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Standards are better at bottom

Your editorial of December 15 referred to the article I wrote in The TES on October 6, and said that I seemed unaware of the increasing gap between the better and less well performing schools at GCSE.

You referred to information given by Cheryl Gillan, education junior minister, in an answer to a written parliamentary question. From this information, you inferred - without being quite explicit how you had done so - that there had been a widening gap between the highest and lowest performing schools.

There are, of course, various ways of interpreting the available data. My own rather more optimistic conclusion was based on identifying the bottom and top 10 per cent of maintained schools in 1992 (in terms of their average GCSE point scores) and tracing the changes in performance of the same schools up to 1994. Over that period, the average A*-C performance of the bottom decile of schools increased by 5.6 percentage points, against 2.1 percentage points for the top decile. On this measure, lowest performing schools did improve their performance significantly more than the highest performing schools.

This conclusion is further supported if one looks at changes in the proportion of pupils gaining five or more A*-C GCSE grades. Thus, the proportion of pupils with five or more A*-C GCSE grades in schools around the bottom quartile point rose from 20.1 per cent in 1993 to 21.7 per cent in 1995, an 8 per cent increase. The corresponding movement, for schools around the top quartile, was a rise from 55.05 per cent to 58.45 per cent, an increase of 6.25 per cent.

Sir TIM LANKESTER

Former joint permanent secretary Department for Education and Employment

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