Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 10:19 UK

New GCSE target piles on pressure

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

This year's GCSE results bring the added pressure of a new target for schools in England and a worrying sanction if it is missed.

Hundreds of schools will be seeking to edge above the government's new floor benchmark of at least 30% of their pupils achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths.

If they fail to reach it they could face the ultimate sanction of closure or being turned into an Academy.

One of the schools on the list of 638 which fall below that magic level is Bristol's Bedminster Down School.

The school has been improving in great strides in recent years, having risen from 16% of pupils getting five good GCSEs in 2005 to 27% in 2007.

This year its head teacher Marius Frank was pretty confident they would make the grade despite their "challenging" intake, but the school has stayed at the 27% mark.

He has no problem with the target - that children should be leaving school with English and maths, he says.

Marius Frank
What hurts the most is that the government message drives a stake through the heart of our self belief
Marius Frank
Head teacher of Bedminster Down School

What he did not like was the way that ministers delivered the final warning to schools which mostly operate in very difficult circumstances.

"It's all about overcoming social deprivation, but the message still comes out that schools, teachers and pupils are to blame.

"And it's that blame, and the naming and shaming culture the government has indulged in, that has destroyed the confidence of 60,000 teachers and half a million students."

Instead the government should be building up the self-confidence of those teaching and learning in inner city schools, he argues.

"People don't just decide to teach in an inner city school, there's a lot of people who see it as a social imperative - to work to deliver equality - because they are caring human beings.

"What hurts the most is that the government message drives a stake through the heart of our self belief. It feels like a personal attack."

And the teaching staff of Bedminster Down do have to rely on belief in their own abilities and motivation to get them over the very obvious hurdles that the school faces.

Equal measure

When this year's GCSE class started the school, 120 of the 185-strong group had a reading ability two or three years behind what was expected for their age.

More recent analysis of their ability, through the commonly used benchmarks published by the Fisher Family Trust, had identified two girls and 11 boys who would comfortably attain five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Mr Frank says: "There's a fixation with a standard which is based on raw attainment of standards when there should be an equal emphasis on achievement - i.e. the distance the student has travelled.

"If every school had an equal intake, then attainment would be the measure to use."

Nonetheless, Mr Frank is working hard to keep the morale of his teaching staff up.

"We know what we want to do and we will always welcome in people to pass judgment on us.

"We are doing our best and our parents and our community believe we are doing our best."

Big jump in top GCSE exam grades
21 Aug 08 |  Education

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