Schools 'ignoring needs of brightest pupils'

Too many heads are ignoring the needs of their brightest pupils, one of the country’s leading state school heads said today.

Liz Allen, headmistress of Newstead Wood Girls’ School in Bromley, one of the top performing grammar schools in England, told a conference: “I find there is a huge reluctance amongst my secondary head colleagues to focus any kind of real attention, activity or resources on the most able pupils.”

She criticised heads for spending too much time trying to convert D grades into C grades at GCSE, rather than helping the brightest pupils “walk on water” and get A* grades.

Mrs Allen, a former president of the Association of Maintained Girls’ Schools, which represents the majority of state girls’ schools, also attacked the Government’s focus on guaranteeing one-to-one coaching for all pupils struggling to keep up in class – due to form part of new legislation to be outlined in the Queen’s Speech today.

“I’m concerned about that – I’m very concerned about it,” she told the Girls’ School Association conference in Harrogate yesterday. “Let’s say I’m not very good at running the 100 metres. If the Government was to pay for me to have a personal tutor to run the 100 metres, would I clip much off my time? Would it be a wise investment? I think not.

“I can see huge value in investing one to one time in our independent and successful young learners, though.”

Mrs Allen added that there was far too much focus “on the rather crude stuff of league tables and the D/C grade borderline pupils, rather than on the bright child”. She cited a government-funded research study which showed that, as a result of neglect, bright pupils were often “easily bored, window-gazers, subservient, sometimes reluctant to commit pen to paper”.

She said her school, which was selective, did not receive any money from the Government’s standards fund to provide one-to-one tuition for her pupils. However, despite the lack of money she set aside time for all her pupils to receive individual coaching from the start of their secondary school career.

They received the equivalent half a day a week, inserted into six weeks in the middle of each term, when they were given the whole of Thursdays to work with an individual teacher.

She added that girls’ ambitions to succeed could be “crushed” in mixed schools. “In a single sex environment, they’re very concerned about their competitiveness – but they compete to do well rather than compete against each other,” she said. “In a mixed environment, they cease to be competitive. They realise everybody else feels the same. Boys are going to be more dominant.”