Facing the prospect of future closure, the headteacher of one of the Government’s challenge schools talks to Education Correspondent Tony Collins about the daily dilemmas he faces.
It would be easy to dismiss Frankley Community High, and others like it, as a failing school whose best option may lie in being forced to change its status to prevent possible closure.
Its benchmark GCSE figure places it near the bottom of the relevant national performance table, and almost as far below the Government’s declared floor target as it is possible to go.
But in a bizarre academic Catch 22, Frankley finds itself ranked both among the worst and best secondary schools in the country at the same time.
It is a dilemma that is not lost on head teacher Jonathan Wilding as he works to continue the improvement process that will hopefully reap rewards ahead of the Government’s 2011 deadline.
He said: “On the day that the league tables came out, there were two lists published – the worst schools in the country and the best schools in the country – and we were in both.
“One of the tables was for contextual value added and we have been in the top four or five Birmingham schools for the last four years, and the top four per cent of schools nationally.
“Unfortunately for our point of view, the government’s key measure is this 30 per cent five or more A* to C including English and maths, and that makes us appear to be unsuccessful.”
While straightforward value-added shows what progress pupils make during their time in school, contextual means comparisons are made using outside factors such as local economic disadvantage and the number of pupils on free school meals.
Mr Wilding, who is in his fifth year as head of Frankley Community High, added: “All our other measures we do incredibly well in and we achieve some absolutely fantastic results.
“In terms of five A*-Cs we have done consistently well with over 50 per cent for the last six years. It’s the fact that they now say it has to be with English and maths.
“One thing we have done is kept hold of our kids till the end of Year 11. Five years ago a lot of our kids would have drifted out of education. Now we are holding onto them.
“In terms of the five A* to Cs including English and maths, that damages us, but I would argue that our pupils are still achieving good qualifications, either GCSE or vocational.
“It’s all about horses for courses. English and maths only focuses on one narrow range.”
Frankley Community High saw just 11 per cent of pupils achieve five or more A*-Cs when English and maths are included, compared to the Birmingham average of 45.5 per cent.
But the head points out: “If I can get a kid from an E grade to D, that’s as much of an achievement, but that doesn’t count for this target.
“We had one child who had spent almost their entire education at James Brindley Hospital School, but we went out to him and he got his GCSE English. And for the second year on the trot we got 100 per cent of pupils leaving with something.”
Mr Wilding is well aware of what they face as a National Challenge school.
“We have got three years to achieve 30 per cent so it definitely puts pressure on us. We have to be worried about it because we have to deliver on it.
“Our kids are motivated, are working hard. It’s not an effort thing, it’s not a quality of learning thing. It would be easier to achieve this target if our contextual value added was low because there would be far more scope for improvement.
“It’s unfortunate that the only area we don’t succeed at is the key measure they use. But I see this as a real opportunity, and I believe we can get this target.”