I read with considerable interest the letter from Charles Bell reminding us that two recently-closed schools can be shown to be among those which have shown the greatest improvement in examination results over the last three years. Your heading to the letter posed the question: "How did a 'failing' school manage such improved results for low-achieving pupils?" I cannot speak for Hackney Downs, but can, I believe, suggest answers for Dick Sheppard School.
Part of the answer has to be that in a closure situation classes become smaller, allowing the teachers to devote more of their energy to each of their pupils. One could be forgiven for thinking that teachers in such a situation - with redundancy rapidly approaching - would lose interest in their work. But certainly in the case of Dick Sheppard, I saw that my colleagues put, if anything, even more effort into teaching their pupils. It was most gratifying to see this dedication rewarded in the best results the school has ever had.
The other part of the answer is the nature of the pupils in the examination year. For the past few years I have compared the results of pupils who arrived in Dick Sheppard before the start of key state 4 with those for pupils arriving during the examination courses, often after being removed from other schools under exclusion procedures. As one might expect, the examination results for the two groups are widely divergent! In 1994, the first group achieved a mean point score of 15.5, while the late arrivals achieved only 8.8. The pupils who attended Dick Sheppard throughout their secondary schooling averaged 19. 8, but comprised only half of the examination year. Just under a quarter of the examination year arrived during KS3 and just over a quarter during KS4, giving an overall average of 13.7.
The examination results for Dick Sheppard School were considerably depressed for many years by the "dumping" of disruptive and occasionally violent pupils who had been failed by previous schools. In 1995 the school received no additional pupils from outside and in the curiously more stable atmosphere this produced the results could only improve.
KEN WATERHOUSE Formerly examinations officer at Dick Sheppard School 103 Birchanger Road South Norwood London SE25