Real story behind the school with the nation's worst results

Figures hide the fact that pounds 10m building is designed to integrate children with a range of special needs
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The Independent Online
Yesterday Filsham Valley School came bottom in the Government's school league tables - one of only two comprehensives in England where no pupil gained five high-grade GCSEs.

This might have been just the sort of school whose failures ministers aimed to expose when they spent pounds 1.2m on publishing all exam results, but it isn't.

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education, clearly did not think so when she officially opened the East Sussex comprehensive in May, two years after it took in its first pupils.

The parents of last year's four GCSE students, all of whom had special educational needs, did not think so, either. They were delighted that their children had taken the exams at all.

A glance at the tables might leave the impression that Filsham Valley is just another struggling comprehensive. In fact, it is the first of its kind in the country: a brand new, pounds 10m building designed to integrate pupils with physical and sensory disabilities into mainstream education.

The first three year-groups each have a full complement of more than 120 children, including seven with special needs who work alongside them. The top two years each have a handful of children with disabilities who come from a local special school which has closed.

This year's 16-year-olds, who would not have taken exams in the special school, managed 12 CGSEs between them, one gaining seven including two grade Cs. In September the boy's mother visited the school in September and thanked staff for the help they had given him. He is now taking an information technology course at college and is talking about going to university.

League tables, though, do not provide the flexibility needed to describe such achievements. Inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education, due to visit the school in January, are unlikely to criticise it for its low exam performance, though, or for its high absence rate - some children were away for the whole of last year, having medical treatment.

Local parents are not anxious to criticise the school, either. They are keen to bring their children to one of Britain's best-equipped schools.

With four technology rooms and with modern studios for recording, dance and drama, most people who come here are deeply impressed.

The head teacher, John Voice, is not unduly worried about Filsham Valley's league-table ranking.

Local people know why it sits so far down the list, he said, and the local papers will probably not even mention it.

The inclusion of the school makes a mockery of the tables, he said. "We were very pleased with the GCSE results last summer," he added. "Each pupil performed above their expected level." However, future tables should show Filsham Valley in a far better light.

"We look forward to being the most-improved school when we begin to take GCSE with the comprehensive intake," Mr Voice said. "It will, however, be another meaningless statistic."

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