Education on rise in Suffolk as more students hit new GCSE target and Progress 8 score outstrips England

Hartismere School In Eye have come top in the GCSE tables.

Hartismere School In Eye have come top in the GCSE tables. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Suffolk’s education sector has received a major boost after figures showed more children are hitting the govenrment’s new GCSE benchmark after outperforming their own potential.

Provisional figures released by the Department for Education (DfE) today revealed 59.7% of GCSE students gained at least a C grade in both English and maths in Suffolk this summer.

This is up from 56.8% last year and 53.6% in 2014. Suffolk is still behind the national state-school average, but this has closed from 5.5% two years ago to 3.1% this year.

Hartismere School, an academy, was top of the Suffolk table, scoring 81%.

Gordon Jones, cabinet member for education at Suffolk County Council, said schools are improving at a “steady rate”.

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He said: “It is pleasing to see that the gap has continued to close against the national average figure for attainment. We continue to focus on this work and we have seen continuous improvement in this area over the last four years since the introduction of Raising the Bar.”

Suffolk was ranked 109th out of 151 local authorities for this GCSE score. Previous positions were not available yesterday.

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The county had previously risen from 142nd in 2012, prompting heavy criticism and the Raising the Bar scheme, to 107th last year.

The DfE also published the long-awaited ‘Progress 8’ results for the first time. The new benchmark is based on the progress pupils make from the end of primary school until the end of secondary school.

Under the previous system, schools were judged on the proportion of students who gained at least five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and on the amount of progress youngsters make in these two key subjects.

But the system was criticised for encouraging schools to focus heavily on pupils on the C/D grade borderline. Suffolk’s score dropped from 54.5% in 2015 to 53.2% in 2016 in this measurement, a sharper decline than the state-funded national average (57.3% to 57%).

The Government has said the new indicator is designed to encourage schools to offer a broad and balanced GCSE curriculum and reward schools for the teaching of all pupils.

The Progress 8 score is calculated across eight GCSE subjects, with more weight given in favour of academic subjects including English and maths. It compares the achievement of all of its pupils against score of all pupils nationally with similar prior attainment.

GCSEs are now graded as 9-1, replacing A*–G. Grade 5 is considered a good pass and grade 9 is the highest, and set above the current A*.

For example, 0.5 means pupils made half a grade more progress across their subjects than expected. A score of 0 would mean pupils made expected progress. The government has set a baseline score of -0.5.

The DfE data showed Suffolk scored 0.02 for 2015/16, above the national sector average of -0.03. Suffolk was ranked 53rd out of 151 local authorities.

St Benedict’s Catholic School in Bury St Edmunds posted the best Progress 8 score (0.59). Northgate High School scored the best in Ipswich and fourth in Suffolk (0.39).

Headteacher David Hutton said Progress 8 is a “fairer” school performance measurement system.

He said: “The incentive for schools (previously) to help pupils go from a D to a C, but that could have been at the expense of other pupils who might have gone from a B to an A or a F to an E. The incentive now is to help every pupil to move forward as much as possible.

“But it would be nice if we could get some consistency. What we seem to be suffering from in education is a change every year in what measure is used – what counts, what doesn’t count, and if you want to see how things are progressing, you need something to measure that over a period of time consistently.”

Mr Jones added: “It’s extremely encouraging to see Suffolk’s GCSE results continue to progress compared with the national average. This is testament to the hard work and effort put in by students, teachers and parents.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said Suffolk has made “significant progress” but believes “we can go quicker”.

He said: “Other parts of the country are also making progress, so we are chasing a running target and we need to be doing that much better than everyone else to make our way through the table.

“But our education should be the very best in the country. For too long our children have had to put up with some of the worst education in our country. I think it is time they had the best.

“We have begun the journey towards that. There is a significant distance still to go but the progress is encouraging.”

Sonia Barker, Labour Group spokesman for education, said: “The results are good, but they are not spread evenly across the county.

“While some schools – especially those run through the local authority – have shown good progress, for others such as the government’s free schools, it has not been so positive.”

Graham White, national executive member for Suffolk NUT, added: “These are encouraging figures and show the efforts parents and pupils have put in with the assistance of their teachers.”

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