Building success out of 'failure'

23rd March 2001 at 00:00
ROGER Kennedy, head of the 280-pupil Upper Wharfedale secondary modern school in Skipton, North Yorkshire, says his biggest task is to undo the damage selection does to his pupils' confidence.

Around 30 per cent of 11-year-olds in his area go to grammar schools. He says many of the rest not "deemed suitable", in the council's tactful jargon, arrive at Upper Wharfedale already convinced they have failed.

A system where parents must opt out of selection rather than opt in means nearly every eligible child tries for a goal which only a third can achieve.

But by a process Mr Kennedy describes as "getting the qualifications and attitude they need", all his pupils leave Upper Wharfedale with GCSEs, including a significant number of teenagers with special educational needs.

Many stay on in education, often attending the grammar schools which previously turned them down. One star pupil is on her way to a first-class honours degree after getting 10 A-grade GCSEs and four As atA-level.

Mr Kennedy said: "When pupils arrive, I point to the school, then to the sky, and say 'that's your limit, now find your level between the two'."

He offers an identical curriculum and exams to Upper Wharfedale's selective counterparts.

Despite the effects of selection, it must meet the same national standards and inspection conditions as other schools.

Its most recent Office for Standards in Education report was glowing and, last year, more than 67 per cent of pupils achieved five or more GCSE passes at A* to C. All the candidates got at least six or more A* to G grades.

Mr Kennedy acknowledges many similar schools cannot achieve such results. But he says: "When people talk about a selective system they call it 'the grammar-school system' rather than 'the secondary-modern system'.

"But 60 to 80 per cent of pupils are at secondary moderns and it is up to us to help them succeed. In different ways, to different levels, but still to succeed."

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