'Tradition is what we do best'

David Ferriby, acting head of Nelson Thomlinson comprehensive in Wigton, Cumbria, says the school has thrived by sticking to what it does best.

That means providing GCSEs, in vocational as well as academic subjects, rather than GNVQs, which he said many employers did not regard as worthwhile qualifications.

Nelson Thomlinson's headline GCSE results - the proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-Cs - have risen only slightly in recent years, from 66 per cent in 2001 to 70 per cent last summer.

It runs a traditional academic curriculum, with more than half of the school's 201 pupils taking both double award science GCSE and French.

Nearly half took geography, and one in three was entered for history.

The school also had pupils taking GCSEs in a variety of less established subjects, from business studies to electronics.

Mr Ferriby said it was sometimes frustrating for the school to be compared to secondaries which offer many GNVQs for league-table purposes. But the key issue was to offer qualifications which were valued. He said that although some GNVQs were very good, sometimes they were confusing to employers.

Mr Ferriby said: "We are a traditional school, doing traditional things.

That's what the parents want, and that's what we are good at."

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