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Hope, but no glory for fresh start school;News;News and opinion

AFTER FOUR years of heavy investment and media attention, west London's ground-breaking Phoenix high school has failed to fly - so far.

The school - which pioneered the Government's Fresh Start policy and helped inspire a BBC TV series about turning round a failing school - is the most famous name at the wrong end of this year's GCSE league tables. Just 4 per cent of pupils got five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C - only five schools had poorer results.

But Phoenix and its high-profile headteacher William Atkinson - a model for Lenny Henry's character Ian George in the series Hope and Glory - continue to command the confidence of local education authority Hammersmith and Fulham, which this year topped the list of most improved LEAs.

The school won glowing reports from inspectors after coming off special measures. But this year's resultsshow how slow the process can be. The results are down from 16 per cent recorded only two years ago when Phoenix appeared well on the way to recovery.

Mr Atkinson was blunt about the causes for this year's fall: "A massively skewed intake, exacerbated by mobility and an influx of refugees who don't speak English, many of whom are traumatised."

He said: "Less than 50 per cent of the children in Year 11 started here in Year 7. They started at a time of adverse national publicity so many were way below average." Almost half the year started at the school unable to speak English, many in the past 18 months.

Mr Atkinson added that this year's key stage 3 results indicated that GCSE scores would soon improve rapidly.

The lower years are now full, ending the school's obligation to take refugees and pupils excluded elsewhere; attendance is up and exclusions have almost ceased. The last visit by the Office for Standards in Education found 95 per cent of lessons were satisfactory or better.

Hammersmith and Fulham's director of education, Christine Whatford, said: "We regard it as a blip. We're confident results will go up next year."

Nationally, this year's GCSE results - printed in full in this week's TES along with general national vocational qualifications and A-level scores - continued a decade of improvement with a further rise in pupils gaining five or more good GCSE passes, up by 1.6 percentage points on 1998.

Thomas Telford city technology college in Telford was the highest-scoring comprehensive - 99 per cent of pupils gained five good passes.

The Isles of Scilly and Buckinghamshire topped the education authorities' league.

The school at the bottom of the GCSE table - Gillingham community college - has been recommended for closure in 2001 by its local authority. None of its pupils gained five A*-C passes.

The local Medway council blamed "exceptional circumstances": 84 per cent of pupils had special needs, intake was low and the secondary-modern school had a massive budget deficit.

Full tables, centre pages

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