Leaning on a lamp-post of selected intake

23rd December 1994 at 00:00
Having read in a letter to The TES from Sir Cyril Taylor, the City Technology Colleges Trust chairman, about Dixons CTC in Bradford achieving "68 per cent A to C grade GCSEs compared to Bradford's borough average of just 27 per cent" (TES, December 2), I felt inclined to reply. Now, after reading the letter from Dixons' principal, John Lewis (TES, December 9), I feel compelled to do so.

In its first year, Dixons CTC recruited about 40 pupils from two Bradford middle schools of which I have some knowledge. Neither of them are in the inner city. From my perception, these particular children included the large majority of "above average" and "bright" Year 6 pupils at these two schools - a pattern seemingly repeated in subsequent years.

Of course, they were sorely missed for their abilities and personalities as well as the substantial drop in funding that resulted.

When challenged regarding the criteria used for "selecting" the initial intake, the CTC's principal explained that a recruitment agency had been employed!

Of course, the parents of all prospective Dixons CTC students are also interviewed, ensuring that, regardless of a pupil's abilities, he or she invariably comes from a "supportive" home.

We hear a great deal about CTC students forming an "all-ability cohort", but what about the actual balance of abilities? Does it mirror that of Bradford as a whole, that of the "neighbouring inner-city comprehensives" with which Sir Cyril feels each CTC should be compared, or perhaps that of the country as a whole?

What about parity of funding? (In its first year, Dixons CTC was reported to have received more Government money than every other Bradford school - not just the comprehensives, but middles, firsts, even the city's nurseries - put together). Of course, the CTC also receives sponsorship from Dixons.

The Dixons CTC is a modern purpose-built establishment, unlike many of Bradford's schools, which were designed and built in the Victorian era. When the CTC opened, many Bradford children were being taught in decrepit Terrapins.

I share Mr Lewis's views on the importance of a "work ethic", but are we to believe that this, along with "a committed staff" and "high expectations . . . for students of every ability" can only be found in his establishment? If so, why? If not, then why aren't these schools achieving 68 per cent grades A to C?

When so many complicated and interacting factors lie behind a child's GCSE results, it may be tempting to compare and quote school league table percentages, especially for people who have a particular axe to grind.

For myself, I have two particular axes. The first is our endless infatuation with statistics. The second is the way in which they are so often employed like a drunk using a lamp-post - more for support than illumination.

Mary H Errington

17 Moor Close Lane

Queensbury

Bradford

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