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U-turn on league tables welcomed

To heads' relief, they will no longer suffer for excluding pupils, reports

Julie Henry SCHOOLS that have excluded pupils are no longer to be penalised in the GCSE league tables, as the Government is to drop the policy.

Currently teenagers permanently removed from school continue to count on the pupil roll for two years, depressing the school's average pass rate.

This year, schools that agreed to take any of the 1,500 students who have been excluded in the run-up to their GCSEs have had their results boosted. Any passes they achieved were added to the total of their new school, raising its average pass rate.

Headteachers' associations criticised the policy as a crude attempt to punish schools for upholding discipline but the Government pressed ahead.

However, a week after the publication of the tables, Education Secretary David Blunkett has admitted that the measure "may have served its purpose" and promised a review.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, welcomed the U-turn.

He said: "League tables should never have been used to manipulate schools' power to exclude in the first place."

Meanwhile, the Government also used the performance tables to claim success in its Excellence in Cities programme to raise standards in deprived areas.

Fourteen of the targeted areas were praised for a higher-than-

average improvement in the proportion of pupils getting five GCSE passes at grade C or better - 2.3 percentage points compared to a national rise of 1.3 points. The highest rate of improvement, 4.4 points, was in Hackney, labelled the worst authority in the country.

But a TES analysis of all the 25 Excellence in Cities shows the rate of improvement in eight as actually below average. In two of the areas, the proportion of pupils getting five good grades dropped.

The analysis has also revealed that, of the 73 secondaries in special measures, nearly a quarter have seen their GCSE performance decline over the past four years. Nearly half saw a smaller proportion of pupils with five good GCSEs than in 1997.

One casualty of the tables has been Hull's education director, Joan Taylor. She faced calls for her resignation under pressure from opposition councillors and the local media following the city's bottom ranking in the GCSE performance tables for the fourth year running.

This was despite an Office for Standards in Education inspection 18 months ago that praised progress made under Ms Taylor's leadership.

Education minister Estelle Morris said the Government had no plans to intervene in Hull immediately and would instead opt for a "mixture of pressure and support".

She said: "Hull had a reasonably good OFSTED report. It showed that literacy and numeracy strategies were working.

"Hull is not moving fast enough though, and, really, the minimum we could hope for is that they would improve at the rate of the national average, instead of falling further behind.

"Intervention is always an option if the statistics showed that nothing is moving forward and schools are not coming out of special measures."

Ms Taylor went on holiday to Cornwall the day before the results were published and could not be contacted as The TES went to press.

The table of improving authorities published last week included authorities that had been criticised by OFSTED and face some form of privatisation: Bradford, Southwark, Sandwell and Leeds.

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