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Getting to the bottom of education

"Two thirds of the 250 primaries in England achieving "perfect" test results were Church of England, Roman Catholic or Jewish schools.

"Despite making up just a third of schools nationally, faith schools increased their hold on the top places from 44 per cent two years ago to 66 per cent in 2007. Last night, they hailed the results as a testament to good teaching and discipline.

"However, critics claim the schools do so well by selecting talented, middle-class pupils, often at the expense of poor children living nearby."

The country's top performing school suggests otherwise. The Times reports that "Dean’s Primary in Swinton, Salford, is the best performing primary school in England, with 100 per cent of children reaching level 5 in English and science and 92 per cent in maths. Set in a deprived area, with nearly twice the national average of pupils taking free school meals, it relies heavily on parental involvement in daily reading assessments with their children."

The Deans was established in 1994. The brick building does not look fancy. The children wear uniforms. Its website does not suggest a religious orientation.

In a separate article, the Telegraph reported, "Frances Hartley, head teacher of The Deans Primary in Salford, said staff focused on back-to-basics reading lessons from a young age - while refusing to follow all government initiatives."

Did I read that correctly? While refusing to follow all government initiatives?

Frances Hartley explained that "pupils were taught using the traditional method of learning to blend individual letter sounds, known as phonics, as well as recognising whole words. Parents are required to help out at home, monitoring homework and listening to their children read."

This programme would be difficult to implement if the parents could not read. The recent drop in British test scores is related to the huge increase in Britain in the number of children and adults for whom English would be a second language if they could read and speak it.

The head teacher's laconic remark that the Dean's staff refused to follow all government initiatives (that is, not every one of them) speaks volumes. So does the involvement of parents.

Refusing to follow all government initiatives sounds like the beginning of a wonderful public campaign.