National Challenge adviser's pupils struggle in GCSEs

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Head appointed programme director despite school's poor exam pass rate says to look 'beyond the data'

A headteacher is to spearhead part of the controversial National Challenge programme, even though just 35 per cent of his pupils are gaining five good GCSEs, placing question marks over the Government's hardnosed focus on exam results.

Andy Buck, former partnership head of Eastbrook and Jo Richardson schools in east London, has been appointed operational director of City Challenge, working with the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services.

Mr Buck, a popular head who has won wide praise for his work, will take on the role to help underachieving schools hit the Government's threshold of 30 per cent of pupils gaining five A-C grades at GCSE including English and maths.

However, only 35 per cent of the most recent GCSE pupils at Jo Richardson School achieved the same benchmark, exposing the possible limitations of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' focus on exam results.

Last year, Jo Richardson School was awarded an "outstanding" by Ofsted, which was mainly credited to Mr Buck's leadership skills. And he told The TES that there was more to a school than just its exam results.

"The current data measure doesn't always tell the whole story about a school," he said. "I'm a complete advocate of making sure all young people have good basic English and maths - but there is certainly more to a school.

"We were disappointed by this year's results and, in fact, when you take into account the value added, the exam results are the same as last year. But it is a very fragile thing and while we hoped to stay at 40 per cent, I don't think there is any danger of dropping below the floor target.

"I would hope people will be able to look beyond the data and see how a school like that can be given an 'outstanding' by Ofsted."

According to Mr Buck, it is dealing with challenges faced at Jo Richardson and Eastbrook schools that will enable him to work effectively in turning other schools around through City Challenge.

Formerly known as London Challenge, the programme is the regionally focused version of the National Challenge. It works with schools in Manchester, London and the Black Country either below or on the border of the 30 per cent threshold.

Toby Salt, chief executive of the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services, said: "Andy Buck comes with a strong background in supporting schools in challenging circumstances."

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