Church schools outperform grammars in A-level survey

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The Independent Online

Church comprehensive schools were the major success story in yesterday's A-level results, according to a survey of leading schools by The Independent.

Church comprehensive schools were the major success story in yesterday's A-level results, according to a survey of leading schools by The Independent.

The results of two church comprehensives were so impressive their pupils scored higher marks than students at most of the country's grammar schools. Their results will fuel the debate on the future of church schools with the Government set to call for a major expansion in a White Paper on education due to be published next month.

The two schools, William Farr Church of England School in Welton, near Lincoln, and St Aidan's and Sir John Fisher in Harrogate, north Yorkshire, both achieved an average point score of 27 per candidate – the equivalent of two A-grade passes and a C-grade pass for every pupil. It was enough to put them both in the top 50 of all schools in the country, including selective schools, and above more than 100 grammar schools.

Paul Strong, the headteacher of the 1,260-pupil William Farr school, said last night: "Our results were significantly better than last year – in fact the best we have ever achieved."

The school has only had a sixth form for six years after battling for 22 years to be allowed to set it up. "We've certainly justified ourselves," Mr Strong added. "I would have to say this is down to high quality teaching and the sense of community we have in the school.

"For instance, parents and pupils themselves raised £90,000 to make the school accessible to students with wheelchairs. We didn't get a penny from anywhere else in authority to do this but now when we say 'welcome to William Farr' we don't have to say 'welcome, but only if you can walk'." Mr Strong said he felt the strong church ethos of the school had also helped.

St Aidan's and St John Fisher is a unique arrangement whereby a Church of England school (St Aidan's) and a Roman Catholic school (St John Fisher) have combined to set up a joint sixth form for the two schools. It now has around 680 pupils. Adrian Garne, its director, said last night: "This was an extremely talented year and we also have a very committed and skilled teaching staff. We get the students to work out what optimistically and averagely could be expected of them and then set them targets for achievement."

The school with the best results in the country was King Edward VI grammar school in Chelmsford, Essex, with a point score of 35.1 per pupil, the equivalent of three grade As and a D-grade for every pupil. Schools from the city took the top two places with Chelmsford County High School for Girls narrowly pushed into second place with a point score of 35.

A top 100 of all the state schools contacted by The Independent yesterday showed that 83 of them were selective grammar schools and 17 non-selective comprehensives. However, some schools were unable to complete their results as they were still awaiting figures from the exam boards.

Next month's White Paper is expected to announce plans for church schools to be allowed to take over the running of failing state schools. The Church of England also plans to set up another 100 secondary schools in the next 10 years.

* The rush for university places got off to its busiest start ever yesterday, according to the University and Colleges Admissions Service.

By mid-afternoon, UCAS had confirmed 221,109 university places – 30,000 more than at the same point last year. The number of people still awaiting decisions from higher education institutions stood at 121,529 – much lower than last year.

A UCAS website set up to handle enquiries from would-be university students received 220,000 searches yesterday – compared to 160,000 last year.