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Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 05:35 GMT
Secondary schools keep getting better
Dedication pays off

England's secondary school sector has again improved its performance this year, the annual school performance tables show.

The tables are here

Overall, 47.9% of 16-year-olds achieved five GCSEs at grades A* to C or the vocational equivalent, up from 46.3% last year.

School leavers
number getting no GCSEs is falling:
35,000 pupils (6%) this year
38,000 (6.6%) last year
50,000 (7.7%) in 1997
Candidates taking two or more A-level exams also fared better this year.

Measured by the universities' admissions service points system, they averaged 18.2 points, up from 17.8 in 1998.

The results also expose the performance of local education authorities.

At GCSE level the tiny Isles of Scilly LEA had the best score for the fourth year running, although last year's achievement of its sole comprehensive in getting 66.7% of its pupils to at least five A* to C-grade passes appears to have been the sort of blip thrown up in the statistics. This year's group managed 61.3%, similar to 1996 and 1997.

Best LEAs at GCSE
Isles of Scilly
Of the mainland LEAs, Buckinghamshire - one of the remaining wholly selective authorities - again achieved the best results at 61%, slightly up on last year, followed by Sutton, Rutland and Redbridge. Rutland's improvement was almost 15 percentage points on 1998.

In all, 56 of the 150 LEAs were better than the national average.

At the other end of the table, the City of Kingston upon Hull recorded the worst results at GCSE, with only 23.4% of pupils achieving five good passes.

Then, in ascending order, come Knowsley, Merseyside - which was the worst last year - the London boroughs of Islington and Hackney, and the City of Nottingham.

Of the 33 state schools which achieved a 100% record in the top GCSE grades, all are selective schools. Two of them have managed the top score for four years in a row: Chelmsford County High School for Girls in Essex and Newstead Wood School for Girls, Bromley.

Maybe teachers need to be liberated and given their freedom back
Top headteacher Kevin Satchwell
The best comprehensive was Thomas Telford City Technology College in Telford, Shropshire, where 99% of pupils got five good grades - up from 76% four years ago.

It has improved its record from 76% four years ago, but its headteacher, Kevin Satchwell, has little time for the relentless political imperative to improve. He said teachers were "punch drunk" after nearly two decades of change.

"Government has shovelled change after change after change on to the teaching profession," he said.

"You can't argue with their motives. But maybe teachers need to be liberated and given their freedom back."

He and his board of governors have used the freedom inherent in their CTC status to change things - opting for a longer school day, performance-related pay, tight monitoring of pupils' progress against pre-determined targets and the close involvement of parents.

Teachers complain about relentless change
Mr Satchwell would like ministers to give all schools similar freedom.

"Everyone wants to return to the days when there are people queueing up to become teachers," he said.

"That might happen if we liberated the profession - if we gave people the chance to make decisions by themselves."

Mr Satchwell said his pupils were not afraid of hard work.

"Young adults are very single-minded about what they want. Providing what is offered at school is of sufficiently high quality, you will win their commitment."

At the other end of the scale, 21% of the 15-year-olds at Gillingham Community College in Kent did not get any GCSEs - and none of them got five good grades, marking the school out as the worst in the country by that indicator.

The local education authority, Medway, has earmarked it for closure, blaming the failure on "exceptional circumstances" - with 84% of the pupils on a special needs register.

The school has a low intake which has contributed to a budget deficit forecast to reach 810,000 by August 2001.

Pupils' expectations are extremely low and they are looking for somebody to raise them
'Most improved' school's head
Gillingham College's headteacher, Liz Barthaud, said: "Everyone here, pupils, teachers and parents, wants the school to have a long-term and not a short-term future."

The school which achieved the biggest consistent improvement over four years was St Clement's High School in King's Lynn, Norfolk, where 58% of pupils got five good grades, up from 27% four years ago.

The headteacher, Richard Wealthall, said: "We have had international teaching experts come to work with staff.

"Every child has also had a personal tutor who is responsible for looking at their work and mentoring them."

Mr Wealthall said many of the school's problems were associated with its location.

Dedicated staff

"We are in a very rural area. Pupils' expectations are extremely low and they are looking for somebody to raise them," he said.

Best LEAs at A-level
North Yorkshire
None of his measures would have worked without staff who were willing to give up some of their extra time.

Last year's most improving school - Bacon's College in London - came 27th on the list this year, even though its results were better, with 54% of pupils getting five good grades, against 46% last year.

It slipped because its results in 1996 were much better than those in 1995, the comparison made last year.

At A-level, measured by the average points scored by those taking two or more A-levels or their vocational equivalent, the top school was the independent Twycross House School in Atherstone, Warwickshire - where fees are 4,945 a year. Its pupils averaged 38.9 points.

Vocational excellence

The best state school was the Colchester Royal Grammar School, where pupils achieved an average 34.6 points and the best non-selective state institution was the Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge, where pupils achieved an average 28.2 points.

The best state comprehensive was Wootton Bassett School in Wiltshire, where pupils averaged 25.4 points.

Among LEAs, those doing best in terms of their schools' A-level performance are Bournemouth, where pupils averaged 21 points, followed by Trafford, North Yorkshire - and Sutton again.

When it comes to Advanced GNVQs - broadly equivalent to two A-levels - a selective independent, Ashville College in North Yorkshire, and a non-selective independent girls' school, Combe Bank School, Kent, come out top.

Next is the best comprehensive, The McAuley Catholic High School, Doncaster.

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See also:
25 Nov 99 |  Education
School and university league tables
25 Nov 99 |  Education
Specialist schools are quickest to improve
25 Nov 99 |  Education
Authority's plans to boost performance

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