Top comprehensive schools are performing better than ever and achieving stronger results than most grammar schools, A-level league tables show today.
The figures, delayed for five months because of last summer's exams fiasco, show 13 comprehensives ranked among the top 100 of all state schools compared with nine the previous year – even though selective schools can choose the brightest pupils.
One school, Wymondham High School in Norfolk, the comprehensive with the best results, outperformed 129 of England's 164 grammar schools. Its pupils achieved a point score of 396, equivalent to more than three A-grade passes for every sixth-former.
Despite the improvement, today's league tables for England still show independent and grammar schools taking most of the top places. Government figures show the average point score per exam script has gone up nationally from 73 to 76 in a year.
The £5,500-a-year King Edward High School for Girls comes top overall – with a point score of 521 – more than four A-grade passes per pupil.
The top state school is Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex, traditionally a selective boys' school – but which now admits girls into the sixth form.
Of the top 10 schools, seven are fee-paying independents and three are grammar schools. However, all of the country's top 200 comprehensives outperform at least a dozen grammar schools.
The results appear to back up independent research by Professor David Jesson, of York University, that showed bright pupils in comprehensive schools do better in exams than those taught at grammar schools.
The study, which tracked pupils from national curriculum tests at 14 to GCSE's, showed the difference was the equivalent of a grade – from a D to a C or an A to an A*.
Doug McAvoy, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Even the most anti-comprehensive diehard must recognise the truth when they see it.
"Comprehensives have always been unfairly compared with selective schools, but it is quite clear from these results that they give an extremely high quality of education to pupils of all abilities."
David Miliband, the School Standards Minister, said the results showed the new A/AS-level system had helped "many students obtain high-quality qualifications in more subjects, raising their overall level of achievement".
The results also showed that one of the country's newest authorities, Bournemouth, achieved the best results, with a point score of 318.9 (two A grades and a B per pupil). It only became an education authority in 1997.
The worst-performing education authority was Hackney in east London with 143.4 points – the equivalent of one D and two E's. Its schools service has recently been in the control of a not-for-profit private trust, the Learning Trust, the chairman of which is Mike Tomlinson – the former chief schools inspector who has been put in charge of reviewing the 14 to 19 curriculum by the Government.
He said: "We recognise that there needs to be significant improvement in Hackney. The Learning Trust was created eight months ago to do just that. We must, however, recognise this data is rather thin as only three of our schools have sixth forms." A new sixth-form college has just opened in the borough.
Meanwhile, there were renewed calls for the league tables to be abolished yesterday, with heads pointing out that the late publication this year made them of little use to parents in choosing a secondary school for their children.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "It seems to me they are a monumental irrelevance this year.
"Clearly, we still believe they should be abolished and we feel this year would have been an ideal time. I think as a result of what happened people recognise that marking is not the exact science they believed it to be. These tables pretend that it is."
Confidence the key to students' success
Children aged 11 are being taught alongside sixth-formers at the country's top comprehensive to boost the confidence of the younger pupils.
Wymondham High School in Norfolk, where last year's A-level students obtained a score of 396 at least three As on average is pioneering the joint tutorials for first-years and sixth-formers. Older pupils read to younger ones to improve their standards and practise subjects such as French.
David Walker, who has been headteacher for the past 14 years, says it reminds the older pupils of what life was like when they joined the school, encouraging them to make the younger children more welcome.
Education researchers have often claimed that many pupils fall back in standards during their first years at secondary school because they find the bigger school daunting.
Wymondham, which has 1,328 pupils and gives priority to local children, has doubled in size since news of its exams success has spread.
As one of the Government's "beacon" schools, it receives extra funding to, as Mr Walker puts it, "share our experiences rather than expertise" with other schools. Many are now planning to adopt its approach.
The 19 temporary classrooms it is using to cope with the larger pupil numbers will soon be replaced with £2m of permanent buildings.
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