Failing education system is wasting talent of disadvantaged students, says minister


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The Independent Online

The latest secondary school league tables have, for the first time, revealed the stark gap in performance between disadvantaged pupils and those from better-off families.

The Government data, published yesterday, also show that more than half of pupils in nearly 900 state schools - a third of the total - failed to get A* to C passes in maths and English GCSE. At the worst-performing school – St Aldheim's in Poole, Dorset – only one in 30 pupils (3 per cent) reached that benchmark in those subjects last summer.

St Aldheim's, which was recently converted into an academy school, described its position as "disappointing" but said it would take more than a year to turn it around.

Only 33.9 per cent of disadvantaged pupils achieve the benchmark of five GCSE passes at A* to C grades, compared with a national average of 58.2 per cent. The Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, pictured, said the figures revealed "a shocking waste of talent in many schools across the country". He added: "All too often, pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are not given the same opportunities as their peers."

The tables have been expanded to show how well disadvantaged pupils in each school perform. They also reveal how many are entered for the new English Baccalaureate – which can be obtained by pupils who get five A* to C grades in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject – history or geography. The figures show a slight rise in the take-up of Baccalaureate subjects – 23.7 per cent of pupils compared with 22 per cent last year – and in those achieving it – up from 15.6 per cent to 17.6 per cent. However, at 235 schools, not a single pupil qualified.

By contrast, 97 per cent of pupils at the top-performing state school – St Michael's Catholic Grammar School in Finchley, north London – achieved it.

The tables also track how well pupils who were outstanding at primary school went on to perform at GCSE level. In all, 8,600 pupils (4.9 per cent) who excelled in tests for 11-year-olds in maths and English failed to gain five top grade GCSE passes, including maths and English.

The tables still give the traditional GCSE passes and A-level point scores for every school in England. This year, 107 secondary schools failed to reach the Government's "floor" target that 35 per cent of all pupils should get five A* to C passes including maths and English. In all, 132 schools rose above the "floor" but 48 fell beneath it.

However, the new-style tables also reveal that some schools can rise above disadvantaged circumstances. In 21 schools where more than 10 pupils were either entitled to free meals or in local authority care, more than 80 per cent reached the benchmark.