Gulf between best and worst still growing

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The gulf between Britain's least and most successful pupils is continuing to grow, official school league tables published today reveal. While the proportion of pupils gaining five high grades at GCSE rose by 1 per cent this year, the proportion leaving school with nothing fell by just 0.2 per cent.

The Government spent pounds 1.2m on publishing its fifth annual league tables of exam performance and truancy for every school, making the exercise its biggest publishing project.

Last night a head teachers' leader claimed that the tables could actually be forcing some pupils into failure. David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the "long tail of underachievement" had remained stubbornly in place despite them.

"If league tables are having any impact at all it is more than arguable that they are damaging the interests of the least able," he said.

Nationally, 44.5 per cent of pupils now leave school with at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C while 7.9 per cent leave without even one grade G. One hundred schools, all of them fee-paying, selective or both, pushed 100 per cent of their pupils through five or more high-grade GCSEs this year. In two schools, both with high proportions of pupils with special needs, none reached that level.

The school with the highest average A-level points score was an independent school in Birmingham. At King Edward VI School for Girls, the average pupil gained three As and a C.

The highest A-Level score at a comprehensive was at Fulford School, in York, with an A and two Bs. The top GCSE score at a comprehensive was at the Blue Coat School in Liverpool, where 97 per cent of pupils gained five or more A*-C grades.

At the bottom of the scale were 21 schools where fewer than 5 per cent of pupils gained five or more A*-C grades. On the truancy scale, the worst performers had almost a quarter of their pupils missing on any given half day. The most improved school was Banovallum School, a secondary modern in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, where the percentage of pupils gaining five high-grade GCSEs went up from 11 per cent in 1995 to 39 per cent in 1996.