Understanding primary school league tables

Understanding primary school league tables
We explain how performance measures are used to rank primary schools in England.

Knowing how to interpret primary school performance measures will help you choose the best school for your child, or assess how their current school is doing, but reading league tables isn’t always easy.

We explain performance measures for primary schools in England to help you make sense of the league tables; we also have an equivalent guide to performance measures in secondary schools.

Where to find primary school league tables

There are several different places where you can view primary school league tables, each of which shows slightly different information.

The Government’s Find and Compare Schools Service is the main place to look, and includes the most comprehensive set of data.

The Telegraph publishes simplified versions of primary school league tables.

The Good Schools Guide’s league tables include independent as well as state schools.

Performance measures explained

Various different categories are used to place primary schools in league tables. Read on to find out what they are, and how to interpret the results.

Pupils meeting the expected standard in KS2

Key Stage 2 SATs results are a key performance measure for primary schools.

League tables show the percentage of KS2 (Year 6) pupils who reached the expected standard in three formally assessed areas combined: reading, writing and maths.

In 2018, 67% of children nationally reached the expected standard in all three areas. League tables also show the local authority average.

In addition, the tables show the average score achieved by pupils in reading and maths, compared to the national average and local authority average.

In 2018, the national average score in reading was 105, and in maths was 104.

These measures allow you to compare a school’s SATs results with other schools locally and nationally.

Pupils exceeding the expected standard in KS2

As well as showing the percentage of pupils who reach the expected standard in KS2, league tables show the percentage who exceed it in reading, writing and maths combined.

In 2018, 10% of children nationally were exceeding the expected standard for KS2.

Again, league tables show each school’s results alongside the national average and local authority average.

Progress scores

Progress scores show how pupils have progressed from the end of KS1 (Year 2) to the end of KS2, compared to other children nationally.

To make the comparison fairer, they measure children’s KS2 results against pupils who had similar levels of attainment at the end of KS1.

Progress scores are important because they take into account the different starting points of pupils. For example, children in a school with poor KS1 results and average KS2 results may have made more progress than pupils in a school with outstanding results who also excelled at the end of KS1.  

Progress scores are a fairer measure than simply comparing SATs results like for like, because they take into account children’s prior ability and how much they’ve improved.

Here’s how they work.

First, each child is put into an attainment group based on their KS1 results. This is done by giving them a points score, with equal weighting for English and maths.

Next, each child’s KS2 attainment is identified based on their SATs results.

The third step is to calculate each pupil’s progress score: the difference between their actual KS2 result and the average result of the children in their attainment group. Individual children’s progress scores are NOT reported in league tables,

Finally, the data for all pupils is combined to create a school progress score. The progress scores of all children in Year 6 are added together and divided by the total number of children in the year to give the average.

Most schools will get a progress score of between -5 and +5, with 0 being the centre point.

  • A score of 0 means that on average, pupils in the school do about as well in KS2 as those with similar prior attainment nationally.
  • A positive score means pupils do better in KS2 than those with similar prior attainment nationally.
  • A negative score means pupils do worse in KS2 than those with similar prior attainment nationally.

Bear in mind that a score below 0 doesn’t mean that pupils didn’t make any progress: it just means they made less progress than other children nationally with similar starting points.

Progress scores are reported separately for each area formally assessed in KS2: reading, writing and maths.

Schools are placed into bandings based on their progress scores. For example, the bandings for reading in 2018 were as follows:

  • Well above average: progress score of 3.2 or higher. About 10% of schools.
  • Above average: progress score of between 0 and 3.2. About 10% of schools.
  • Average: progress score of 0. About 64% of schools.
  • Below average: schools with a progress score between 0 and -2.7. About 6% of schools.
  • Well below average: progress score below -2.7. About 9% of schools.

You can find out the bandings for writing and maths here

Ofsted rating

Primary school league tables show each school’s most recent Ofsted rating: outstanding, good, requiring improvement or inadequate.

This can give you a snapshot of how a school is performing, but it’s important to read the report for yourself to get the bigger picture.

Things to bear in mind

Reading league tables isn’t as simple as just comparing one school’s SATs results with another’s.

There are lots of different factors that can affect SATs results. For example:

Size of school: in a small school with an intake of 30 pupils, each child’s results account for 3.3% of the cohort. In a big school with a 90-pupil intake, each child accounts for just over 1%. So one child who performs poorly will have a greater impact on results if they come from a small school than if they attend a larger one.

Demographics: basic league tables don’t show information that might affect KS2 results, such as the number of children who speak English as a second language or from disadvantaged backgrounds and in receipt of pupil premium. You can find this information out by looking up a school on the Government’s website and clicking on Absence and Pupil Population.

Special educational needs: if a Year 6 cohort has a high number of pupils with additional learning needs, this could affect their results and position in the league tables. Again, you can view this information in the school’s Absence and Pupil Population section.

Absence: a school that has a problem with absence may well have poorer KS2 results and progress. Taking a school’s attendance figures into account can help you make a fairer comparison. Nationally, the average absence rate is 4%, and the persistent absence rate (missing 10% of school or more) is 8.3%.

Workforce: some schools might be affected by poor staffing levels. Click on the Workforce and Finance link to find out how many teachers, teaching assistants and support staff a school has.

If a school performs surprisingly poorly (or well) one year compared to other years, it’s worth digging a bit deeper to find out why that might be. It could be an anomaly caused by a high number of children with special needs, for example.

This is why looking at progress scores usually gives a clearer picture of how well a school is doing than simply considering SATs results.

It’s also vital, if you’re looking for a potential school for your child, to visit in person: your instinct is often a far better gauge of whether a school is right for your child than a league table could ever be.