Fewer Suffolk teenagers achieve Government’s GCSE target but county moves up national league table

Speaking last October following the publication of the preliminary results, Lisa Chambers, Suffolk C

Speaking last October following the publication of the preliminary results, Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Councils cabinet member for education and skills, said the measures they have put in place were proving to have a positive effect. - Credit: Archant

Fewer teenagers in Suffolk achieved the Government’s target for GCSE results last year – but the county moved up the national league table, official figures have confirmed.

Just over half (51.7%) of pupils in Suffolk scored at least five C grades including English and maths in their GCSEs last summer, the Department for Education has revealed this morning.

In 2013, the figure stood at 54.6% in Suffolk.

However, with the national average falling from 59.2% to 53.4% in the same time amid toughened up performance measures and major GCSE reforms, Suffolk has climbed 12 places in the national league table, from 137th position out of 151 local authorities in 2013 to 125th in 2014.

It means Suffolk has further breached the gap between itself and the national average.

Ever since 2007, the county has had a lower proportion of pupils gaining at least five A*-C grades including English and maths than the national average.

The disparity stretched to 8.9 percentage points in 2012, prompting the county council to launch its signature Raising the Bar initiative to drive up classroom standards.

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The difference in 2013 fell to 4.6 percentage points and now stands at 1.7, the figures show.

The scores relate to all schools, including academies and free schools as well as local authority maintained schools.

However, since the GCSE results were published last August, Government officials have maintained it is difficult to compare the latest results with previous years following the reforms.

These include a move to cut thousands of vocational qualifications, previously judged as equivalent to GCSEs, from school performance measures. In the autumn of 2013, Michael Gove, then education secretary, also provoked anger when announcing that only a student’s first attempt at a GCSE will count in the league tables amid concerns schools were using re-sits to inflate grades.

Today’s official figures confirmed the preliminary results on which this newspaper reported last October, which showed that fewer Suffolk students achieved the Government’s GCSE target but that the county’s ranking improved amid a steeper fall nationally.

Meanwhile, Graham White, secretary of Suffolk’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch, said national GCSE league tables are “divisive” and fail to represent the scale of the challenges faced by schools in socially and economic disadvantaged areas.

Last October following the publication of the preliminary results, Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills at Suffolk County Council, said the measures they have put in place were proving to have a “positive effect”.

Speaking at the time, she said: “Some schools that have previously underperformed are forging ahead, achieving a high percentage increase this year. We are working with these schools to channel the way in which they have accomplished this and share their best practice with other schools.”

Today, she added: “I welcome the fact that figures released by the Department for Education show that Suffolk has moved up in the GCSE league tables, especially taking into account the considerable amount of changes to the way in which exams are taken and reported.

“Suffolk has closed the gap of 8.9% between the county and the national figure in the past two years to 1.7%. However we are not complacent and we know there is more hard work to do.

“I feel it’s extremely important to praise some of the exceptional work that’s being carried out in many of Suffolk’s schools. This is a real reflection of the hard work and dedication of all those individuals in Suffolk who have been relentlessly working to improve education standards in the county. We always knew this wasn’t going to be a quick overnight fix, however Raising the Bar is a long term investment from partners across the county to see educational attainment improve.”

But Sonia Barker, spokesman for education and skills at the Suffolk County Council Labour Group, accused the authority of presiding over a “steady decline” in education.

She said: “While this administration will try to paint a rosy picture of schools in Suffolk, the countywide data masks pockets of deprivation and failure. We know that disadvantaged and free school meals pupils need the most support; that is why we support the Pupil Premium, but this council must do more to help those who need it most.

“It is easy to send threatening letters from Endeavour House, it is far more difficult to get out into schools and the wider community to make long-term change.

“It is now seven years since pupils in Suffolk performed better than the national average. The Conservatives have presided over a steady decline in education in Suffolk and their wilful neglect of those that need it most tells you all you need to know about their world view.”