Continuing Schools Week’s focus on disadvantaged pupils, we were asked by readers to highlight schools where low ability pupils are not being left behind. Here are the 10 best that we’ve found
A handful of schools are beating the odds and making sure pupils arriving with low ability are leaving year 11 on a par with their peers.
Last Thursday, the Department for Education (DfE) released the performance tables for secondary schools based on last summer’s GCSE results. Overall 57.1 per cent of pupils achieved the five A*-C GCSE grades, including English and maths.
Using the data, Schools Week brought back its award-winning league tables, focused on the best-performing schools in the country for pupils receiving free school meals (FSM).
This week, we wanted to go even further, with several readers requesting that we looked at schools with large numbers of low ability pupils.
Doing so turned up a few surprises.
Schools Week set stringent rules for schools to be included in the tables and of the 3,264 state-funded secondaries, just 10 made the grade.
These schools have high proportions of pupils starting year 10 categorised as “low ability” and high proportions of pupils on free meals, yet the school is still meeting the government-set floor standard and has above national average proportions of low ability pupils getting five A*-Cs including English and maths.
Eight of the ten schools are academies, split equally between sponsored academies and convertors.
Three schools – Whitefield, Aylward and Christ the King – even supported one in five (20 per cent) of their low ability pupils to meet the national benchmark of 5 GCSE passes, including English and maths. Nationally, only 6.7 per cent of low ability pupils achieve this.
The schools featured in our table serve very disadvantaged areas, with half their cohort, on average, being eligible for free school meals.
Most schools have a low ability intake of about 17 per cent. All the schools in our table had more than double this in last year’s cohort.
In these contexts, just two schools got more than half of their pupils to pass five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths.
James Westhead, executive director of Teach First, which has graduates in half of the schools featured, said significant challenges remained for the schools, adding: “Only one in three pupils from low income backgrounds are achieving the key results they need. For pupils gaining top grades, a young person from a low income background is six times less likely to achieve an A* at GCSE than their peers.”
He went on: “At the heart of this success is great teachers and school leaders. The results show the urgency of the need to attract more talented individuals to become inspirational teachers.”
This year was the final time the five A*-C measure will be used to judge schools.
As of next year, Progress 8 will be used, which rates pupils’ relative performance across eight GCSEs and is billed as a fairer measure.
Schools had the opportunity to opt in a year early for Progress 8, but just 10 per cent took it up.
Association of School and College Leaders’ director of policy Leora Cruddas said the union supported the change to Progress 8 in the next league tables.
She added: “The introduction of Progress 8 in next year’s performance tables is a better and fairer way of judging schools because it shows what has been achieved for all pupils whatever their starting point at the age of 11.”
How did we work it out?
Based on results from all mainstream secondary schools. Excludes special, independent and selective schools.
Schools had to have:
– 30 pupils or more at the end of KS4
– At least 20 per cent of pupils classed as disadvantaged
– At least 35 per cent of pupils classed as “low ability” at the start of KS4
– At least 10 per cent of low ability pupils achieving the benchmark of five A*-C GCSEs, including English and maths
– Be above the “floor standard” of 40 per cent of all pupils achieving this benchmark
‘We don’t want any rhinos’
No RHINOs is the motto at Whitefield School. Headteacher Liz Rymer isn’t banning the animal from the school grounds, but is making sure there are no children who are “really here in name only” or RHINOs as she calls them.
That is part of the success of the Barnet school, where one in five low ability pupils achieved five A*-C GCSEs including English and math
The school, where 88 per cent of pupils have English as an additional language, used to be one of capital’s failing schools.
Ms Rymer was originally brought in as a consultant under the London Challenge, eventually taking over as headteacher last January.
She said a number of measures were used to raise standards, but was proud of RHINO: “I make a big effort to make sure students get spoken to in the corridors, encourage people to talk to children. Form classes have two adults – two teachers or a teacher and a teaching assistant – which means one can perhaps take the register and the other talk to the students.
“As a form tutor myself for many years, I know you have so much to do you sometimes forget to speak to the students, so this makes sure that doesn’t happen.”
The school has form time in the morning and at the end of the day, where positives from the day are praised, and behaviour issues dealt with.
Ms Rymer said she was looking forward to the introduction of Progress 8 as a performance measure.
More than 70 languages are spoken across the school. “It’s an absolute microcosm of London. It’s really quite exciting.”
Increasing attendance is key
Increasing access to the school’s sixth form, improving safeguarding, and boosting attendance have all impacted the performance of pupils at Aylward Academy in Enfield.
Like Whitefield, the school has very high proportion of English as an additional language pupils (70 per cent), and is now oversubscribed.
Headteacher Jon Gillard said: “As a leadership team we all work in the same room.
“We needed to work together so everybody knew everything about each student.”
Christopher Lam, vice principal for teaching and learning, said impetus was put on pupils’ literacy levels, adding: “We value the child that gets from a very low starting point to a high starting point even if that means they have not reached where they should be nationally. If you focus on progress, attainment looks after itself.”
Jan Balon, vice principal for curriculum assessment and employability, said the school sixth form now has Level 2 provision: “This says ‘we want you to stay with us’ and there are pathways.
“Before we were an academy, we had an exclusive sixth form for five A*-C only, and that essentially demotivated the rest of the pupils.”
A big difference in outcomes came from getting pupils into school: it now has a 94 per cent attendance rate.
Yeliz Sabri, vice principal for student support, said: “The pupils come from complex, difficult, disadvantaged backgrounds. We have 17 safeguarding-trained staff, including our SENco and department heads.
“The attendance team are very proactive and use home visits to engage with parents and to get to the real issue – is it hardship? Or do we need to apply for an Oyster card for that pupil?”