The publication of the latest school league tables has shown some unexpected good news for the North East. THEO MERZ looks at the figures
AS any North East football fan will tell you, league tables can often make unedifying reading.
In education, schools in the North East have become as used as many of its soccer teams to being at the wrong end of the tables, with the region’s relative deprivation more often than not translating into poorer GCSE and A-level results than other parts of the country.
The publication of yesterday’s secondary school tables tell, to some extent, a familiar tale: only one North East school in the top 200 in the country, the private RGS in Newcastle; only two representatives in the region in the top 200 state schools.
At the other end of the scale, the North East accounted for 10 of the worst 200 schools and colleges for A-levels, and 11 of the worst for GCSEs. Yet a closer look at the tables tells a slightly more positive story.
When, in 2007, the Government changed the measure of secondary schools from being five good passes at GCSE to five good passes that include both English and maths, there wasn’t a single area in the North East that had more than half of its pupils reaching the target. (“Sum-thing’s wrong” ran The Journal’s front page, with news of how, in Sunderland and Newcastle, only a third of pupils were hitting the new target).
The regional average at that time was nearly four points behind the national average, but has improved every year since then and, in all but one year, each successive league table has seen the region close the gap on the rest of the country. The new figures show that 58.5% of the region’s children now reach the target level (rising steadily from the rate of 40.4% in 2007), only just behind the national average of 59%.
All of the region’s local education authorities now see more than half their pupils getting five good GCSEs that include English and maths, with Sunderland having nearly doubled its success rate in six years.
Beccy Earnshaw, director of the umbrella group Schools North East welcomed the improvement.
She said: “It’s because of a huge amount of dedication from teachers and school leaders across the region. There was recognition that the work had to be done.
“Our schools are improving faster than other areas in the country, though we were starting from a relatively low base.
“There’s a very strong focus here on head teachers. We have some really strong school leaders who are making an impact ... there’s a new generation of head teachers and some schools have improved in really difficult circumstances.
“These national league tables are quite a blunt instrument, that said, I welcome the results.
“We’re a very ambitious region. We don’t want just to be catching up. We want to be leap-frogging over other areas”
Among the individual success stories was St Wilfrid’s RC College in South Shields, which was named the fourth most improved school in the country after going from 44% of its pupils reaching the Government target in 2009 to 87% last year. Brendan Tapping, who has just taken over as head teacher having previously been head of school for two years, said: “I’m thrilled that we’re one of the most improved schools in the country. It’s recognition of all our hard work and dedication.
“St Wilfrid’s has a hard-working and dedicated staff who, alongside supportive parents and talented students, are determined to ensure that all members of the school community reach their full potential.
“This, matched with our philosophy that ‘getting better never stops’, and a relentless focus on the quality of teaching and learning, has allowed our pupils not only to meet, but maximise, their potential.
“The gap between North East schools and the rest of the country is a result of improved collaboration and work in partnership, as exemplified by work between St Wilfrid’s, Cardinal Hume in Gateshead and St Thomas More in Blaydon, with the goal of raising attainment of all students in our community.
“We used staff from all of the schools to do this ... sharing resources and expertise.
“Schools in the North East do work together to try to raise standards.”