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Pupils thrive on early GCSEs

Ministers are keen that bright children should not be held back. A Derbyshire school is leading the way. Cherry Canovan reports.

A PIONEERING school is reaping the benefits after entering 95 per cent of its pupils for GCSE English a year early - and leading the way on government plans for bright teenagers.

Almost all 15-year-olds at Buxton community school in Derbyshire were entered for the exam last year. The move came after teachers noticed previous cohorts barely improved in Year 11.

In a Green Paper issued last month, ministers proposed that bright pupils should take GCSE exams early or skip them and move straight on to AS-levels.

Buxton pupils are proving that this approach pays dividends. They have time to study to a higher level before they enter the sixth form - where results also look set to improve.

Fifty-three per cent of the cohort achieved an A* to C grade. When about 30 of them resit the exam in Year 11 this is expected to rise to 63 per cent - significantly better than the predicted 57 per cent.

Paul Dearden, head of English, said: "Most of these 'improvers' are boys who were perfectly capable of getting Cs last year. I'm convinced that few of them would have been motivated to really try this year if their result last year had just been a mock."

Mr Dearden said the system avoids spending disproportionate time on coursework in Year 10 and avoids the monotony of going over set texts many times.

"Like a lot of schools we used to start Year 10 with a novel which would then be examined at the end of Year 11, and probably re-read and revised for a couple of exams in between. Now we teach it, examine it and move on," he said.

Pupils go on to take a range of courses at 16. Currently 44 are doing AS language and literature, while most are doing literature GCSE plus key skills (communications) at either level 2 or 3.

The 5 per cent who did not sit the exam early are significantly weaker pupils who are taking language and literature this year.

The school intends to repeat the exercise with its current Year 10.

Tyler Kennedy, who achieved a B in GCSE English last year and is now doing AS-level, said she will be able to do an extra AS in the sixth form. "I will probably pick up physics at AS as I want to study neuroscience," she said.

Lee Watson, who got a D, has also benefited. "I want to join the army and need three Ds," he said. "It's good that I did English a year early so I can concentrate on the other two." He is also resitting English this summer and is hoping for a C.

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