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Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Tuesday, 24 August 2010 15:08 UK
Charter school GCSE results rise since academy status
Charter Academy
Charter Academy has cut truancy levels in the past year

"The school is a lot nicer, it's clean, tidy and the teachers are friendly - it's changed so much."

Head girl Michaela Sylvian talks about Charter Academy in Southsea, as she opens her GCSE results.

In 2009 St Lukes CofE School was given Academy status in an attempt to reverse its poor record.

With pupils gaining five GCSE A* to C grades up from 52% to 69%, it would seem to have paid off, although the debate over academy schools continues.


Dame Sharon Hollows described the former St Luke's Church of England school in inner city Portsmouth as "a school which worked hard but faced huge challenges".

In 2009 Dame Sharon became the principal of the new Charter Academy, independent of Portsmouth's local education authority and sponsored by the Ark education charity, who also fund seven other academies in London and Birmingham.

Along with taking on some extra staff and resources, Dame Sharon oversaw "a complete re-brand ... and a new culture".

With a new approach to discipline, staff were on the gates on day one checking pupils' appearance, while senior teachers regularly visit classrooms to check on standards. A new council involves parents in school life.

Dame Sharon called it "a return to gold old fashioned discipline ... as well as having the students respect the staff, we expect the staff to respect the students."

Introduced under the Labour government, such academy schools were seen as a way of turning around the worst-performing schools, many in disadvantaged areas.

GCSE results

Among the students opening their GCSE results, Kyle said: "It has changed a lot - the discipline is a lot firmer and you can't get away with as much. It's a lot easier to learn without being distracted."

Sam, who passed 12 GCSEs, admitted: "I couldn't even write a paragraph ... different teachers came in and pushed me harder."

However Ron Clooney from the National Association of School Teachers and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) expressed reservations over the academy system and the potential for increased workload for teachers.

He said: "It's fantastic if the kids have done well, that's to be applauded.

"We have no evidence to show academies make any more fundamental difference to the education of children in a local area than any other type of school."

He insisted that better leadership in a school under local authority control "could have achieved the same results as you got today".

Win an iPod

With attendance levels as low as 83%, stopping pupils from playing truant was a major objective for the new academy.

The strategies which have brought attendance levels up to 90% have controversially included offering rewards and prize draws - 100% attendance earns the chance to win an iPod, a 10% improvement in attendance could win cinema tickets.

Attendance officer, Angie Kennedy, said: "We teach them that if you were in work, you get paid if you turn up. You need to get them into school to get their results which sets them up for life, work and college."

The carrot-and-stick approach sits alongside home visits, working with families and "getting to the root of the problem".

Ms Kennedy, who had been a teacher at the school in its previous guise, said the turnaround is not due solely to independence from the LEA.

She said: "It's the support from the leadership team, so the staff feel more valued and strive for more as well."

With 150 schools already applying to be Free Schools under coalition government's Academies Bill, the performance of schools like Charter Academy will continue to be closely monitored.

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