Part of a mockup showing what a report card might look like
Parents, school staff and governors are being asked their opinions on proposed "report cards" rating English schools.
The ratings - a letter or "traffic light" symbol - would assign an overall score based on a range of factors.
The government says these might include test results and pupils' well-being and the views of parents and children.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls aims to cut the "detective work" parents must do to get information on a school, and warns that the card "won't pull its punches".
The report cards were first announced in October, as national tests for 14-year-olds in England were scrapped following the Sats marking "shambles".
Launching what he described as a "very green" consultation - with firmer proposals to follow next spring - Mr Balls said on Monday that he was not intending the cards to replace the school "league tables".
Within the UK these are now published only for England.
Mr Balls stressed that the government does not produce the annual tables ranking schools on their results.
What it produces is an array of data about each school, which the news media then turn into rankings.
All that information would continue to be collected, he said.
He was sure the tables would continue to be produced "if that's what parents want and if the people compiling them want".
The consultation document says the categories that might be included are:
- Attainment - such as the proportion of pupils attaining five higher level GCSEs including English and maths
- Pupil progress: taking account of their starting points and capabilities as well as of their final attainment
- Wider outcomes such as pupils' health, enjoyment and prospects of future economic well-being
- Narrowing gaps between the attainment of more affluent pupils and those with significant disadvantages or special needs
- Parents' and pupils' views of the school, overall or on particular aspects of school life.
The report cards would be piloted between autumn 2009 and spring 2011.
They are intended to show how institutions are moving towards being what England's Department for Children, Schools and Families describes as 21st Century Schools.
"As laid out in the Children's Plan in December 2007, 21st Century Schools will be hubs for the community, providing access to a range of services for children, young people and families," it said.
"These might include health, family support, adult learning and leisure activities."
The general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), Dr Mary Bousted, said:
"We are delighted the government has responded to our longstanding call to rethink accountability in English schools.
"There has been too much reporting to Whitehall at the expense of the needs of local communities.
"The report card is an interesting attempt to improve the presentation of school information.
"The government must use its consultation to have an open discussion about the opportunities and pitfalls of a report card, including looking at experiences in the USA and Canada."
In New York, report cards grade schools A, B, C, D or F based on the school environment, student performance and student progress.
If schools are awarded a grade D or F they are subject to improvement measures and target setting, as well as a possible change of leadership.
In Canadian provinces, the school report cards typically use public test results - in some cases combined with other elements - to calculate an overall rating.