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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 December, 2003, 22:32 GMT
How do you push up results?
Cheryl Day
Cheryl Day says that there are no easy answers for raising results

When Cheryl Day, head teacher of Clapton Girls' Technology College, has her photograph taken she goes down to the polished wood and ornate window on the staircase.

It wouldn't look out of place in a traditional independent school - and it is no surprise that this was once a grammar school.

But the point that the head teacher is making is that we're in Hackney and the headlines about gangs, guns and falling-apart schools are clichés - and that talking about education often falls into the same trap.

Cheryl Day is also reluctant to suggest any easy answers for her own school's rapidly improving results.

Last year, only 34% of pupils scored the benchmark figure of five good GCES - and this figure has now leapt up to 50.3% for this year, pushing it close to the national average.

This means that three out of nine Hackney secondary schools scored around the national average for GCSE results - the remainder falling below the 50% mark.

Booster classes

There have been booster classes and Saturday revision classes and a policy of rewarding and publicly acknowledging success, she says.

Exam desks
This year, three out of nine Hackney schools saw at least half their pupils get five good GCSEs

But she is reluctant to get drawn into the measuring of success in league tables - and says that the achievements of lower ability pupils are as important.

For an outsider, it seems frustrating that there isn't any template to be taken from such a big rise in results - and that in previous years, there was so much apparent untapped capacity for more pupils to gain qualifications.

But she says that this is not about trying to repeat a trick, it is the result of years of hard work.

If this year's GCSE results are approaching last year's average, then the school's intake is nothing like the national average.

Diversity

There are 47 different languages spoken by girls at the school - and the head says that the ethnic diversity is seen as a positive force, making teachers more "reflective" about how they approach their subjects.

Mike Tomlinson
Mike Tomlinson's presence in the Learning Trust has encouraged teachers' confidence

In terms of how a school responds to the social pressures in a deprived area such as Hackney, she says that a school cannot attempt to be a "second line of social welfare".

Teachers have to be aware of pupils' problems, she says, but the focus needs to be on learning and "giving the pupils the skills they need".

The head teacher is also supportive of the efforts of the Learning Trust, the company now running education in Hackney. She says the absence of profits (it's a not-for-profit company) and the presence of Mike Tomlinson as chairman have given the organisation more credibility among local teachers.

Breakthrough

But it's far from plain sailing or even agreement on Hackney's progress. City academies, the flagship schools which are a key part of the recovery plan for Hackney, do not win this head teacher's approval.

The really important breakthrough is a more practical, and in some ways much more difficult goal, she says. And that is for more local parents to send their children to local schools, she says.

It might not sound much, but teachers in Hackney comprehensive schools are very aware that their intake is stripped of 40% of their local pupils, often the brightest and most motivated, who go to private schools or to other boroughs.

When league table results show Hackney languishing in the lower positions, teachers in the borough can argue that many of their borough's most able pupils are missing from the figures.

"If more local parents sent their children to Hackney schools, they would improve, and that would improve schools, and in turn that would attract more and better pupils."

Success in schools, like failure, can be self-perpetuating, she suggests.




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