IMPROVING schools are celebrating big leaps up the GCSE league tables but for the 23 languishing at the bottom, closures could be imminent.
The Government's flagship specialist schools turned in an uninspired performance in the first value-added tables - which measure pupils'
progress - but they still did well in the ranking of raw scores.
City technology colleges, forerunners of the Government's new city academies, dominate the list of best state schools in terms of raw GCSE results. Five of the top 10 GCSE performers are CTCs while church schools make up 21 of the best 50.
Thomas Telford, in Shropshire, takes the number one spot with 100 per cent of puils getting at least five Cs at GCSE and an average GCSE point score of 51. Nationally, 51.5 per cent of GCSE candiates get a C or better.
The policy of entering pupils for intermediate General National Vocational Qualifications, worth four GCSEs, has boosted Thomas Telford's performance.
Other schools have caught on to this method for boosting scores. Sir John Cass, in Stepney, east London, is this year's most improved school with a 33 per cent jump in its good GCSE score to 69 per cent. All pupils were entered for intermediate GNVQ science. Its huge leap has helped to make Tower Hamlets the fastest improving education authority in England with a 9 percentage point rise in the proportion getting five Cs or better, compared to the national average of 1 point.
The intermediate GNVQ has proved so popular and successful that government plans to drop it have been put on hold.
At the bottom of the table, 23 schools face an uncertain future. Former education secretary David Blunkett announced in March 2000 that schools achieving less than 15 per cent five A* to C in three consecutive years would be considered for closure and a"Fresh Start" - although the initiative, where a school closes and re-opens with a new head and new staff, has fallen out of favour.
Those 23, however, still face closure, being turned into a city academy or being "federated" with a stronger school.
Some schools on the hitlist of low-performers are already due to close. It is the end of the line for William Crane in Nottingham, which increased its five A*-C score from 4 to 7 per cent this year.
Head Godfrey Davey said: "We have a pupil mobility rate of a fifth and are in an area of enormous social disadvantage. We were never going to reach the 15 per cent mark."
Nottingham, fifth from the bottom of the LEA league table, has three schools in the bottom 23.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We are very concerned about the position of these schools. They have been under pressure for a long time and don't think sufficient account has been taken of the enormous difficulties they have been struggling to cope with."
The worst performing secondary in the country was Beechwood school, in Slough, where just 4 per cent of pupils got five good GCSEs.
The school was forced to declare a four-day week in September 2000, as the 2002 candidates were beginning their GCSE courses. The emergency timetable was imposed because of severe teacher shortages.
But Chris Spencer, Slough's education director, said the school had seen dramatic improvement in results at 14 and was predicted a 20 per cent GCSE score in 2003.
In particular, a high truancy rate has been targeted and attendance is now at the national average. Tables show five secondary schools had attendance levels of 80 per cent or less last year.
TOP 10 ENGLISH NON SELECTIVE STATE SCHOOLS
Type, Gender, 2002 5+A*-C, 2001
Thomas Telford, Telford CTC Mixed 100% 100%
The Coopers' Companyand Coborn,Upminster VA Mixed 99% 100%
Watford Grammar,Watford VA Girls 98% 98%
Emmanuel College,Gateshead CTC Mixed 98% 96%
Brooke Weston, Corby CTC Mixed 98% 98%
The City TechnologyCollege, Birmingham CTC Mixed 94% 72%
Watford Grammar, Watford VA Boys 94% 96%
Dixons CTC, Bradford CTC Mixed 94% 75%
St Edward's College,Liverpool VA Mixed 94% 93%
The St Marylebone C of E,London VA Girls 93% 91%
Type, Gender, 2002 5+A*-C, 2001, 2000, 1999
Sir John Cass Foundationand Redcoat C of E, Tower Hamlets VA Mixed 69% 36% 32% 22%
Walderslade, Medway CY Girls 43% 35% 17% 6%
Ernest Bevin College,Wandsworth CY Boys 54% 29% 28% 18%
Hockerill Anglo-EuropeanCollege, Hertfordshire FD Mixed 84% 67% 63% 48%
Harris CTC, Croydon CTC Mixed 91% 90% 68% 57%
Archbishop Tenison's,Lambeth VA Boys 56% 35% 24% 22%
The Eastwood School (11-18), Southend FD Mixed 63% 44% 33% 32%
St Joseph's College,Croydon VA Boys 58% 53% 42% 28%
Moor End TechnologyCollege, Kirklees CY Mixed 58% 36% 32% 28%
Heath Park High,Wolverhampton CY Mixed 71% 53% 42% 42%