Secondary School League Tables: Girls' schools are a class act

All-girls and Muslim schools have been singled out for adding the most value to education

An all-girls school which serves one of the most deprived communities in England has been ranked as the best state secondary in the country for "adding value" to children's education.

Pupils at Selly Park Technology College in Birmingham achieve nearly 10 per cent better than expected in GCSE exams - given girls' attainment aged 11 when they join the school.

Although pupils' achievement when they join the school is well below average, an impressive 84 per cent go on to achieve at least five good GCSE passes - well above the national average of 57.1 per cent.

The school's achievement is all the more outstanding as many of the area's brightest youngsters are creamed off by the local grammar schools. "We have seen a real story of improvement, but our children have stayed the same," says Michelle Magrs, Selly Park's headteacher. "We take the majority of our pupils from the inner ring of Birmingham so they are all from the most deprived wards in the area.

"We are located in quite a nice leafy area about a mile from the university but very few of our children come from the local area - they tend to go to the grammar schools.

"Many of our students are below average when they join the school. It takes them a while to catch up so our national test results for 14-year-olds aren't so high but then the girls just come on in leaps and bounds by the time they take GCSEs."

Many parents choose to send their daughters to Selly Park because they want them to have a single sex education - either on religious grounds or because they believe it offers the best educational opportunities. Many of the pupils are Muslim - most (around 60 per cent) come from Pakistani backgrounds, one in 10 are Afro-Caribbean and one in 10 are white.

The school has boosted achievement by introducing extra Saturday morning classes, homework clubs and regular days when normal lessons are put on hold to allow all pupils time to catch up on coursework.

Magrs, who has been head for three years but joined the school as an RE teacher in 1986, said it was hard to tell how important a role the school's single-sex status had played in its success. But she argued that the absence of boys in lessons ensured that girls did not get pushed to one side in lessons in information communication technology, one of the school's specialist areas.

"I think the girls get more access to ICT equipment because this is an all-girls school. Many of them have ICT equipment at home but their brothers tend to get on it first and don't want to share it with them."

Private Muslim girls' schools also dominated the top of the value-added tables. Three of the top 10 schools were fee-paying Muslim schools for girls. Coventry Muslim School, in the West Midlands, Islamiyah School, in Blackburn, Lancashire and Tayyibah Girls' School, in North London were all praised for boosting their pupils' results.

There are a growing number of both independent and maintained Islamic schools in the UK. Schools were initially established by the Muslim community in Britain with the first school, the London School of Islamics, founded in 1981. Now there are 140 but only five are state-funded. One of these, Feversham College in Bradford, was singled out as the second-best state secondary school in the country for adding "value" to children's education.

This summer the girls-only school saw its 16-year-olds gain the equivalent of six A* grade passes each at GCSE.

Tracy McNally, the headteacher, is delighted at the school's success. "Our added-value is high because we have a rigorous focus on teaching and learning and we monitor student progress very closely," she says. "Everyone associated with the College has high expectations for exceptional achievement, including the girls themselves. This has reaped rewards."

The school has an unusual history and has been a state school for just five years. Yet it has seen a dramatic upturn in its academic results since it joined the state sector. In 2002, just 53 per cent of pupils gained five or more good GCSE passes. But by this summer this had risen to 75 per cent.

Feversham opened as a tiny private school in 1984, after Muslims complained of a lack of girls-only education in Bradford. At first it charged families up to £700 a year and relied heavily on private donations. By the early Nineties, its governors decided it should become state-funded, to provide free single-sex education for Muslim girls. The government rejected the idea in 1995 but another application, five years later, succeeded.

Feversham is now jointly run by the local authority and the Muslim Association of Bradford.

Tahir Alam, education spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomes the continuing success of Muslim schools, arguing that Muslim children do better in their own faith schools than in the mainstream state sector.

"Muslim schools have their own distinct ethos," he says. "They use the children's faith and heritage as primary motivators to provide the backdrop for their education and behaviour. This ethos is really consistent with the messages that children are getting at home so it is really a very coherent operation between the home and the school."

He believes that the growing push for private Muslim schools to join the state sector will have a big impact on raising standards for poorer students.

"It will help raise achievement for many sectors of the Muslim community. Many private Muslim schools are under-resourced and if they can be brought into the state sector this valuable experience can be extended to more children."

But although girls' schools topped the value-added tables, when it comes to raw exam results mixed schools were more likely to be the best this year. Nine out of the top 10 comprehensives for GCSE results were mixed, the other was a boys' school: The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial RC School, in West London.

The highest scoring school was Thomas Telford School, in Telford. All pupils at the City Technology College achieved at least five good GCSE passes, for the sixth year running. Thomas Telford was one of just three comprehensives which achieved this standard compared to 98 private schools and 43 state grammars.

Thomas Telford won the top ranking with an average point score per pupil of 771.7 - equivalent to an astonishing 13 A* grades per student.

Sir Kevin Satchwell, Thomas Telford's headteacher, rejects criticism that his results are artificially boosted by his policy of getting all pupils to take vocational courses worth four GCSEs and argues that the school's exceptional maths and English results prove that the school excels at the basics. "I have a terrific team of staff and hardworking students together with exceptional support from parents and Governors," he says. "This amounts to a powerful combination which has a potent effect upon standards. I am particularly delighted that 98 per cent of the students achieved A* to C pass rates in GCSE English and mathematics."

The school also broke new ground this summer by being ranked the best comprehensive for A-level results with an average point score of 405.1, or more than three A grades per student.

City Technology Colleges, dominated the top of the GCSE tables. CTCs are a forerunner of Labour's academies - independent state-funded schools created by the Conservatives sponsored by businesses and enjoying more freedoms than other state schools. Three of the top five schools were CTCs this year.

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