School's action plan pays off in level of success

GCSE results: Exam strategy leads to significant improvement on the day thousands of pupils learned their fate
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The Independent Online
JOJO MOYES

Loud and intermittent shrieking could be heard from well outside Graveney School in Tooting, south London, yesterday morning. Analysis of the GCSE results would come later, but the sounds were definitely encouraging.

"It's looking very good at ground level," said Graham Stapleton, the school's headmaster, standing on the edge of the jostling crowd around the noticeboards. "This is the kind of feedback we enjoy."

He and the other members of staff might well feel proud. In a report issued by government inspectors earlier this year, Graveney was singled out as one of the most improved schools in Britain. Ofsted inspectors selected 52 schools which had improved their GCSE performance by more than 10 per cent between 1992 and 1994.

At Graveney, where half the pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds, staff have nearly doubled the number of pupils achieving top GCSE grades. In 1991, the percentage of pupils gaining grades A to C at GCSE level was 28 per cent. By last year it had risen to 49 per cent.

According to Carolyn Evans, the deputy head, the improvement was the result of a plan which centred on academic achievement and personal motivation. "This school has always had good results as far as London comprehensive schools go but we wanted results comparable with the leafy suburbs," Ms Evans said.

"The majority of kids are of average ability so we're concerned with pushing them up. But our improvement in A to Cs has not been at the expense of kids at the low end. We also targeted the borderline pupils."

One of the basic achievements was getting the children to school in the first place. With money from its switch to grant-maintained status in 1991, Graveney hired a part-time member of staff to chase up those absent pupils, telephone parents, take registers and run spot-checks. The school also required parents to sign a "document" committing them to back the school in its efforts.

It ran revision centres in the holidays and after-school classes and implemented a system of tutor-monitoring, whereby tutors regularly talked to their charges one-to-one about their work, deadlines and problems.

"The kids love it," said Ms Evans. "They get guaranteed individual attention. Now a lot of the borderline pupils are knocking on my door to tell me their latest marks."

According to Safraz Jeraj, 16, who achieved 12 GCSEs, 11 at grade A, the personal attention of the staff was a major factor in the improved achievements. "Normally people do nine," he said. "I didn't know if doing more would be too distracting. But the staff here made me believe I could do it."

"The teachers do pay you a lot of attention," said Shabana Azam, 16, who achieved nine GCSEs. "They'll give you the after-school support and take time out. It makes a big difference." The school's improved reputation appears to be spreading. Prior to 1991 it was oversubscribed to the tune of 350 applicants for 250 places. This year the applications numbered 800.

t Girls at King Edward VI School in Handsworth, Birmingham, were among those celebrating GCSE success yesterday. They all sat - and passed - at least 10. In all, 122 girls sat their GCSEs at the school, with 15 per cent achieving the highest possible grades of A* or A.

"We always have good results, but this year was particularly pleasing because we upped the number of subjects taken from nine to 10. It was a bit of a risk because it could have brought down the grades, but as it turned out that didn't happen," said the head, Elspeth Insch.

The pupil with the best grades was Natalia Slaska, 15, who could speak only basic English on arrival in Britain three years ago from Norway.

Meanwhile, some pupils are celebrating more than just their GCSE results. Christopher Bragg, 15, collected eight GCSE A grade passes - and pounds 600 from bookmakers William Hill.

Christopher was so convinced that he would pass his exams with flying colours that he persuaded his father to place a pounds 50 bet on him.

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