Suffolk schools get region's top marks

SECONDARY schools across Suffolk have recorded East Anglia's top marks in the latest performance league tables, released todayby the Government.But the tables – which rank schools on their pupils' GCSE performances – have been criticised by many of the county's headteachers.

By Jonathan Barnes

SECONDARY schools across Suffolk have recorded East Anglia's top marks in the latest performance league tables, released todayby the Government.

But the tables – which rank schools on their pupils' GCSE performances – have been criticised by many of the county's headteachers.

They claim the ratings do not reflect all the qualities of individual schools and are unfair to those that serve "challenging" catchment areas. Some insisted the league tables should come with a "Government health warning".

In Suffolk, the number of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C was 56% in last year's exams – placing the county at 27th in the national league table. The national figure was 51%.

That performance was enough to go to top of the class in East Anglia, where Cambridgeshire recorded 54.3% (37th place), Essex 53.5% (42nd) and Norfolk 50.4% (69th).

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The Suffolk figure has risen from 54.3% in 2001 and 53.3% the year before, and 96.2% of children got at least one GCSE.

Tony Lewis, a member of Suffolk County Council's executive committee, congratulated the county's students and paid tribute to teachers, parents and governors.

"It is very important that our young people leave school with qualifications that will help them make the best possible start in life. This is why we have made rising levels of achievement in schools in Suffolk one of our top priorities," he said.

The top performing school in Suffolk was the independent St Felix School in Southwold, which has since merged with St George's School.

Wendy Holland, principal of St Felix and St George's School, was pleased but not surprised by the results.

She said: "We are all delighted. It is down to small class sizes with individual student's needs being catered for. We have been running a special tutorial system so that students are constantly monitored and that is paying off.

"But the league tables are only a small guide. By looking at them a parent can get some idea of the academic standing but not the breadth and width of the curriculum that a school can offer."

Ipswich High School was in second place. Head Valerie MacCuish said: "We have a selective intake so you would expect our girls to do well. In a normal year, all our girls would get five A to C grades and normally we aim for them to get seven, eight or nine.

"But we all know league tables do not say everything. They are just one measurement. We should only be compared to schools with a similar intake and these tables can be very unfair to some schools."

Both St Felix School and Ipswich High School made the list of the top 200 English schools for GCSEs, in 91st and 159th place respectively.

Independent schools accounted for eight of the top 10 schools in the county, with Woodbridge School, Ipswich School and the Royal Hospital School, in Holbrook, completing the top five.

The top performing state school was Thomas Mills High School, in Framlingham, in seventh spot, and Debenham High School made the top 10.

Both schools, plus Holbrook High School, were rated among the top 50 non-selective state schools in the country.

East Bergholt High School, Kesgrave High School, Thurston Community College, Northgate High School and County Upper School, in Bury St Edmunds, also featured among the top state schools in Suffolk.

The tables also grade schools on their performance at Key Stage Three – children aged between 11 and 14.

East Bergholt High School and Claydon High School joined Thomas Mills High School among the top 25% of schools in the country for Key Stage Three performance.

Holywells High School, in Ipswich, was named among the bottom 200 English schools at GCSE – and also had the highest truancy rate in Suffolk. The school, in Lindbergh Road, is on special measures.

Headteacher Karen Grimes said staff were "disappointed" with last year's GCSE performances – but she praised some "outstanding" individual performances and added progress was being made at Key Stages Three and Four.

"I fully agree with those headteachers who feel league tables should come with a Government health warning," she said.

"There is so much more to consider when judging whether or not a school is effective. We are delighted with the performance of our pupils across a range of recent activities – but these vital experiences are never documented or recorded in a table.

"We will continue to work hard to improve provision for all the young people in our care. Holywells is definitely emerging from special measures and the outlook is bright."

Neil Watts, headteacher of Northgate High School in Ipswich, said: "I always say league tables should come with a Government health warning. A school is far more than just its exam results.

"We have just celebrated some of our girls representing the county at netball. Other pupils have just come back from very successful work experience placements. But these things are never reflected in tables."

Moira Humphreys, headteacher of East Bergholt High School, was delighted with the results as they showed that the school has been improving steadily for the last four years.

She said: "These results point to our continued commitment to learning, teaching and doing the best we can for all pupils in the school.

"They are also down to the effort and determination of our students and the exemplary enthusiasm of their teachers."

Despite being pleased with her school's position in the league table, Mrs Humphreys said that they did not take into account other important things that schools offer their pupils.

Meanwhile, Thurston Community College, just outside Bury St Edmunds, became the best-performing school in the west of the county by claiming 15th place in the overall tables.

"I am delighted with our results, as they are the best the college has ever had," said Chris Bowler, headteacher. "They reflect the very hard work on the part of the students, parents and staff.

"I want us to do even better next year."

However, Martin Goold, Suffolk secretary for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), last night called for the league tables to be scrapped.

"I don't think they tell you a great deal about the quality of work at any particular school. There is no point to them and I don't believe they should be published.

"The NUT would like to see these tables and the SATS (Standard Assessment Tests) abolished as they are distorting the means of teaching.

"If you make league tables dependent on a particular test, the obvious thing for schools to do is concentrate on that test. If they are doing that, it is not providing a wide educational base for citizens of the 21st Century."

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