to C - is Dr Challoner's boys' grammar school in Buckinghamshire.
There, everyone achieved that benchmark in 2003.
Many other schools also had 100% scores but Dr Challoner's, in Amersham, came top by having had the most students taking the exams - 185.
Two students, Paul McKay and James Wright, both gained 11 A*s.
Four others also received letters from the examination board to say they were in the top five in the country in their particular subjects.
The headmaster, Dr Mark Fenton, said: "I'm very pleased for all the students because they worked very hard for their success and they deserve the recognition that they get for that success."
The best non-selective school, in sixth place nationally, was the consistently successful Thomas Telford city technology college in Shropshire.
The worst state school was The Ramsgate School, a secondary modern in Kent, where only 4% of the 129 students in 2003 achieved at least five good grades.
The school is in a deprived area and has many refugee children. It has been put on notice to improve or face possible closure.
The new head teacher, Keith Hargrave, also runs the much more successful Canterbury High School.
He took over last June - the latest in a string of heads in recent years - and began formal competency procedures against 27 of the 34 teachers.
Most left and he has since hired 24 more, suspending or expelling a number of children to drive home a message about discipline.
"Every child has the right to learn and nobody has the right to disrupt that learning," Mr Hargrave said.
"It's quite simple and the kids gradually cotton on to that."
The school is to be demolished and replaced by one of the new city academies, sponsored by local firm Saga.
The A-level scores this year have been calculated differently by the Department for Education, so are not comparable with those from previous years.
As well as combined A-level and AS-level points, results from the "key skills" tests everyone has to take have been included.
The top school on the combined measure of points per student is the independent King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham, with an average of 520.
To put that in context, four A-levels at grade A would amount to 480 points.
The top state school was Colchester Royal Grammar School on 512.3 points per student.
The headmaster, Ken Jenkinson, said: "Although as a grammar school the academic success of our students is our principal priority, I tend to see the results as the by-product of an ethos where we encourage students to aim high in all that they do and approach challenges with confidence."
The best non-selective establishment was King Edward VI sixth form college in Stourbridge, West Midlands, where the 626 students averaged 395 points.
The national average was 258.6.
At the other end of the scale, the 183 students at Carshalton College in Surrey averaged just 54.3 points.
The Association of Colleges has complained at the way the standard measure of A-level success ignores the efforts of many of its members, who concentrate on advanced vocational qualifications such as BTecs and City & Guilds.
At Carshalton, for example, the success rate in those was 93%.