School League Tables 1998: An `ordinary comp' with an extraordinary rate of success

Thomas Telford School encourages pupils to aim high. Ben Russell looks at England's top GCSE performer
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Headteacher Kevin Satchwell handed out 3,000 commendations to his pupils last year. Yesterday, he had a prize of his own, as Thomas Telford School in Shropshire emerged as the top performing comprehensive at GCSE.

Children at the eight-year-old city technology college scored an average of 70.2 points at GCSE - the equivalent of 10 A grades and better than Eton. Ninety-five per cent got five or more GCSEs at grade C or better.

The school (motto: Quality Through Co-operation) was the eighth technology college to open under the Conservatives, set up with finance from road building giant Tarmac and the Mercers' Company in the City of London. It now caters for 1,140 children on a purpose-built site.

Most of the children take 12 GCSEs, with many taking their exams one or even two years early. The school has a 13-year-old with an A* in maths and an 11-year-old with an A* in French. Some 16-year-olds are taking A-levels

"It's just an ordinary comp," said Mr Satchwell, "We have the full range of abilities - from students with special educational needs to the high- flyers who would go to a grammar school. We only take children from the Wolverhampton and Telford catchment areas, so the children are from a very urban background."

He said the school catered for up to 150 children with special needs. One in five come from homes poor enough to qualify them for free school meals and a uniform allowance.

The school operates a 35-hour teaching week, a third more than the average 23.5 hours at most schools. Thomas Telford opens at 7.30am and closes at 6pm. Children start lessons at 8.15am.

"It's an accelerated experience," said Mr Satchwell, "They have more teaching and learn more. We don't believe in holding them back. When they're ready, we put them in for the exam.

"The point scores reward a broad curriculum. We have been offering a broad range of subjects for eight years."

Parents get a report every three-and-a-half weeks - 10 a year. With every report they are asked what they think about their child's homework, their schoolwork in general, and are invited to meet any of their teachers. "We don't have parents' evenings," said Mr Satchwell, "What's the point? Parents can come in at any time.

"The culture here is that children think it is obvious that they succeed. You get a critical mass and people think it's good to succeed. Everybody wants to be on a winning team."

Mr Satchwell, 47, moved to Thomas Telford from a school in Bilston, a tough areas of Wolverhampton. Before that he worked as a deputy head in Kirkby, in inner-city Liverpool.

He said: "The influence of business has been fundamental to this school. Working with heads of industry is like a breath of fresh air. They are so decisive and supportive.

"We are constantly recognising achievement. All youngsters go through their ups and downs; we spend a lot of time making kids feel good about themselves."

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