How did a 'failing' school manage such improved results for low-achieving pupils?

19th January 1996 at 00:00
In Michael Barber's response (TES, January 5) to Sally Tomlinson's criticisms of the educational association's report on Hackney Downs school, he claims "class sizes fell dramatically as the roll decreased: yet no evidence of significant improvement followed".

Perhaps he would kindly explain why the ostensibly dramatic increase between 1992 and 1995 in the school's percentages of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs - from 48 to 68 per cent - and also the decline in its percentages of pupils getting no GCSEs at all - from 25 to 11 per cent - are not significant improvements?

And perhaps he would also be kind enough to reveal the GCSE average point scores of Hackney Downs in 1992 and 1995, since Hackney education authority refuses to publish them. This achievement index provides a comprehensive measure of all the GCSE achievements of all of a school's pupils, and is that on which Professor Barber's own "school improvement index" is based.

Hackney Downs' increases of 20 and 14 percentage points in these two categories may not be quite as impressive as the 23 and 21 percentage point increases respectively in the percentages of Dick Sheppard school's pupils gaining at least five GCSEs and at least one GCSE in that same period. And Hackney education authority's increases of 12.9 and 9.8 percentage points may not be quite as big as Lambeth council's 15 and 11.9 percentage point increases, to which those of Dick Sheppard school obviously made a significant contribution.

But there can be little doubt that they were two of the most "improving" schools and LEAs in the country in 1992-95 in respect of increases in the GCSE results of lower-achieving pupils.

They were also both schools with mainly poor and educationally disadvantaged lower-achieving pupils, whose educational achievements the likes of John Patten, chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead, and Michael Barber claim to be concerned with raising. Since they were both closed by the Government in 1995, this surely makes the question of how their remarkable GCSE improvements were achieved an issue of national significance for those who wish to see a dramatic rise in results of lower-achievers.

CHARLES BELL

Article 26

(Educational pressure group)

BM Bell

London WC1

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