GCSE results: The academy that still acts like a comprehensive bucks the downward trend
From bottom of the pile to massively oversubscribed in just six years
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Thursday 22 August 2013
It may be one of the Government's flagship academies - but Perry Beeches school in Birmingham still goes about its business in the manner of a traditional comprehensive school.
The pupils are recruited from the disadvantaged area it serves on the basis that those who live nearest the school get top priority for places - and nearly half the intake (45 per cent) are on free school meals, three times the national average.
Today, though, the school bucked the trend of a downward spiral in the GCSE pass rates to deliver record results for the seventh year in succession.
All its 180 GCSE pupils obtained at least five A* to C grade passes and 80 per cent of them included English and maths in that tally. In addition, nearly a third of the pupils achieved five A* or A grade passes.
"The school was at the very bottom of the pile six years ago and no-one wanted to come here," said headteacher Liam Nolan. It had been failed by education standards watchdog Ofsted and just one in five pupils were reaching the five A* to C grade target with maths and English. "Now over 990 year six primary children applied for one of the 180 places available."
The dramatic improvement in standards was achieved with largely the same management team that had been in place beforehand. "I've never been in favour of walk in and wipe out," said Mr Nolan.
"It has been all about refocusing our school on academic standards - focussed on getting the best exam results we can so they (the pupils) are in the best place possible to succeed.
"There is a real drive because of the economic downturn for young people to be clicked into the idea of making the best out of things."
At a time when putting pupils in early for GCSE exams is being criticised nationally, the school has been praised by education standards watchdog Ofsted for doing precisely that.
Liam Nolan, head teacher at Perry Beeches School in Birmingham (Andrew Fox)
"This is not about putting them in early in the hope they can scrape a C grade and then dropping the subject - schools should be stopped from doing that," said Mr Nolan. "We are looking for our brightest young people to get an A* or A grade and - if they don't - we put them in again."
The school is marking is successful by opening two new free schools modelled along the lines of Perry Beeches - and already has one satellite school in operation. All are serving disadvantaged areas of Birmingham.
Mr Nolan is leaving to become executive head of all four.
Louise Francis celebrates her five A* and 4 A grade GCSEs at Perry Beeches School in Birmingham (Andrew Fox)
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