Schools in six local authorities have bucked the downward trend of this year’s GCSE results and boosted their results.

Provisional results released by the Department for Education (DfE) show a national fall in the attainment of five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths.

The DfE put this down to tougher GCSE measures which mean that for many subjects only a pupil’s first attempt counts in the
league tables.

Results for individual schools have yet to be released and are expected in mid-January.

All but six local authority areas recorded a decrease in the percentage of pupils achieving five higher GCSE grades, including English and maths, with schools in Wolverhampton facing the largest fall of 15.1 percentage points.

Portsmouth had a 2.6 percentage point increase in the proportion of pupils achieving the government benchmark – up to 50.2 per cent.

The city has seen marked improvement since 2005/6 when just 29.9 per cent achieved the benchmark. However, the city faced a dip last year and has not yet regained the level it achieved in 2011/12.


It was closely followed by Bristol, which achieved its highest results in nine years; at 54.8 per cent, a 2.5 percentage point increase. The
council believes the fact parents are keeping their children in the city schools, rather than sending them to North Somerset or South Gloucestershire, has had an impact on improving results.

To understand why these six authority areas had seen an improvement on their results, Schools Week contacted each of the councils and asked how they had managed to boost GCSE performance, against the backdrop of a national fall.



PORTSMOUTH                                                 +2.6

“Portsmouth has always been languishing in league tables,” Neill Young, Portsmouth City Council’s member for education says.

“We have really worked hard with schools in the city. Although those results are good, we know we are on a journey as a city to improve education standards.

“The results which have been coming through from Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 are very good. We are starting to work on those building blocks.”

At Charter Academy, sponsored by ARK Schools for the past five years, results have increased from 3 per cent achieving the benchmark in 2006, to 81 per cent this year.

Using Portsmouth’s connection with the Royal Navy, the school hired ex-service personnel as pastoral staff to strengthen a ‘no excuses’ behaviour code – with naval staff patrolling corridors during lessons time.


CITY OF BRISTOL                                                 +2.5

Brenda Massey, Bristol’s assistant mayor for directorate (schools), said: “There has been an awful lot of hard work by everybody.

“Most of the heads this year actually decided they weren’t going to enter students early and tested them on previous exams and results during the year which actually proved really effective.

“It was a brave decision to make but the feeling is now that it is actually shown in the results. It has made a huge difference by not putting children in early.

“In the past, we used to have children opting to attend schools outside Bristol but this has completely reversed. We have had some very good Ofsted reports whereas surrounding areas have not. I would say parents are opting with their feet.”


HEREFORDSHIRE                                                 +1.6

Malcolm Robertson, interim head of learning and achievement at Herefordshire Council, said: “I think at the beginning of the academic year we expressed with schools a concern that we were under the focus of Ofsted for gap data. We had an extensive programme of inspections at secondary schools.

“We had fallen behind on progress which was highlighted by Ofsted and HMI. In November we had a conference for all schools. HMI had almost read us the riot act.

“It was incredibly positive moving forward with the schools working collectively and individually and looking at issues particularly around gap data. We wanted to get the basics right and we were monitoring teaching and learning.

“There has been quite a lot of collaboration between schools and HMI and a triad system has been set up of headteachers monitoring headteachers.”


MERTON                                                 +1.4

Making schools become academies has helped drive success in Merton, which now has 64 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C, including English and maths.

Merton council’s cabinet member for education, Martin Whelton said: “Back in 2006 we made two of our schools become academies, the Harris Academy and St Mark’s in Mitcham, the latter of which took longer to improve – but they had some of the lowest results in London.

“We needed to do something about it and it has helped drive standards. We have zero tolerance for failing schools.

“Subsequently, a school rated as inadequate by Ofsted has become the Harris Academy in Morden, where we have seen rapidly improving results.

“The interest of children comes first in this world and we have just one chance to give them the best start in life.”


BRACKNELL FOREST                                                 +1.3

In Bracknell Forest, 56.2 per cent of pupils achieved the benchmark. Schools in the authority had a high of 61.4 per cent two years ago, so is yet to reach that level again.

The council has said the challenge has been in managing the changes introduced by the government and its increasing expectations.

Christine McInnes, chief officer for learning and achievement at Bracknell Forest Council, said: “This year’s results are a credit to the high aspirations and hard work of our school communities.

“Bracknell Forest’s strong partnership between council and schools provides the right balance of challenge and support, enabling schools to effectively manage the plethora of changes in requirements and ever-higher expectations.”


TRAFFORD                                                 +0.9

John Pearce, Director of Service Development – Children, Families and Education at Trafford Council, said: “We have an extremely diverse secondary provision. Of 18 mainstream schools, seven are grammar schools.

