Good results continue with more pupils staying on to study. Julie Henry reports
THE Government's GCSE target of half of pupils gaining five good passes by 2002 looks certain to be met, judging by this year's league tables.
Nationally, the proportion of students achieving five A* to C grades rose from 47.9 to 49.2 per cent, a slightly smaller rise than last year.
Education Secretary David Blunkett was quick to praise the higher-than-average improvement in schools taking part in the Excellence in Cities scheme. Ministers are also trumpeting the further drop in the proportion of students in England who left school with no qualifications from 6 per cent to 5.6 per cent - 33,000 young people. The target is 5 per cent by 2002. At A-level, the average point score per candidate entered for two or more subjects also rose by 0.1 per cent to 18.3.
Specialist schools once again claimed to be ahead of the pack with 53 per cent of pupils in 393 non-selective schools achieving five top grades - compared to 42 per cent in other comprehensive schools. Thomas Telford city technology college, in Shropshire, is the first state comprehensive school to achieve a 100 per cent success rate at GCSE.
As revealed by The TES in September, the fresh start initiative - where "failing" schools are closed and then re-opened under new leadership and a new name - has proved a different story. Just two of the 11 failing schools improved their GCSE results this summer - Fir Vale in Sheffield and Bishopsford Community School, Merton.
Despite this, Mr Blunkett's call for a fresh start for schools with fewer than 15 per cent of pupils achieving five good passes over three years could mean closure for 45 schools.
Two canges this year could have affected the league-table position of nearly half the schools in the country. For the first time, heads can remove the results of newly-arrived refugee and immigrant children who have been in English schools for less than two years. Nearly 274 schools took up the concession. But this change is likely to have less impact than anticipated.
Pupils who have attended more than one school do not meet the new criteria to be deducted from the figures. In Hackney, for instance, only 29 students from the 1,408 cohort were not counted in the GCSE results.
The other change, which uses the tables to penalise schools that permanently exclude pupils, has brought strong condemnation from headteachers. One in three schools will be affected by the rule, which counts excluded students in the school's results even though they are no longer on the roll.
In addition, the 306 schools which have taken in excluded pupils have been given credit for any examinations they achieve, even though they are not counted in the cohort group.
The Government has been accused of "meddling" with an already flawed exercise. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "It is quite wrong for the Government to use league tables as a weapon. Exclusions have got nothing to do with league tables."
A value-added element covering the progress made between 16 and 18 in 157 schools has been included as a precursor to a more extensive secondary school pilot next year (see below).
Truancy rates fell by 0.1 per cent to 1 per cent of half days missed. Welsh tables will be published in The TES on December 1 and primary performance tables for English schools on December 8.