Bureaucracy kept to a minimum
The lack of a starred GCSE grade among pupils at Bowland county high is a reminder of the fact that there is a grammar school on its doorstep, according to headteacher Steve Colling.
Mr Colling cannot pretend he has a comprehensive intake, much as he prides himself on the hard work and commitment of his pupils.
The grant-maintained Clitheroe Royal Grammar, four miles away, takes its pick of the area's top achievers. Bowland, in the picturesque Lancashire village of Grindleton, also competes with two local church schools for pupils.
The school, which emerged this week as the nation's third best improver, is classed by the Department for Education and Employment as a "secondary modern".
Mr Colling said: "I do not hold with selection, but it is here and we have to live with it. We cannot be described as anything other than secondary modern, though we call ourselves a high school, because we do not in any sense have a comprehensive intake."
The proportion of Bowland county pupils gaining five or more A* to C grades has risen from 26 per cent in 1994 to 58 per cent in 1997.
Mr Colling believes the improvements have come about by "formalising mechanisms already in place", such as some targeting of pupils and mentoring. All but one or two of his 23 full-time staff members are experienced teachers at the top end of the pay scale.
He said that the school's record success this year is directly due to the abilities of his staff, and to a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:17. Mr Colling said: "I believe totally in allowing teachers to teach, which means keeping bureaucracy down to a minimum. This doesn't mean we are not constantly monitoring and reviewing progress. But this is done more through direct contact between pupils and teachers.
"It is a case of setting priorities, while at the same time keeping abreast of the maelstrom of developments coming from the Government."
He does not believe in running schools like an "examination factory" or in giving hot-house treatment to pupils who display the most potential. "We have to give every child an equal chance. This means giving our best to our weakest pupils - those with special needs - as well as the ones we know can perform well.
"The beauty of working in a school with just over 300 pupils is that we know our pupils and they know us. If we feel a child needs particular help or attention then we can give it," he added.
It is the boys who give the teachers at Bowland county the greatest concern. Only 45 per cent of boys achieved five or more top grades at GCSE last summer compared with 68 per cent of girls, though in terms of total passes the sexes were fairly evenly matched.
He is attempting to broaden the job expectations of school-leavers who have traditionally gone into farming "Now we encourage boys to look at further education and perhaps go for courses in agricul-ture or related subjects. We want them to look at the options open to them."
Mr Colling said the record-breaking achievement of last summer's cohort of GCSE candidates may not be repeated in the next few years, though he and his staff hope to keep the percentage of five or more A* to C grades in the high 40s. He said the concept of league tables had not taught schools anything new, and served only to pitch one school against another, without necessarily serving the best interests of the children.
Academic success should run alongside the drive for traditional values such as honesty and compassion, as well as instilling self-esteem and self-belief.
"This is a school where we genuinely care about the individual, and we believe that primarily this is what has given us success," he added.