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Pupils no longer feel at bottom of the pile

Simon Murphy speaks with pride about the advances at his school in recent years.

In 2001, only 9 per cent of pupils at the North school, an 800-pupil secondary modern in Ashford, Kent, left with five or more GCSEs, or their vocational equivalent, at grade C or better. By 2004, this figure had surged to 60 per cent, making it the joint most improved school in England when the 2004 tables were published a year ago.

Last summer, the school's headline figures slipped back to 40 per cent, and a closer analysis of the 2005 figures might make for fairly depressing reading for those not familiar with the school. Although 33 pupils took a GCSE single award science, and 38 a double GCSE in the subject, none achieved a grade C. Only four of 42 pupils achieved a C in history.

By contrast, 64 of 66 pupils entered for a general national vocational qualification in science passed. One in three of the school's 163 pupils took a GNVQ in ICT, and half passed.

The influence of GNVQs on the school's headline statistics is strong. But Mr Murphy defends their use. He says they have motivated pupils to learn because some find them more interesting than traditional subjects.

The GNVQs have had a knock-on effect for other subjects. In 2002, the proportion of pupils achieving five A*-Cs including English and maths was 7 per cent. In 2005, it was 23 per cent.

Mr Murphy said: "In the past, our students were used to being thought of as perhaps towards the bottom of the pile. What I wanted to do was to prove to them they could be successful. By giving our students one or two GNVQ courses in which they have been successful, we have had a net positive effect on their learning elsewhere, including English and maths."

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