'Our own goals make more sense'

Oldham has some of the highest numbers of Pakistani pupils in the country, but its targets for them are among the lowest

Oldham has some of the highest numbers of Pakistani pupils in the country, but its targets for them are among the lowest.

At Radclyffe School, they mean little to staff, who instead focus on their own higher goals and still manage to surpass them.

Hardial Hayer, its headteacher, said: "We welcome challenging targets. We say, 'Let's go for the highest possible.' But if we don't necessarily meet them, we don't beat staff up about it."

The school has seen a huge spurt in achievement in the past two years and a major reason has been improved scores among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils. The two ethnic groups each make up about a quarter of its roll, while half are white British.

Last year, the proportion of students gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, was 47 per cent, up from 24 per cent in 2006. Pakistani pupils were only just behind the overall total, with 46 per cent achieving the benchmark, followed by Bangladeshi pupils with 45 per cent - well above the local authority targets of 25 per cent and 31 per cent respectively.

Mr Hayer believes targets for particular ethnic groups can contribute to this kind of improvement but is cautious about placing too much emphasis on them.

He sees a pupil's ethnicity as something that should be considered by schools because it can be a pointer to underlying problems that are preventing them from achieving, such as having English as an additional language.

"Language can be difficult for these pupils because often they are starting from behind the line," said Mr Hayer. "So it helps to be able to identify those issues early on so that we can support individuals' different needs."

He suggests you might expect to find more language problems among Bangladeshi pupils than Pakistanis because "by and large" the community settled later in England. But he warns that it is dangerous to make any assumptions about pupils.

Janet Doherty, Oldham's director of children's services, said all its targets were based on the most recent national data and aimed to help underperforming groups to close the gaps.

"The council works closely with all communities in Oldham to make sure the setting of all targets reflects high academic aspirations but takes into account the social circumstances affecting the community, such as disproportionate levels of poverty or other disadvantage," she said.

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