Pupils struggle to master basic maths and English

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The Independent Online

Half a million pupils are taught in secondary schools where an astonishing three out of four pupils struggle to master the basics, new-style exam league tables reveal today.

Figures show that 500 of the country's 2,900 state secondary schools fail to get more than 25 per cent of their pupils to achieve five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English. In the worst performing school - Temple in Strood, Kent - only 2 per cent of pupils reach the benchmark.

This year's league tables expose how improvements in exam results heralded by Labour have masked a relative lack of progress in literacy and numeracy. They include for the first time a new table forcing every school to reveal how many of their pupils have achieved five top-grade GCSE passes including maths and English.

The results show that under the old measure, which included any subjects, 58.5 per cent of youngsters achieved the five top grade benchmark. But, when maths and English are included, the figure drops to 45.3 per cent.

David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said the figure was unacceptable.

"Instead of leaving school ready for the world of work, too many teenagers simply do not have the necessary skills to enter the workforce," he said. "Talking to businesses across the country it is clear that they have to spend valuable time providing basic training in English and maths to new employees. I hope that the publication of these results forces the Government to reassess how English and maths are taught."

David Willetts, the Conservative education spokesman, said there was "an alarming gap" between the old measure and the new, more rigorous table.

The new measure was introduced after it emerged that nine out of 10 of the most improved schools two years ago achieved their high ranking by entering a high proportion of pupils for vocational qualifications, which are deemed to be worth the equivalent of four GCSE passes and can boost a school's ranking in league tables.

The figures show that there has been an improvement in the percentage of teenagers achieving five top-grade passes including maths and English of 1 per cent, significantly less than than the 2.2 per cent improvement when any subject is included.

Jim Knight, the Schools minister, said: "We are not complacent and recognise there is still a long way to go until every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential. There should be no hiding place for underperforming and coasting schools that fail to make a significant positive impact on their pupils' performance."

This year's tables also show that 47 schools have failed to reach the Government's target of getting 25 per cent of pupils to obtain five A* to C grade passes in any subject. However, this figure compares to 616 when Labour came to power in 1997.

Mr Knight said he would be urging local authorities to intervene in schools to improve performance - adding they could well become candidates for the Government's academies programme (where struggling secondary schools are replaced by state institutions sponsored and run by private firms).

However, Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Youngsters are not automatic failures if they do not achieve grade Cs. They may have achieved wonders to get a grade D yet that achievement is written off.

"I call on the Government, yet again, to ensure that the whole damaging system of performance league tables and targets is reviewed."

This year's tables also include a new measure aimed at showing which schools have done the most to improve their pupils' performance. It shows that the much-criticised comprehensive schools do a significantly better job than selective grammar schools.

Non-selective schools occupy all the top 200 places in this table - which looks at what children are expected to achieve when they enter a secondary school at 11 and compares it with their actual performance at GCSE. Top of the table is one of Tony Blair's flagship academies, the St Francis of Assisi Academy in Liverpool. It achieves a ranking of 1078.7, which means each of its pupils has, on average, achieved 13 GCSE grades higher than expected in their best eight subjects.

Of the country's 164 remaining grammar schools, pupils in 63 of them have done worse than expected - with those in the bottom school, St Ambrose College in Cheshire, achieving three-and-a-half grades lower than expected in their best eight subjects.

The tables also show - for the first time in years - that the gap in performance between girls and boys is narrowing. This year 63.4 per cent of girls achieved five top-grade passes compared with 53.8 per cent of boys - a gap of 9.6 percentage points compared with 10 percentage points last year.

Mr Knight said it was "too early" to say whether this was a significant trend and next year's results would be monitored with interest.

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