GREENHEAD Grammar School in Keighley is not what it sounds. A 13-18 comprehensive, it takes in children from some of the town's poorest estates, and 65 per cent from Bangladeshi and Pakistani families. For many, English is their second language, and on arrival three-quarters of pupils have a reading age three to five years below their real age. GCSE performance - 15 per cent of pupils receiving five A-Cs - is less than half the national average.
Headteacher Miles Mizon is realistic about the scale of problems his staff have to deal with, but not complacent. Raising standards is top of the school's agenda and four years ago Mr Mizon introduced regular testing as a means of realistically assessing pupils abilities, projecting future performance and raising expectations.
Using Durham University's Year 11 Information Systems (Yellis) and Advanced Level Information systems (Alis), pupils are tested in English, maths and science on entering the school, at the beginning of year ten and on entering the sixth form. A projected GCSE or A-level target is set for each pupil in each subject and the school's performance compared with like schools nationally.
The tests include attitudinal surveys, questioning children about what they think of the school; how often they use the library; how many books they have in their own home; which lessons they like best, etc.
Greenhead also uses its own non-verbal reasoning tests in the belief that low levels of literacy might mask a child's true ability. Mr Mizon said: "From all of this we establish a target grade and monitor progress in relation to that grade. If a child is faring better or worse we target them for additional work, praise or harsh words. Overall it is helping us as classroom teachers to be clearly focused in the levels of attainment we can expect to get from students, and it means we can also give better information to parents.
The comparison with similar schools has proved invaluable in setting whole-school targets. Mr Mizon now expects 20 per cent of his pupils to achieve five GCSE A-Cs within the next two years.
He said: "I can be confident that our goals are realistic. It's no good me saying that next year we must get 50 per cent of our pupils through on five A-Cs, but I can say that on the basis of the data we now have we can improve our performance and that we can expect to do it by dint of hard work, skill and enthusiasm."
Three years ago Bradford local education authority decided that target setting would be a means of improving its 25 per cent A-Cs performance at GCSE, alarmingly low compared to a 43 per cent national average. It introduced the Bradford Indicators Project, an ambitious system of annual testing and target setting from reception class onwards, as a pilot scheme. Greenhead volunteered to join in.
Mr Mizon said: "We joined with a cluster of first and middle schools from our area and use it as a means of targeting levels of literacy which are very poor. This way we have been able to build up a profile of pupils as they go through the school."
The cluster schools have used information from the Bradford Project to establish the "Better Reading Partnership", which involves intensive work on developing literacy skills. "We're not just talking here about the problems of English as a second language, but of working-class white children with serious language deprivation," said Mr Mizon.
He believed target setting was an invaluable way of scrutinising classroom teaching, but that this had to be done sensitively. He stated: "There has been some supportive intervention, but we have not used it as a sledgehammer to solve teaching issues."
From September Bradford is offering its Indicators Project to all schools and many wish to be involved. Clive Halliwell, the authority's acting principal inspector, said that most schools would find the high-quality information about pupils' progression that the project provided exceptionally useful. He said: "Teachers work better if they know where they are going and what's expected of them. That's well-researched and well-known"n
THE MAIN POINTS OF THE WHITE PAPER
1. Base-line testing for children when they begin school
2. An hour a day on literacy and numeracy for primary school children
3. Improvement targets to be set for all schools: failing schools to be closed and reopened under new management
4. A General Teaching Council to raise the professional status of teachers
5. Fast-track dismissal for underperforming teachers
6. Home-school contracts to involve families closely in children's education