Secondary teachers are helping an increasing number of pupils to fare well in their GCSEs, according to statistics published this month.
Yet unions representing those in teaching jobs have again criticised the government's usage of these statistics to establish league tables of secondary schools.GCSE grades on the up
Department for Education (DfE) figures indicate that 58.8 per cent of pupils in English state-funded schools achieved five or more GCSEs at grade A* to C or equivalent including in English and maths in 2011/12, up by 0.6 percentage points on the previous year.
There was also an increase in the numbers of pupils taking and attaining the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which involves getting good grades in English, maths, two sciences, a language and in either history or geography.
The proportion of state-funded pupils taking all subjects covered by the EBacc rose from 21.6 to 23.1 per cent between 2010/11 and 2011/12, while the share getting the required grades rose by 0.8 percentage points to 16.2 per cent.
Furthermore, the share of pupils making the expected rate of progress between key stages two and four in mathematics also improved from 64.8 per cent in 2010/11 to 68.7 per cent in 2011/12.
However, the proportion of pupils achieving the level of progress expected of them in English at secondary school slipped by 3.8 percentage points over the same period to 68.0 per cent.Gap narrows between richer and poorer pupils
One notable area of improvement was that the gap between the poorest pupils and other secondary schoolchildren narrowed to its lowest level in five years.
The number of children on free school meals achieving five or more A* to C GCSEs, including in English and maths, was 36.3 per cent in 2011/12, compared to 62.6 per cent of all other pupils.
School minister David Laws was heartened by this trend and said that the introduction of the 'pupil premium', whereby £1.87 billion of funding will be aimed at poorer schoolchildren in 2013-14, would help reduce the gap further.
He asserted: "We are targeting more funding than ever before to help all children meet their full potential, whatever their background.
"Through the pupil premium, schools have the opportunity to make a real difference in improving children's life chances."Nearly 200 schools fall below GCSE results 'floor'
The DfE was also adamant that its raising the 'floor' for what was deemed acceptable performance by secondary schools was having a positive impact.
A school is now below this floor if 40 per cent of its pupils do not attain at least five GCSEs at grade C or better including in English and maths and do not make sufficient progress in these two subjects; previously, the floor was set at 35 per cent.
While the 195 secondary schools below the floor in 2011/12 constituted an increase from the 107 schools below the 2010/11 floor, it was also 56 fewer than the number of schools below the 40 per cent mark that year.Abolish league tables, say unions
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers congratulated schools and pupils on these improved GCSE results, achieved against the backdrop of a tough economic climate affecting many families.
Its general secretary Dr Mary Bousted criticised the secondary school league tables composed from this data, stating that by constantly adding new measures to them, the government was putting more pressure on schools while making them too complex for parents to understand.
Her counterpart at the NASUWT teachers' union Chris Keates similarly pointed to the statistics as an indicator of rising educational standards and called for schools and their staff to be given support and resources, rather than being denigrated.
Mr Keates accused the government of "manufacturing deficiencies to seek to justify its flawed education policies" and claimed that rather than raising standards, performance tables instead distorted and narrowed the curriculum offered by schools.
National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower was also highly critical of league tables, stating that parents draw on their own experiences and on those of others in their neighbourhood in judging schools on a wider range of factors than just exam results.
David Boyle's recent government-commissioned review of public services advocated publishing a parallel 'opportunity transformation' league table, comparing how schools have performed in achieving the best outcomes for free school meal children and narrowing the attainment gap.
Posted by Harriet McGowan