All Saints, a place that lives up to its name

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The Independent Online
The signs said "Silence" at All Saints School in York yesterday, as teenagers took the latest of this year's GCSE papers.

Teachers are hoping they will live up to the example of the class of '97, 60 per cent of whom passed five or more subjects with good grades, giving the Roman Catholic comprehensive its best-ever results.

But while the young people celebrate their success later this summer, their teachers' attention will be focused on the gulf between boys and girls.

In the past three years, the school has improved boys' results by 10 per cent and narrowed what was a 25 per cent gap between the results of girls and their male counterparts.

Yesterday, Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, praised All Saints for implementing a series of measures now being promoted across Britain to raise standards among boys.

Adrian Elliott, who has been Head Teacher at All Saints' since it opened in 1995, has used sophisticated testing and computer analysis to target under-achievement at the school.

His tactics are now at the heart of the drive to raise standards. He opened evening study clubs, organised staff and student mentors and rigorously checked pupils' progress.

GCSE results pointed to sharp differences between boys and girls. Internal tests for 11- and 14-year-olds confirmed the trend, and that gave teachers information to target those pupils in danger of failing to reach their potential.

Teachers concentrated on areas where the boys were weak; organisation, concentration and motivation. But Mr Elliott and his staff have refused to single out the boys, and have found girls' results rising as the boys' performance was addressed.

Mr Elliott said: "When we worked on lifting the boys' achievement, we also lifted the girls' performance. Last year we still had a gap, but the boys did better than previous groups of girls ever had.

"By and large we found that the majority of the low achievers were boys. We found girls were more concentrated in the main, and they achieved, according to their abilities. We tried to talk about the importance of education in later life and issues like organisation of homework."

The school took simple measures by putting boys and girls next to each other in class, and launching a glossy magazine highlighting achievements.

Staff also tackled behaviour. Mr Elliott suspended lessons after boys were found fighting outside school. He held a meeting for pupils to discuss what had happened.

Eighty children, including the two boys involved, turned up and the incident was not repeated.

Sixth-formers at the school meet GCSE pupils twice a month to talk over work and school problems. In the evening 20 pupils are invited to weekly "achievement clubs." They are encouraged to overcome problems by setting personal targets, and answer to their peers if they fail.

Ben Ambler, a sixth-former who acts as a mentor, said: "Sometimes the girls do take their studies more seriously than the lads, who get distracted. I've never been able to concentrate."

Celia Crumplin, a year head at the school, helped set up the club last year and is now encouraging local business people to help support pupils.

"This is about having someone there who is not judgemental and is just there for you," she said.

"The achievement club was two-thirds boys. They know the girls achieve more than boys, but we have never made a big thing about it. Our phrase is, `can you fly by yourself?'. "