Exam pioneers celebrate

12th August 2005 at 01:00
Two secondary schools given their head to improve attainment believe their initiatives are paying off, as they digested their pupils' exam performance this week.

St Paul's High in Glasgow's Pollok area, which began to stream pupils into ability groups four years ago, has seen a remarkable leap in its Standard grade results to the point where it is now the second top performing school in Glasgow for the exam. Rod O'Donnell, the headteacher, said he felt "vindicated" in the face of criticism of the school's controversial policy.

And Keith Grammar in Moray, which entered its third-year pupils for Standard grade, saw 28 per cent of them gain five or more Credit awards compared with 26 per cent of fourth years. But the position was reversed if Credit and General passes are taken together: 67 per cent of the younger group got five or more awards, against 83 per cent for S4 pupils.

Standard grade results at St Paul's High rose from 9.3 per cent of pupils gaining five or more Credit awards last year to 17.2 per cent this year; the figure for five or more Credit and General passes stood at 70.6 per cent this year compared with 50.7 per cent last year. The Scottish Qualifications Authority is believed to rate a 2 per cent increase as "an impact".

These results put a school in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Glasgow above last year's 65 per cent average for Credit and General awards in the city and close to the Scottish figure of 76 per cent.

Mr O'Donnell said he believed the streaming arrangements, the way the classes were resourced and the quality of teaching all made a contribution to what he described as "spectacularly successful" results. The school had disappointing results last year, but Mr O'Donnell did not believe the performance this year was simply a reflection of differing abilities between the two cohorts.

He commented: "They were an able bunch of children this year, no doubt about it. But the significant thing is that there has been improvement across the board. I would have been disappointed if only the most able pupils had done well and the rest had not."

Mr O'Donnell said streaming had helped all children. "We have not skewed resources to the brightest youngsters, which was a criticism at the beginning. And there is no indication that the pupils who might have seen themselves as being in the bottom groups felt demotivated. Kids know their strengths and limitations and they will respond to measures that will address those."

The school's policy also appears to work for males and females. The proportion of boys achieving five-plus Standard grade Credit passes rose from 4.4 per cent to 14.9 per cent, and the increase for five or more Credit and General passes was from 48.5 per cent to 66 per cent. The respective improvements for girls were from 15 per cent to 18.8 per cent at Credit, and from 53.3 per cent to 73.9 per cent for Credit and General.

John Aitken, headteacher of Keith Grammar, was optimistic about his school's initiative, despite the superior performance of the S4 pupils achieving Standard grade Credit and General awards. This was the first year in which S3 pupils had been presented for Standard grade and the school regards the project as being in its early stages.

Mr Aitken pointed out that, by the time the third-year group reach the end of fourth year, their cumulative total of awards will be greater than it would otherwise have been - including Intermediate passes. He declared: "We are not doing this for the statistics. Some of our pupils are taking vocational courses -rural skills, motor mechanics, care and hairdressing - and they won't feature in Standard grade 1s and 2s.

"It is also important to remember that our pupils will have two years in which to take their Highers, an enormous improvement."

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