Called to account

5th September 2008 at 01:00
Some young people do not sit traditional exams, but schools cannot remove them from their records for fear of losing funding, which skews the attainment records

Scotland's largest education authority is calling for new ways of recording attainment for pupils who are not sitting traditional exams.

Glasgow City Council, which has the highest levels of socio-economic deprivation of any council, argues that its exam statistics are skewed because it has significantly higher numbers of pupils who start S4 on the school roll but who are either diverted elsewhere or simply drop out.

As local authorities' exam statistics are calculated on the basis of the number of pupils in S4 in September, Glasgow's figures have consistently looked bad, the authority argues, because only 90 per cent of the original number actually sit the exams.

According to Maureen McKenna, the council's head of education services, "one of the reasons Glasgow's statistics are skewed is that we have got much better at providing alternatives. In rural places, kids don't have these choices, but in Glasgow, between the September census of S4 pupils and May (the exam diet), there is an incredible churn".

Glasgow City Council has calculated that one in 10 of its pupils who start on the S4 roll are never presented for five or more Standard grade - or equivalent - exams. If they were discounted from the authority's attainment statistics, the picture for Glasgow's Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2 results would be considerably better.

Last year, 542 pupils in S4 were effectively "missing" from the cohort of 5,519 which sat five-plus SQA exams in S4. Some two-thirds were following alternative education routes, although a third had dropped out.

If the "missing" group was excluded from the authority's attainment statistics, Glasgow would have had a pass rate of 96 per cent at SCQF level 3 (Access or Foundation) instead of 87 per cent, and if those following alternative education routes were included, the figure would have risen to 93 per cent. Similarly, the pass rates for five-plus General level Standard grades (or Intermediate 1) would have risen from 65 per cent to 72 per cent (if the entire "missing" group was excluded) or 69 per cent (if those in alternative education routes were included).

Research by the council showed that almost two-thirds of the 542 youngsters in the "missing" group followed a variety of alternative non school-based routes - 80 attended EVIP (enhanced vocational inclusion programme) which is targeted at disadvantaged young people; 42 attended further education courses part-time and 83 attended FE full-time or almost full-time; 100 fell into a category covering various forms of specialised provision, such as home tuition or hospital education, support for significant language or communication difficulties, or were non-English speakers.

Some 224 were not in alternative placements and had high levels of absence from school.

Schools cannot afford to remove the "missing" pupils who go to alternative forms of education from their S4 roll, because government funding is determined on a per capita basis. But Mrs McKenna is pushing headteachers to improve their tracking of pupils who stop attending school, for whatever reason. She also wants to see better results from young people who follow alternative routes. "It is still a little bit of `out of sight, out of mind'," she said.

"As we go down the Curriculum for Excellence road, we are going to have more young people on vocational routes, and the national statistics are not set up to show that. We should be asking authorities to gather data, present it and get government statisticians to moderate it."

Road to rehabilitation

Ryan Gilmour, nearly 17 and an apprentice coachbuilder, is proof of the success stories which can emerge from the hundreds of pupils in Glasgow who are diverted from the traditional exam route but still counted in the authority's exam statistics.

A former pupil of St Thomas Aquinas Secondary, he was becoming increasingly involved in anti-social behaviour, when things came to a head two years ago. He committed such a serious assault that he was made the subject of a home supervision order by a children's panel and given a three-year probation order by the High Court, with conditions of curfew and attendance at group work programmes.

The shock of the court sentence seemed to act as a catalyst for improved behaviour. But he was not attending school and was bored at home. His social worker helped him gain a place on the EVIP programme (enhanced vocational inclusion programme) - a partnership between social work, education, building services and several Glasgow colleges to help young people gain job skills.

Through his place on the full-time motor vehicle maintenance programme at Clydebank College, Ryan learned to work as part of a team as well as acquiring practical skills. At the end of the course, he had gained a City and Guilds level 1 qualification in motor vehicle maintenance and his enthusiasm and hard work gained him a full-time apprenticeship with Avondale Coaches.

Clydebank College also presented him with a prize of pound;250 worth of tools and in June, at the EVIP celebration event, he was given the award for "best overall performance - motor vehicle maintenance".

He also took part in a pilot football coaching scheme run by Rangers Football Club and a five-a-side tournament for EVIP students at Glasgow Green Football Centre.

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