State school outshines private rivals

Parents line up to enrol children in sixth form at specialist maths college
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The Independent Online

If he looked at its pupil intake, Alastair Campbell would quite likely decide that Kingsbury High School was one of those infamous "bog standard" comprehensives he talked about.

Results from the national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds would suggest that the 1,950-pupil school in Brent, north-west London, should be performing below the national average.

Yet parents who have been sending their children to private schools are queuing up to get their children into sixth form at the school. Last year there were 150 applications for just a handful of places.

The school is a specialist maths college and has a reputation for doing better than many independent schools in the subject at A-level. In the GCSEs last year, 84 per cent of its pupils got A- or B-grade passes, making it the top state school for miles around.

Unlike many state schools, maths is one of its most popular subjects in sixth form – 107 of its 300 A-level pupils are studying the subject.

If past years are anything to go by, up to 30 per cent of them will end up at one of the elite Russell group of universities, studying maths or a related subject, bucking a trend which indicates a bias against comprehensive school students at top universities. Three will end up at Oxford or Cambridge.

It is a shining example of where there is a will there is a way and confounds critics who say the doors of elite higher education institutions are closed to the likes of folk from ordinary homes.

One reason for its success is that it insists on stretching its pupils. Chris Dias, the head of maths at the school and a former pupil, said: "Most schools talk of the top 5 to 10 per cent when it comes to identifying gifted and talented pupils. We talk of the top 30 per cent."

It is the only school (state or private) in the country to start its pupils on complex A-level concepts from age 12. They also sit their maths AS-level a year early. Government advisers have suggested teachers use everyday activities such as shopping in maths lessons to increase the take-up of the subject, but Mr Dias said he wasn't looking to make maths easier or more relevant. "I'm very happy for it to be all about academic rigour and abstract concepts rather than say 'how does it relate to the real world?'"

Andrew Adonis, the former schools minister, has used the school as an example of how others should approach teaching maths. "If they can do it, why can't anybody else?" he said.

The school's maths performance ranks 40 points higher than average at GCSE level, but it is also achieving results in other subjects. English is 21 points ahead of the norm, based on the Government's assessment of whether schools are adding value to their pupils' education. The school's headteacher, Clem Chung, said the school's ethos was one of "encouraging individuals to achieve their full potential. It is not just about academic achievement."

Mike Senior, the head of sixth form studies, said that in the past few years, the number of sixth form applications received from parents of independent school pupils had doubled. "The fact that our results are as good as in the independent sector and in some cases, such as in the maths department, better, makes them think why should we pay when we can get education for free?"

Set for the top Kingsbury's maths maestros

The planned university destinations in Kingsbury's top maths set underlines the school's philosophy of aiming high.

*David Nuttall: Oxford, Imperial College, University College London, Bristol and Leicester.

*Aranya Rauff-Nisthar: Cambridge, University College London, Warwick, Southampton and Royal Holloway.

*Rafuku Kobuyashu: Cambridge, University College London, Imperial, London School of Economics and Royal Holloway.

*Jitesh Mistry: University College London, Bristol, Kings College, Southampton and Leicester.

*Zena Dhanak: Oxford, Imperial College, Bristol, Durham and University College London.

*Joshua Perrott: Warwick and University College London.

Richard Garner Wins major award

*Richard Garner has won the Ted Wragg Award for Sustained Contribution to Education Journalism. The panel of education experts who judged the Education Journalist of the Year awards commended the accuracy of his reports and incisive knowledge of the education system.