Comprehensives celebrate their best year as gap narrows with grammar schools

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Comprehensive schools were celebrating their best-ever GCSE results yesterday by narrowing the performance gap between them and selective grammar schools.

Comprehensive schools were celebrating their best-ever GCSE results yesterday by narrowing the performance gap between them and selective grammar schools.

Two achieved the top rating for exam league tables with 100 per cent of their pupils getting at least five top grade A* to C grade passes. In addition, more than 30 saw 90 per cent of their pupils achieve this landmark figure for the first time. All beat several grammar schools.

The two with the 100 per cent record - Thomas Telford and Brooke Weston in Corby, Northamptonshire - are both city technology colleges (CTCs). Thomas Telford has achieved the target several years running but was for the first time joined by another CTC.

Peter Simpson, principal of Brooke Weston, described his school's result as "a hugely significant achievement". he said: "That all our students can achieve so highly shows conclusively that our young people, whatever their background and circumstances, are capable of raising their game to be the best in the country."

The CTCs were set up under the previous Conservative government. They have a strict admissions policy, which means they must recruit an equal proportion of students from each of six different ability ranges.

Thomas Telford was celebrating a point score of 95.7 per student - the equivalent of nearly 12 A* grade passes - beating all the grammar schools. It encourages all pupils to go in for at least one intermediate vocational qualification - worth four GCSE passes.

Sir Kevin Satchwell, the headteacher, said: "I believe this rich mix of courses acts as a spur to motivate students of all abilities. It provides a broader base for the academically more able and gives the less able the confidence to approach the more challenging subjects with enthusiasm and success."

Figures showed all its pupils got a top-grade pass in science, 97 per cent in maths and 93 per cent in English.

The onward march of the comprehensive brought some spectacular results in inner-city schools. The 1,500-pupil International School in Birmingham - made up from a merger of two failing comprehensives - more than tripled the percentage of pupils obtaining five top-grade passes - 9per cent to 32 per cent.

The school is part of a federation of three under the executive headship of Sir Dexter Hutt. He is credited with turning round the other two, Ninestiles and Waverley - the fastest improving secondary in the city last year.

St George's school, Westminster, whose head Philip Lawrence was murdered nine years ago, doubled its figure from 15 per cent to 30 per cent.

RACHEL HARRIS, 16, OVERCAME CANCER

A schoolgirl who overcame cancer was celebrating yesterday after achieving five A* and four A grades in her GCSE exams.

Rachel Harris, 16, of Sale, Manchester, endured months of debilitating treatment after she was diagnosed with a stomach tumour in 2000. But despite missing weeks of lessons, Rachel persevered at Withington Girls' School, Manchester and achieved outstanding results. She plans to study medicine.

Rachel was 12 when she was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors removed the growth and she was put on a course of chemotherapy to prevent it returning. She said: "It was terrifying. It was difficult to keep up with the schoolwork, but my friends and teachers were really supportive.

"It went on for months, but now I have been given the all clear. It's not going to come back."

JULIAN LOPEZ-PORTILLO GAINED 19 A GRADES

A pupil from an independent boys' school achieved possibly the best results in the country yesterday after getting 19 top grades.

Julian Lopez-Portillo, who attends the £8,646-a-year Magdalen College School in Oxford, achieved 10 A* GCSEs as well as nine grade As in modules towards AS-levels in Spanish, French, Greek and Latin.

The 16-year-old plans to take eight A-levels: French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, maths, further maths, philosophy and physics. He comes from an illustrious family - his grandfather, Jose Lopez-Portillo, was president of Mexico between 1976 and 1982.

He eventually hopes to follow his two elder brothers to New College, Oxford, to study either classics, maths or philosophy. But he played down his achievement, saying he was surprised by his success and that he did not think GCSE exams were necessarily the best way of gauging academic achievement.

He said: "Getting good marks isn't necessarily a portrayal of your abilities in that subject. A more discursive type exam ... can pick up how good you are on certain things and get a better general view on what you're actually like."

ZIANA METHA TOOK A GCSE AT AGE SEVEN

Ziana Metha, an eight-year-old girl from north London, yesterday became one of the youngest people to gain a GCSE after achieving a C grade in the exam.

Ziana, from Palmers Green, passed the information and communication technology qualification at half the age most people take the exam.

She actually sat the exam at the age of seven and turned eight in June. She said: "My cousin inspired me to do the exam. I like playing with computers."

A computer card games enthusiast who also enjoys software programming, she had watched her first cousin, Rahin Hirja, pass the ICT exam when he was nine. Both studied at Ryde College, a private tutorial centre near Watford, Hertfordshire. Ziana, who also likes swimming, tennis, Indian dancing and playing the piano, said the course was "really fun, it was always good".

Her mother, Shyrose, practice director for a firm of opticians, said the family was left "speechless" by Ziana's achievement. "It was totally unexpected.

"But the most important thing was for her to enjoy her studies," Mrs Metha said.

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