Three steps to top of the ladder;School League Tables;Results analysis

26th November 1999 at 00:00
WHILE the rest of the country may be impressed with the GCSE performance of Thomas Telford School, headteacher Kevin Satchwell is phlegmatic about its number one ranking.

"We knew exactly what was going to happen," says Mr Satchwell, who has been head at the city technology college in Telford, Shropshire, since its creation nine years ago.

Not only has the school outperformed all other comprehensives, with 99 per cent of its pupils getting five A* to C grade passes this year, but its top-performing departments - technology, science and maths - go against all national trends.

Mr Satchwell says there is an air of celebration at the school. "I feel on top of the world. This is history in the making and we're doing it. You have to feel a sense of pride in that."

His certainty about the school's performance was based not only on its second place in the GCSE tables last year, but also on his three "cornerstones".

First, the children receive more hours of teaching than they would in other comprehensives - up to 35 hours a week. Each member of staff puts in 26 hours of teaching a week, but is assured of working no more than four days a week.

"The kids love it," says Mr Satchwell. "Attendances run at 96 per cent."

Second, the school uses a "rapid response" method of maintaining standards, which involves parents.

Pupils get full reports every three and a half weeks. If anything is amiss then the school and a pupil's parents work together to sort the problem out promptly.

The third cornerstone is the school's relationship with business. As a CTC, Thomas Telford School was created to specialise in certain subject areas - science, technology and maths. It has strong links with Tarmac and the Mercers Company of the City of London.

Mr Satchwell admits that he was cynical when he entered the politically-sensitive world of the CTC system but swiftly came to the conclusion that "this is the way of the future".

He says he became hooked on the lateral thinking of the business world, which gave him new freedoms.

"If the PE teacher wants to run the school team then we pay him. If not, then I'll get the best coach in the region for it so the kids don't miss out. I budget for it."

He has created a sought-after school. Thomas Telford is having to engage an agency to sort out its applications after receiving 1,200 for 160 places.

Applicants sit a nationally-set test and are placed into nine bands of ability, so that all ability groups are equally represented.

A staggering 90 per cent of pupils stay on for the sixth form, half of them sitting A-levels and the other half taking GNVQ courses.

By 2003, one in four schools is expected to be a specialist institution. To Mr Satchwell this is the key to higher standards and the ability to "nurture a whole range of talents".

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