22 September 2010

Schools focusing attention on middle-ability pupils to boost results

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The practice of focusing extra attention on 'C/D borderline' pupils in order to improve a school's GCSE results may be widespread. But at what cost?
The words come easily to the teacher as he describes what happened at the school where he was working last year. "Appalling", "unbelievable" and "ruthless" are among those he chooses to sum up measures the comprehensive, in London, put in place in a bid to raise its GCSE results.

And yet he is merely describing a practice – taken in this case to the extreme – that appears to have been tacitly encouraged in many schools for years.

The practice is for schools – sometimes acting on the advice of government agencies and consultants – to focus extra resources, time and attention on groups of middle-ability pupils whose achievements are most likely to help them rise up the league tables, impress inspectors, hit improvement targets and, in some cases, avoid closure.

In the process, higher- and lower-ability youngsters can receive less support because their results are less likely to affect the school's published scores, it is widely claimed.

This extra emphasis given to middle-ability students who are believed to be on the cusp of achieving five A*-Cs at GCSE, including English and maths – the threshold measure around which league tables centre – has been criticised by all three major parties.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has spoken out against it, and reportedly promised last year to reform league tables to stop it happening. But are the days of schools lavishing extra attention on pupils who are often known simply as "C/D borderliners" really about to end?

The teacher got in touch to complain about a series of decisions his school's leadership, working with private consultants, was making to try to bring about much-needed gains in the proportion of pupils achieving five A*-Cs at GCSE, including English and maths. The school was towards the bottom of national league tables.

(The Guardian)

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