Suffolk students perform better in 2015 GCSE exams than first thought

Official GCSE results data was published today

Official GCSE results data was published today - Credit: Su Anderson

More teenagers in Suffolk achieved the Government’s target for GCSE results last year than previously thought, official figures show.

Official GCSE results data was published today

Official GCSE results data was published today - Credit: Su Anderson

More than half (54.5%) of pupils in Suffolk scored at least five A*-C grades including English and maths in their GCSEs last summer, verified Department for Education (DfE)data revealed today.

Provisional results last year put the figure at 53.4%.

It means that 4,032 children out of 7,399 in Suffolk achieved the government’s minimum GCSE threshold in 2015.

The data also confirmed Suffolk is continuing to move up the league table. It has risen 30 places in the last two years after Suffolk County Council (SCC) launched its signature Raising the Bar initiative at the start of 2012/13.

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Suffolk was ranked 107th out of 151 local authorities in 2015, up from 137th in 2013.

In 2014, the county had moved up to 124th amid toughened-up performance measures and major GCSE reforms.

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Last night, Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills at SCC, said: “It is very pleasing to see continuing improvement in Suffolk’s exam results.

“Congratulations to all our young people and members of staff whose hard work has been rewarded with these results.

“The results round off a year where we have seen improvements across all age groups, this is clear evidence that our Raising the Bar strategy is having a really positive effect.”

But Suffolk Labour leader Sandy Martin warned: “Suffolk’s position in the league table is better than what it was but we are still not where we need to be.

“We know we have got excellent schools in the county – some of the best in the country – but we have also got some absolutely appalling failing schools which are just not up to the job.

“The education system is far too bitty and it is very difficult for anybody to concentrate their efforts and resources where they need to be concentrated.

“In Suffolk, I think the county council’s Raising the Bar and other initiatives need to be carried out across the whole county. I think they are not focused enough on the least well performing schools, especially in Lowestoft and Ipswich.”

The figures also confirmed that Suffolk has moved above a key England average for the first time since 2007. The county’s headline figure of 54.5% was above the England average for all schools of 53.8%. At one point, in 2012, Suffolk was 8.9 percentage points behind this England average.

The England average for state-funded schools, however, for 2015 was 57.3%, meaning, according to the DfE, Suffolk’s state-funded average of 54.5% is 2.8 percentage points behind.

Meanwhile, 71.6% of GCSE students in Suffolk made the expected level of progress between Key Stage Two and Key Stage Four in English in 2014/15, up from 69.9% in 2013/14. For maths, it rose from 62.2% to 66.9% last year.

The best-performing state school for GCSE results in 2015 was Hartismere School after 76% of 140 students achieved at least five A*-C grades including English and maths.

Suffolk was also ranked in 21st position out of 151 local authorities for A-level results in 2015, the government figures showed. The average point score per student for Suffolk’s A-level cohort was 799.8 compared to 778.3 nationally.

Meanwhile, Saxmundham Free School in Suffolk was named as one of three free schools – a key part of Conservative education reforms – in England falling below the Department for Education’s (DfE) floor targets in a Press Association analysis using the DfE’s methodology for calculating under-performing schools.

The DfE does not publish a list of schools falling below its floor targets.

But the DfE data shows that only 29% of students at Saxmundham Free School achieved five or more A*-C GCSE grades including English and maths in 2015.

A school is below the five-plus A*-C and expected progress floor standard if less than 40% of pupils achieve five-plus A*-C including English and mathematics and the expected progress between Key Stage Two and Key Stage Four is less than the median of 73% in English and less than the median of 68% in maths.

In response to the analysis, Dr Robert Cawley, principal and chief executive of the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust, said:

“Despite the headline figure there were some very positive outcomes for Saxmundham Free School in the 2015 GCSEs, with a small group of 49 students achieving strong results in subjects like chemistry and biology and with some excellent individual achievements.

“Around 50% of the students were below where they should have been in terms of their literacy and numeracy levels when they joined the school in 2012 and they did amazingly well. We are very proud of all they have achieved.”

A school spokesman added: “Using the nationally recognised Progress 8 performance measure, which in 2016 will replace the current league tables for all secondary schools, students at Saxmundham Free School achieved progress in-line with the national average in every subject.

“Progress 8 measures individual student progress from the end of primary school to the end of secondary school, across 8 subjects.”

England’s state secondary schools are being rated for the last time on the proportion of pupils achieving five good GCSEs.

In future, a school’s performance will be judged on a new measure, known as “Progress 8”.

The new benchmark is based on the progress pupils make from the end of primary school up to their results across eight GCSE subjects: English and maths; three choices from the range of traditional English Baccalaureate subjects (sciences, computer science, geography, history and foreign languages); and three subjects which can either be from the EBacc set or any other approved arts, academic or vocational qualification.

Under the current system, schools are judged on the proportion of students who gain 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 concerns have been raised that the system encouraged schools to focus heavily on pupils on the C/D grade borderline.

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

Schools will be given an overall score based on how well pupils progress compared to the national average. A new Government floor target is being introduced to establish which schools are considered under-performing.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Overall, Progress 8 is a fairer way of judging schools. Measuring schools on GCSE attainment does not take into account the fact that children are at different points when they start their secondary education.

“Schools may be doing a fantastic job in helping struggling pupils make great progress, but judging them on GCSE results does not reflect this because it is based on the grades achieved rather than the progress made.”

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