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Failure can make you look good

Joan McVittie, gritty and witty head of White Hart Lane school in north London, has insisted that all lessons in her multi-ethnic school be taught in English as we revealed in The TES earlier this month. But she has been battling on another front: to have her new school's results recognised as less bad than they seem.

Only 18 per cent of pupils were reported to have passed five GCSEs at grades A*-C in the 2005 performance tables published in January, just after her arrival, exactly half the number in the previous year.

The reason? Not a sudden dive in pupils' ability or application but the school's failure to send in a form asking for exceptional cases like recently arrived refugees to have their results discounted. There are quite a few of those at White Hart Lane and allowing for them would raise the success rate a fair bit.

Mrs McVittie wants the results adjusted to cheer up her staff, even though she could have just left them as they are, so the school appeared wonderfully improved next year. That was the policy advised by her canny sister Elaine Simpson, head of education at Serco, which manages schools services in Walsall and Bradford.

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