“50 per cent of our schools are rated outstanding and we have got extremely high performance in our grammar sector, but also in our non-selective system. About 30 per cent of pupils are in selective schools so to get such high-performance in the non-selective system is unusual.

“I think what is fundamentally different in our secondary sector is the strength of the relationship between schools and the local authority.

“There are also five teaching schools which is the highest of any authority area in the country, so our school-to-school support is very good.”


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  1. Just because these six ‘bucked the downward trend’ in GCSE results doesn’t mean they’re the ‘top six LAs’. Only two had results above the England average for state schools of 56.1%: Herefordshire (57.7%) and Trafford (71.4%). Bracknell Forest at 56.2% equaled the English average.

    Bristol (54.8%) and Portsmouth (50.2%)had results below the national average.

    It’s odd, however, the DfE tables ignore their own warning in the main text: ‘It is not possible to make direct comparisons between 2013/14 and 2012/13 due to changes in methodology, examinations and behaviour’.

    • A fair point Janet, however we were thinking of them as the ‘top’ in terms of *change*. These are the six who got the highest amount of change, and – in the context of all other local authorities getting lower results – we thought it was worth finding out how well they did.

      As you know, focusing simply on ‘top’ overall results typically tells you more about demographics than it does about school improvement.

      • Janet Downs

        You’re right that it’s misleading to assume high results necessarily mean schools have improved or are offering a good education to their children. It might mean they’ve become more adept at teaching to the test or gaming the system. The use of equivalent exams, for example, has inflated results in many schools.

  2. Janet Downs

    Sorry, forgot Merton (64%). That makes three of the six having results above the national average of 56.1%. The ‘top six’ LAs judged by the provisional 2013/14 results (and calculated using the 2013/14 methodology) appear to be Kensington and Chelsea (72.5%), Sutton (72%), Trafford, 71.4%, Kingston Upon Thames (69.6%), Buckinghamshire (69.3%) and Slough (69%). These figures exclude Isles of Scilly (72.7%) which has only one secondary school.

    We won’t know until January how many equivalent exams were included in the above figures. When equivalent exams were removed from the 2013 results then the much-praised figures for some schools/academies fell somewhat. For example, results for Charter Academy, praised in the article above, fell from 68% to 32% when equivalents were removed.

  3. Peter Wardle

    Great to see Trafford doing so well. That authority is a beacon of how a 21st century selective system should work. It should be modelled across the country, in every Borough. I am sure Wandsworth would love to replicate it for example.

    Trafford has excellent Grammar Schools for those pupils who are academically high performing ( extended , fast paced learning ), and excellent non-selective schools for those who are average performing and lower ( standard, average paced learning )

    All children are offered GCSE courses which is a far cry from the selective system of the 1950’s. The Trafford model is comparable to how education works in the ( high performing ) Netherlands , and is not dissimilar to Germany & France. I would be interested to see an analysis of their demographic. I have some knowledge of the area and i suspect that BME is lower than the national average, and white working class higher than the national average which would make their achievement all the more impressive as white working class kids form the bulk of the long tale of under achievement in England.

    21st century education in England should include Grammar Schools in every borough.

    • Patrick Cassidy

      The idea of modelling trafford as a model of sucess ignores several,important facts

      It recruits a large number of Middle class manchester children to improve the outcome of the borough and deplete its neighbours .

      It is the wealthiest borough in Greater Manchester and therefore irrespective of the systemic provision it would’ beexpected to be the most achieving .

      It creates with the exam at 11 a pressure on parents and children.The effect is more pronounced on the less experienced parents educationally resulting Ina merrygoround of tension for children placed in a multiplicity of exams for different schools .
      Allied to this is the massive increase in this borough and Manchester for children as young as 8 to attend for private tutoring that teach to the test .Even within the crude modelling this means that many children will pass the 11 plus and then not be able to keep up and therefore not be able to enjoy leaning for its own self.

      There are some very good non selective schools and the sucess of theTeaching schools is noted within the borough but none noted in the inner city part ofTrafford .The idea that white working class children achieve well in trafford,in the North of the Borough is simply not true .

      As far as a model for the future please don’t once again consign our Children to class ridden educational politics .Look around for the better models emerging arising out of theCity Challenge in London and Manchester resulting in massive increases in attainment across the sector on class race and gender


  4. Interesting to see Merton claim credit for performance of schools they encouraged to leave LA control.
    Convoluted logic here, perhaps – but main points of note are (a) shifting goalposts makes objectivity on school performance more complex and (b) the continuing consensus that collaboration is crucial for a self-improving system is self-evident.
    DfE and Ofsted need to promote this professional message rather than the current narrowly focused structural/political agenda.
    Grade for education policy: 3 (requires improvement)