Bradford today lay mired in the bottom 20 of the country's 148 local education authorities in league tables of secondary school pupils' performance in the Key Stage Three exams in 2006.

The district has fallen two places compared to 2005 to be ranked 133rd in the country with the number of pupils achieving the target Level Five grade or above in the three core subjects of English, maths and science still falling well short of the national averages despite a marked improvement in maths and a smaller gain in science.

In maths, 69 per cent of Bradford pupils gained or exceeded the target mark compared to the national average of 77 per cent; in science the Bradford figure was 61 per cent compared to a 72 per cent national average, and in English it remained at 64 per cent compared to the national average of 73 per cent.

However, there was good news for two Bradford schools, Wyke Manor and Buttershaw Business and Enterprise College, which have been named in the top 100 most improved schools in the country, along with Spen Valley Sports College in Liversedge.

Feversham College, Bradford, Ermysted's Grammar, Skipton, and Heckmondwike Grammar are also ranked in the top 100 table in the "valued added" rating which measures pupils' improvement between Key Stage Two and Key Stage Three.

In the last five years, Education Bradford said the district's pupils have made improvements in excess of the national average in English, maths and science although it argued that the DfES league tables are not an accurate measure of improvement.

John Gaskin, Education Bradford's managing director, said: "These results show that the rate of improvement in Bradford over the first five years of our contract is greater than the national performance and schools should be congratulated on this.

"There is still work to be done, particularly in English, and we are discussing how best to provide additional support for schools in this area."

Councillor Colin Gill, the Council's executive member for Children's Services went as far as describing the results as "fantastic".

He said: "With every passing year the district's Key Stage Three scores are improving and every percentage point gained means better life chances for our children."

But Councillor Ralph Berry, the Labour group's education spokesman, offered a contrasting view by saying the district's lowly position in the league tables was "worrying".

Coun Berry (Wibsey) said: "It is sobering to note where we are at. By year five (of Education Bradford's contract) we were expecting to be making inroads in terms of rankings.

"I welcome any progress made but there are very significant issues to be addressed; in particular links between schools and families. I think there is a need for some pretty urgent joined up work."

The Liberal Democrat group education spokesman, Councillor David Ward, said: "There is some evidence that secondary schools in Bradford are making progress and some such as Buttershaw and Wyke are making very impressive progress.

"But there is a long way to go for the district as a whole. The focus needs to be on primary level education. We are all quite pleased with secondary level education but unless we tackle the key area of primary education we will never make any substantial improvement."

Asked about the relevance of the league tables, Coun Ward said: "People can downplay the importance of such tables but if we were at the top of them they would be talking about them. It is all about our national standing and that is vitally important for the morale of everyone working in the education professions in Bradford district."

Dwayne Saxton, head teacher at Wyke Manor School, said he was delighted by his school's inclusion in the table of the top 100 most improved schools.

He said: "We are very pleased at the continued improvement in the school at Stage Three and Stage Four.

"We have put a lot of hard work in to improving our results, particularly the staff. The development of an aspirational culture and parental support have also helped as has our partnership with Dixon's City Academy and Education Bradford.

"There has been input from a lot of different sources. It's been a real team effort."

All of Bradford's neighbouring LEAs performed better in the league tables. North Yorkshire is ranked 12th in the country; Calderdale 58th; Kirklees 94th and Leeds 95th.

Standard Assessment Tests were first introduced in April 1991 and were roundly condemned by many school teachers as "unfair and unworkable". The Government refined the tests in September 1991 to make targets more achievable.

However by 1995 fewer than half the children sitting the tests achieved the target grades for English and maths.

In 2001 Wales and Northern Ireland scrapped the league tables and in 2004 SATs for 11 and 14 year olds were scrapped in Wales.

Pam Milner, NASUWT national executive member for West Yorkshire, today said her union continued to oppose the testing system.

She said: "SATs are unfair to both children and staff. Anything which contributes to league tables does not give the full picture. Year on year children are being put through an increasing examination burden.

"The stress starts at the first SAT and goes through to sixth form. The stress on staff is corresponding. Gone are the days when you could enjoy your job. SATs are just one of a torrent of Government initiatives which are leading to the disillusionment of teachers."

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