Schools at the bottom of the new GCSE tables face an uncertain future, but many are determined to survive. Warwick Mansell and Graeme Paton report
Headlands school is languishing at the bottom of the GCSE league table.
The Swindon school shares the dubious honour of being in joint-lowest position in league tables published yesterday with New Brompton college, a secondary modern in Gillingham, Kent.
In both schools just 9 per cent of pupils last year gained five good GCSEs or vocational equivalent. The two are among 35 schools now facing an uncertain future.
Jan Shadick joined Headlands as its headteacher in September 2004 when the school received a multi-million pound cash injection less than 18 months ago under the controversial Fresh Start initiative. The school's league table position came as no surprise to her. "It does not matter how hard you work in six months you are not going to be able to turn around things in terms of exam results."
She said exam results represented the "legacy of underachievement" which meant that last summer's Year 11 had received more than four years'
However, Ms Shadick said inspectors agreed that under Fresh Start the school had improved. She predicted that more than 20 per cent of pupils would achieve five good GCSEs this year.
Headlands hopes to become an academy under the sponsorship of the United Learning Trust, a Christian charity, and Honda, the car company which is based in Swindon, from 2008.
New Brompton college, a secondary modern in Gillingham, Kent, was the other bottom-ranked school, also on 9 per cent. But the school said it expected big improvements in coming years, after transforming the curriculum to offer more vocational subjects for pupils and addressing a severe teacher shortage.
Thirty-five schools missed the key government GCSE target and had fewer than 20 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at A*-C in 2005, compared to 71 in 2004. In 2004, 71 schools failed to meet the benchmark and ministers promised no school would fail to meet it again.
The results place huge pressure on the comprehensives and secondary moderns at the bottom of the tables, some of which are planning to be academies.
Others could face outright closure, a change of headteacher or federating with other, more successful, secondaries. The school-by-school results were released as national figures confirmed that 56.3 per cent of 15-year-olds achieved five good passes last year, a 2.6 point jump from 53.7 per cent in 2004. At New College, Leicester, another Fresh Start secondary, only 10 per cent of its pupils achieved five or more good GCSEs, the equal-third worst in England.
It also had the lowest value-added GCSE results and the worst record for truancy, with pupils taking an average of 13 unauthorised days absent a year, 10 times the national average.
There are now plans to replace it with a pound;25 million academy, jointly sponsored by the Church of England and David Samworth, the businessman behind Ginsters pasties.
In 2000, David Blunkett, the then education secretary, said any secondary on 15 per cent or below for three successive years would automatically be considered for closure. Now, schools performing at these sorts of levels are considered on a case-by-case basis. By next summer, the Government expects no school to have fewer than 25 per cent achieving five good GCSEs.
Some 108 secondaries were in that position in 2005.
THE 35 SCHOOLS UNDER THREAT
Headlands, Swindon; New Brompton College, Gillingham, Kent; The Mablethorpe Tennyson High, Lincoln; Thamesbridge College, Reading; New College, Leicester; Bishop Wulstan Catholic School, Rugby; The Gateway Community College, Thurrock, Essex; The Thorpe Bay School, Southend-on-Sea; John Hunt of Everest Community, Basingstoke; John Smeaton Community High, Leeds; Capital City Academy, Willesden, North West London; Barstable school, Basildon; Unity City Academy, Middlesbrough; Rushall Community College, Walsall; Pensnett School of Technology, Dudley; Kaskenmoor School, Oldham; Bradford Cathedral Community College, Bradford; Parklands High School, Liverpool; Hengrove Community Arts College, Bristol; White Hart Lane Secondary School, Wood Green, North London; Hornby High School, Lancaster; Breckfield Community Comprehensive, Liverpool; Agnes Stewart Church of England high, Leeds; Drayton School, Banbury; Temple School, Rochester; The McEntee School, Waltham Forest, E London; Torquay Community College, Torquay; Joseph Ruston Technology College, Lincoln; Corby Community College, Corby; Hartcliffe Engineering Community College, Bristol; Hylton Red House School, Sunderland; Mitcham Vale School, Mitcham, South London; The Bishop of Winchester Comprehensive, Bournemouth; Weavers School, Wellingborough; Myrtle Springs School, Sheffield.