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Looking after the borders

How does a senior management team engineer a real increase in the pass rate for five A* to C grade GCSEs in a big inner-city secondary?

We started by owning up to an unpleasant reality. We can't work on everybody in Year 11 for that intensive GCSE exam push. The good students, who should get the results, must be left to get on with it. The tail end, who haven't got a hope in hell of five C grades, plod along as best they can. But the "key marginals" are the priority; pupils expected to get four Cs and one D, or general national vocational qualification students capable of four C grades from one subject like information and communications technology who need one more C grade from their other GCSEs. In my school, the key marginals are 15 human beings out of 200 who could make a 6 to 7 per cent difference in our GCSE pass rate!

Focusing on them means coming out of autopilot provision, thinking deeper than the after-school coursework classes or the subject revision sessions on Saturdays. Close analysis indicated that the pupils in the biggest danger of just missing their five A* to C grades often didn't attend these sessions properly. There was a need to run something in the school day parallel to the main curriculum.

We decided on a highly rigorous form of academic tutoring, one-to-one or in very small groups, of a pilot group of seven. The honest and probing analysis of the borderline students revealed another vital fact. One-to-one mentoring, while highly effective in dealing with some emotional issues such as bullying, wasn't turning Shakespeare coursework from D to C. Our academic tutor had to be quick- witted enough to read up and master the fine detail on up to five GCSE subjects, and to deal with technical aspects of the exams rather than offering "tea and sympathy".

This person needed good qualifications and time and space with heads of department to handle this slippery and complex brief. They had to be comfortable working in and out of class.

Only time will tell if our pilot group will do better in their borderline subject than the other eight, who are getting the usual diet of exam revision and general mentoring. If they do, there are big resourcing implications. If they don't, is there any form of intervention that can raise grades - other than a good staff member teaching their subject well to conscientious pupils?

The author is a member of a senior team in a secondary in south-east England. Want to sound off and earn pound;150? Email

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