Shame on those who publish crude tables

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Your commiserations table reveals that John Spence community high school is "named and shamed" among the 100 schools showing the biggest decline in league table results (TES, November 21). Such commiserations are misplaced and show up the nonsense of unreconstructed interpretation of raw data. The facts are these: In 1994, this school achieved 45 per cent five A*to C grade GCSEs - an improvement of 11 per cent on our previous best score.

In 1995, governors agreed to the transfer of Year 11 pupils from a neighbouring school which had just closed.

That school had served a socially and economically deprived area of North Shields, which included the recently riot-torn Meadowwell. During that year two Year 11 cohorts of pupils were taught separately on different timetables, and using different syllabuses involving different examination boards.

The results in 1995 showed that 42 per cent of John Spence pupils gained 5A* to C and average points scores (adjusted for gender) were comparable to our previous best. The cohort from the other school scored 20 per cent, which was 5 per cent higher than the previous year. In other words, both groups had succeeded against the odds, despite the trauma of merger and because of unstinting effort from my over-worked staff.

I had requested that the results be reported separately but the Department for Education and Employment, while expressing sympathy for our position, claimed that because "league tables were there to help parents choose schools", closed schools could not be shown in the statistics. This Catch 22 was further reinforced by an insistence that our two sets of improved results would be combined into a single score of 34 per cent five A* to C, which would inevitably seem to show a dramatic slump in our results.

The effects of that decision did indeed result in guiding parental choice and in the following year's intake, the school roll fell by 20.

An inspectors' report in 1996 which was sensitive to the above issue did redress the balance and re-established our reputation as a successful school adding value to our students' results (our top student this year achieved eight grade A* and two As). The school roll has subsequently increased but, of course, because of the school closure our socio-economic profile has worsened, with a 50 per cent increase in the number of children on free meals.

Results in 1996 showed our original students still scoring above 40 per cent, so our improvement in 1994 had not been a flash in the pan. Results in 1997 and beyond reflect the broader nature of our intake and, realistically, we have set a target of 35 per cent for our current Year 11 which a recent inspectors' visit confirmed as a very challenging target for a school such as ours.

BRIAN DAVISON

Headteacher John Spence community high school Preston Road North Shields, Tyne and Wear School management, TES2, page 20

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