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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 00:01 GMT
Comprehensive's 100% at GCSE
lower sixth students and head teacher
GCSE stars with their head teacher
"A new record for comprehensive education" is claimed by Thomas Telford School in Shropshire - where every pupil this summer achieved five or more good GCSEs.

Last year no comprehensive schools scored 100% - and this makes Thomas Telford the first to reach a benchmark previously only achieved by independent and grammar schools.

Thomas Telford's winning formula
1,100 applications for 168 places
Long lessons and long days
School opens 7.30am
Reports to parents every month
Pupils and parents have 'charter'
Performance pay for teachers
Teachers one day a week non-teaching
Intake from 100 primary schools
81% pupils go to university

As well as every pupil crossing the five top grade GCSEs threshold, 91% of pupils gained 10 or more good GCSEs - gaining grades A* to C.

Head teacher Kevin Satchwell, a "strong believer in comprehensive education", said "no-one should under-estimate how hard we have worked to achieve 100%".

And the head teacher offered to share any strategies for improvement with other schools.

Click here for the tables

Even though this has been claimed as an historic first for the comprehensive sector, Thomas Telford, founded in 1991, is different in many ways from the mainstream of comprehensives.

As a "city technology college", it was one of a group of state schools set up by the previous Conservative government to pioneer new teaching methods and to increase the involvement of industry in education.

Teachers at the school are already working under a performance-related pay scheme - and payments are made if staff have to cover for absent colleagues or take after-school activities.

The school day is also unorthodox, in that there are often only two long lessons a day, which means greater concentration and less time lost in moving around between classrooms.

And school weeks, averaging 35 hours, are up to a third longer than typical comprehensives, with GCSE pupils studying up to 5.40pm.

Performance of pupils is closely monitored, with the aim of an early intervention if there are problems - and parents receive a progress report every three to four weeks.

Parents are also asked 10 times a year whether they are satisfied with their children's homework and attainment.

'Non-selective'

As a school which has already gathered a string of accolades - including "beacon" status and an "Ofsted outstanding school" - places are heavily over-subscribed.

Classroom
Pupils' performance is closely monitored
For next year's entry, there are almost 1,100 applications for 168 places - but the school says that it remains non-selective and works to achieve an intake with a mixed range of abilities.

Unlike most comprehensives, the admissions system gives no priority to pupils living near the school or who have brothers or sisters already at the school.

Instead, applicants take "assessment tasks" from which pupils are then banded into nine ability streams - with the school then taking a number from each to create a representative cross-sample of abilities.

'Comfortable chairs'

The selection from within these ability bands is based on reports from the applicants' primary schools - with priority given to those showing attainment and effort at science, maths and technology.

Woodwork lesson
The school uses modern equipment
There is also an attempt to achieve a "geographical spread", with the school seeking to avoid drawing an unrepresentative number of pupils from "leafy suburbs".

The awareness of the demand for places contributes to the high motivation level of pupils, said a spokesperson for the school.

There is also an emphasis on creating a good working environment for pupils and staff, with comfortable chairs, no graffiti and modern equipment.

The school also emphasised the contribution from industry, with the Tarmac construction group and the Mercers' Company of the City of London, sitting on the governing body.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"Thomas Telford is different, it is more like an office than a school"
See also:

14 Mar 00 | Education
Blair honours improved schools
25 Nov 99 | Education
Secondary schools keep getting better
18 May 99 | Education
New 'leading lights' named
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