Grammar schools pipped on top grades

A-level results: A neighbourhood comprehensive beats pride of Britain's selective schools to achieve highest average scores
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A neighbourhood comprehensive school in York has beaten 150 of Britain's top grammar schools in a survey of this year's best A-level results.

Pupils at Fulford School achieved grades equivalent to an average of two As and a C in this year's exams. Only 10 state schools, all of them selective, did better.

The Independent contacted 200 top state comprehensive schools yesterday for their results. Many of their students had done as well or better than those in schools whose pupils had to pass an 11-plus exam to get in.

Keith Hayton, head teacher of Fulford School, said it was an ordinary local school, although it had become very popular and it now recruited from more than 20 primary schools.

Its policy of taking the entire lower sixth on an outdoor pursuits course in the Yorkshire Dales in January had probably helped to boost their scores, he said. This year's upper sixth was exceptionally small for the school, with only 27 students compared with twice as many last year. That had meant that class sizes shrank to between six and eight. "There has been no escape for them," Mr Hayton said.

"We are very pleased. Last year was our best year and we have actually done better this year. We have a very committed staff and the youngsters have worked very hard. In the final analysis, it's down to that."

Other comprehensive schools which did exceptionally well included the Liverpool Blue Coat School, where the children of two Labour MPs are pupils. The school opted recently to become grant maintained and to begin selecting its pupils by examination from September 1997. The head teacher, John Speller, agreed that the school tended to attract pupils from the top of the ability range.

"The secret of our success is that, by and large, we have well-motivated students. We are very fortunate because we have a very stable and well- motivated staff," he said.

Not all the top comprehensives were in affluent areas. They appeared to be spread evenly between rural and urban districts and between the north and the south of the country.

The survey does not cover all the country's 4,000 comprehensives, and a number of those which achieved the highest A-level grades may not be included. It is based on the average points score per candidate, with an A counting for 10 points and an E for two.

A number of schools decided not to take part because they disapproved of league tables which did not take social factors into account.

Pat Dwyer, deputy head of Durham Johnston School, said all schools in the city of Durham had decided not to participate in newspaper A-level surveys this year.

She said: "There is a feeling of distaste for raw league tables. They don't take into account where children are starting from and the circumstances schools are working in. Schools may be doing a very good jobs with the kids they have but they are not going to be up there at the top of a table."

Additional reporting by Sarah Deech, Alexandra Cockburn, Tamsin Irwin, Emily McGarrr and John Elliott.