Paradox of mixed maths results

8th December 2000 at 00:00
THE fact that Grove primary in the run-down Handsworth area of Birmingham has pupils that take GCSE in maths sits oddly with the school's relatively poor showing in national tests for 11-year-olds. But, as is evident from its popularity with parents, league table results are not everything.

Fewer than 60 per cent achieve the required maths level, a score not out of line with results in similar schools which take children from deprived backgrounds, so it is not among the high performers.

"It is a paradox and the school needs to think about it," concedes the head, Pam Mattey. "We are fighting against going down the road of just driving up maths and English scores. We want to offer a balanced curriculum," she says.

The school became a beacon for national policymakers under the previous head, Sir David Winkley, one of the first teaching knights to be created by this government. Sir David introduced an accelerated maths group and is the inspiration behind the "children's university", which was established five years ago and now has centres across the country. His legacy remains in a Saturday morning class, open to Grove children and bright pupils from across the city.

Peter Frost, chief executive of the National Primary Trust, says the school offers courses, such as philosophy, which would have little impact on test results. Five children from the Grove got maths GCSE this year (four grade Cs and one grade D), but none got what is supposed t be the equivalent level six in the national maths tests for 11-year-olds.

The school's popularity does not appear to be affected by its low league table position. Grove had 140 applications for 90 places in reception and parents bring their children into Handsworth to attend the school. The largest ethnic group is Indian and Pakistani, but 16 per cent are of AfricanCaribbean extraction and six per cent are white. More than half are eligible for free school meals.

Children's work covers every available wall space; there is a lunch-time choir and jazz dance sessions. Next year all nine-year-olds will get the chance to learn a musicial instrument. In the final two years, pupils are put into sets and the accelerated maths and English groups are taught by specialist teachers. The better results at the top end are reflected in the 19 per cent of pupils who get level 5 in maths (pupils are expected to get only level 4).

Says Ms Mattey: "We are targeting those pupils who seem likely to fall just short of level 4. But we don't think the answer lies in spending more time on maths and literacy."

The school's own analysis suggests that the children who exceed targets are regular attenders and have a lot of support at home.

"The school has a culture that makes it very special. It has a vibrancy and produces children who are very confident. We don't want to lose what makes Grove exciting, but we are not complacent," says Ms Mattey.

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