Specialist results not so special

Analysis of grades shows more fail to meet the new GCSE threshold than standard schools

THERE ARE more poor-performing schools inside the specialist schools movement than outside it, a TES analysis has revealed, casting doubt on claims that acquiring the status drives up exam results.

Our GCSE statistics show that more than one in 10 specialist schools had pass rates that Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, described as "appalling" in non-specialist secondaries.

Last summer, in 277 specialist schools less than a quarter of pupils gained five good GCSEs if maths and English were included - the new criterion for performance league tables.

The trust has tended to focus on schools outside its ranks when discussing low attainment. But the figures show that only 201 non-specialist schools failed to meet the new GCSE threshold.

When The TES put the figures to Sir Cyril, he said his trust used a more sophisticated measure of failure: it was identifying schools where less than a quarter of pupils met the new GCSE threshold and less than 40 per cent met the old five A*-C any subject target.

But the summer results show once again that the failure rate is higher inside the specialist club than outside. There were 161 specialist schools that did not meet the measure, compared with 149 non-specialist secondaries.

In June, Sir Cyril said that non-specialist schools with less than a quarter of pupils meeting the new GCSE threshold had "appalling results"

and should become academies or link up with high-performing specialist schools.

But many non-specialist schools have actually achieved impressive results.

At Gordon's school in Woking, Surrey, 92 per cent of pupils achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Denis Mulkerrin, head of the state boarding school, has been approached at least three times about specialist status, but remains uninterested.

"I don't see any huge gains there," he said. "I think schools use specialist status as a marketing strategy, but that doesn't affect this school one jot. We are massively oversubscribed."

The trust has used its 20th anniversary to highlight that, on average, 45 per cent of pupils at specialist schools achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths, compared with 34 per cent of pupils at non-specialist schools.

But this masks the fact that last summer there were 14 non-specialist schools where more than 90 per cent of pupils achieved the new GCSE threshold, including the London Oratory, where Tony Blair sent three of his children. A total of 79 non-specialist schools crossed the 50 per cent barrier, and 326 met the basic 25 per cent requirement.

There were 527 non-specialist and 2,535 specialist schools entering pupils for GCSEs last year.

David Crossley, the trust's director of achievement, said many of the low-performing schools had been specialist for less than three years.

Acquiring the status was just "the beginning of the journey".

"The comparison between specialist and non-specialist schools is irrelevant," he said. "We have now got a specialist system and need to focus on improvement generally."

Sir Cyril's empire, page 12.

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