Success starts to heal the scar of bad publicity

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Case study Manchester

The publication of the primary performance tables has been greeted with muted celebration at St Luke's primary school in Manchester, despite the fact that its results are a resounding success. Numbers of 11-year-old pupils reaching the expected level have risen to 82 per cent in maths and 62 per cent in science, makingthe school 21st of 132 in the Manchester area.

Here, the tables are associated with sentiments such as "trauma" and "devastation".

Last year's announcement of the very poor 1996 results fell like a bombshell. Teachers became demoralised and began to question their ability. The press camped on the doorstep for two weeks and everyone felt "unjustifiably humiliated". St Luke's had been labelled as the worst primary in Greater Manchester and it was a hard reputation to beat down.

"It's been a very difficult year for the teaching staff and they have all struggled hard just to maintain a normal school day," says headteacher Stephen Plant.

St Luke's is a small haven surrounded by a vast, labyrinthine housing estates in Longsight, two miles out of the city. Almost all the 215 children live on these estates and 85 per cent receive free school meals. Just over a third do not speak English as their first language, 35 pupils have special needs and the turnover rate is up to 25 per cent.

"This backcloth makes crude statistics about pass rates a rather spurious exercise," says deputy head Anna Morgan.

Yet within a year, Year 6 performed a dramatic turnaround. Teachers tightened up the timetable and devoted an hour a day to maths or English. Teaching and support was more evenly distributed according to ability. Parents were asked to supervise homework and get involved with projects and are kept far more informed about their children's progress.

"We worked hard anyway," says Ms Morgan. "But the experience forced us to really see whether there were changes we could make."

What angers Mr Plant most is how the statistics hide real progress. "One of the pupils in 1996 was a Somali refugee who had spoken no English when he came to us four years previously. He reached level 3 at the age of 11. That was a success story.

"It is very possible for one child to make almost double the progress of another but while one achieves the recognition of level 4, the one making most progress is completely overlooked."

Julie Read

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