Britain's best-performing state schools were celebrating yesterday after scoring 100 per cent pass rates in A-level exams for the first time.
The national exam results suggested that if the current rate of improvement continued no candidate should fail any A-levels by 2004. But a handful of state schools have already achieved this goal.
Colchester County High School for Girls, a grammar school in Essex, scored its best results. No student failed an exam and every girl achieved at least three A-level passes. Almost 80 per cent of entries were awarded A or B grades, with slightly more than 60 per cent winning A grades.
The school also topped The Independent's table of high-scoring schools, achieving a university admission score of 515 points per student – equivalent to more than four A grades each.
Elizabeth Ward, the headteacher, said she was delighted at the "phenomenal" results. She attributed the improvement to the new, modular A-level courses, which allow students to retake parts of the syllabus to improve grades.
"It is far too simplistic to say that standards have fallen but under the new system the exams and the way of studying are very different," she said.
"Students are examined on small sections of the course during the two years rather than on everything at the end. This brings advantages and disadvantages. It does allow students to improve their results but it does put them under additional pressure."
Nine of the school's sixth- formers achieved five A grades, including twins Bahar and Negar Mirshekar-Syahkal, who achieved top grades in identical A-level subjects and will now both study medicine at Cambridge University.
The twins denied claims that the exams were getting easier. Bahar said: "We worked extremely hard to get our grades. It is not true to say that A-levels are getting easier.
"We spent a lot of time revising and didn't have time for boyfriends, although we did have a social life – we both like listening to R&B music."
Negar said: "It certainly helped that we were doing the same subjects. When we were doing homework we could help each other out – and if one of us was revising it would encourage the other one to."
Pupils at King Edward VI Handsworth School in Birmingham also scored a perfect 100 per cent of passes.
Elspeth Insch, the headteacher, attributed the results to students' hard work but acknowledged that the new exam system allowed weaker candidates to drop out. She said: "Our girls are heading for the most competitive courses at the best universities and know they have to work hard to get good results.
"The new system allows students to drop their weakest subject at the end of the lower sixth and this could well account for the improvement."
Colyton Grammar School in East Devon was one of England's best-performing co- educational schools last year but this time it went one better and joined the handful of state schools that achieved a 100 per cent pass rate. The school was also delighted that a record 80 per cent of its A-level entries were awarded A or B grades. Four students at Colyton achieved six A grades while 10 others gained five A grades.
Barry Sindall, the headteacher, criticised commentators who suggested that A-level standards had fallen, arguing that they devalued young people's achievements.
"Students today have to work with greater commitment and those who annually make simplistic comparisons devalue such effort," he said.
* A former all-boys independent school has recorded an impressive improvement in its A-level results in the past decade, attributed to the introduction of girls.
St Dunstan's College in Catford, south-east London, was languishing in 473rd place in the A-level league tables until it decided to admit girls in 1993. Yesterday it published its best results yet. Almost 70 per cent of grades were As and Bs, with 85 per cent A to C grades. There was a 99 per cent pass rate.
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