GODFFREY Davey cannot be confident his school will hit its target for GCSE results this year - despite laying on a major programme of revision classes for selected students.
His school, William Crane in Nottingham, offered a target group of GCSE students pound;60 to attend 27 after-school lessons over a nine-week period.
Weekend study periods have also been laid on in smart hotels for the selected group, whom the school believes have a chance of reaching the Government's benchmark achievement of five A* to C GCSEs.
But Mr Davey said: "I only hope to do better than last year, when 7 per cent of pupils got five GCSEs."
William Crane is one of 19 schools to be contacted by The TES to assess the effects of government pressure on those at the bottom of the league tables.
The threat of closure hangs over any secondary that fails to hit the 15 per cent mark for three years, starting from 2001. William Crane, however, is set to close anyway this year, low results having helped seal its fate.
It serves three seriously deprived council estates, and Mr Davey is one of a host of heads complaining about the injustice of pressure to improve which takes no account of school intakes.
Several other secondaries which The TES spoke to, among the 23 that have missed the 15 per cent GCSE target for the past two years, are also focussing on "borderline" pupils. At Ramsgate school, in Kent, which finished bottom of the tables last year with a score of just 4 per cent, pupils capable of getting five good grades get extra lessons in the build-up to exams.
Truants are sometimes allowed to work part-time from home. Some teachers even arrange for weekly one-on-one tutorial sessions at a neutral venue such as a public library.
Agnes Stewart high school, in Leeds, lays on learning mentors to drive certain students from their homes to the school on exams day.
It provides special reduced timetables for children with poor attendance records and extra help with coursework for GCSE students.
Corby community college, also in Leeds, has been running daily after-school revision classes since November for all students, plus coursework catch-up classes in the holidays.
St Luke's, in Southsea, provides pizza and fizzy drinks for a target group of 70 pupils for revision classes on Tuesday evenings.
However, one of the schools on the "at risk" list, Copperfields college, in Leeds, has rejected such moves out of principle.
Gill Ellis, headteacher, said: "I could put my targets up if I put all my energies into a select number of candidates and hothouse them.
"I am not sure achieving targets is about giving them a rounded education."
Some schools welcome initiatives such as the leadership incentive grant, which provides pound;125,000 to any with less than 35 per cent of pupils achieving five A to C grade GCSEs.
But the Government's tough line for those at the bottom will continue. For 2004, ministers have raised their "floor target" for all schools to 20 per cent.
Do you know of any other examples of "hothousing"? Contact Warwick.Mansell@tes.co.uk