Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Thursday, 6 December 2007

The best and worst results

head teacher and pupils in reception classroom
A structured approach to learning reading pays off at The Deans

The school which tops this year's BBC News primary school tables regards daily reading with parents as the foundation of its pupils' success.

Head teacher Frances Hartley said: "We are not a Sats factory and we don't get these results by putting our children through hoops of revision.

"The key is that from Reception class through to Year 6 our children read on a daily basis with their parents and this is then checked by the teacher in the classroom."

There is an ongoing debate about literacy standards in England's schools. The government says they have never been higher, sceptics say little has changed for years.

Basic books

Last week England dropped from its previous third place to 19th in a major international assessment of 10-year-olds' reading abilities.

Ministers have been urging parents to help get children reading more.

Mrs Hartley added that pupils were taught to read using phonics as well as recognising whole words.

"In that regard I am a fan of the government's policies on literacy," she said.

But she had a "pick and choose" approach rather than automatically adopting every new initiative.

Children start with very basic books with a limited vocabulary and are not allowed to progress until they have mastered the basics.

"They are probably not the most exciting of books but they are the best way to teach children how to decode words," Mrs Hartley said.

"I think it's a shame that the reading schemes with a strictly controlled vocabulary are being looked on as almost old-fashioned and boring now."

Not that the school is stuck in the past.

"Whilst we have retained what works we have also embraced new technology and offer an extremely rich and diverse curriculum," she said.

'Fast progress'

Her school was rated "outstanding" by the Ofsted inspection team who went there in September.

Excellent leadership and management and teaching and learning result in pupils' very high levels of achievement and exceptionally high standards
"Excellent leadership and management and teaching and learning result in pupils' very high levels of achievement and exceptionally high standards," said the report.

Children entered nursery classes at The Deans Primary in the Swinton area of Manchester with skills below those expected of children of their age, it said.

But they had "a wonderful start to their learning" so that, by the time they started Year 1, their standards were above those normally seen in all areas of learning, especially reading.

"This fast rate of progress continues throughout the rest of the school so that by the time pupils leave the school they reach exceptionally high standards in English, mathematics and science," Ofsted said.

The upshot is that The Deans is one of 255 schools which this year had the maximum score of 300 in the English, maths and science tests taken last May. In other words, all its Year 6 pupils achieved at least the level expected for their age.

It comes top by virtue of having the highest average points score per pupil, at 32.8 - the same as last year's top score.

The lowest average point score was 20.7 (20.3 last year), at Bell Lane Combined School in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire.

The Deans was also one of six schools (there were five last year) that have scored 300 in each of the four consecutive years covered in the tables.

No school this year had all its pupils also attaining national curriculum Level 5, the standard more normally expected of 14-year-olds.

The highest scoring in this regard was, again, The Deans, with 292 out of 300 and 92% reaching Level 5 in maths.

Different areas

The lowest aggregate Level 4 score this year was 76 (compared with 54 last year) - at The Willows Primary in Newbury, Berkshire.

Last year's "worst" school in this regard, Hersden Community Primary, Kent, this year managed 121.

The highest performing of the 148 mainland local authorities of any size was, once again, Richmond-upon-Thames in south-west London on an average of 266 (265 last year, 267 in 2005).

At the other end, the inner London borough of Hackney was again last, though its score of 216 was up from last year's 210.

Year-on-year comparisons are not possible for all schools. Of the 13,433 with valid published results, 12,931 can be compared with last year.

Of those, 6,933 (54%) had better results, 297 (2%) the same and 5,699 (44%) worse.

The range of change on the aggregate score out of 300 was from an improvement of 183 points to a worsening of 130.

Value added

The Catholic school which comes top in the measure of pupils' progress, contextual value added (CVA), was also rated "outstanding" by Ofsted.

St Joseph's in Shaw, Oldham, was awarded Grade 1 in every category - achievement, personal development, teaching and learning, curriculum, care and guidance and leadership and management.

The inspectors reported that pupils thought it a "brilliant" place and many parents had taken to write to say they felt privileged their children were educated there.

CVA is designed to reflect things that are known to affect children's attainment but which are beyond a school's control, such as poverty and ethnicity.

It can be counter-intuitive: for example, children whose first language is not English actually tend to make more progress than native speakers.

It is centred on 100 - those above making more progress than average, those below making less.

St Joseph's CVA was 104.3, while the lowest was 96.4, at Percy Shurmer Primary School in Balsall Heath, Birmingham.

Most improved

Across local authorities the average CVA ranged from 101.1 in Kensington and Chelsea, in London, down to 99.3 in the City of Derby.

The school which has shown the most sustained improvement year-on-year in the past four years was Furrow Community School in Langley, Manchester, one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Just three years ago, barely a third of pupils reached the expected levels for their age group in English, maths and science.

But this year, almost every child did so. Head teacher Chris Windle was "thrilled".

"I can't begin to tell you how pleased I am for the children and the staff who have worked so hard," she said.

Ms Windle said the high expectations the school has of both teachers and children lay behind the transformation.

"We are all passionate about giving children a chance in life," she said.


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