Coffee House

What two years—and a free school—can do for exam results

15 August 2014

15 August 2014

For the first time in 32 years, the overall pass rate for A-levels has dropped, and the percentage of those achieving an A* or A grade has also dipped slightly. One part of the country that has bucked the national trend is Newham. And in particular, the borough’s London Academy of Excellence – a brand new sixth form free school.

Just under two years ago, this sixth form opened its doors to students in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country for the first time. Set up by a coalition of eight leading independent schools – including Eton, Highgate and Brighton College amongst their number – its goal was a straightforward one: to improve the record of university entry in the borough.

And it was a pretty low base. In 2010, just three children in Newham secured a place at Oxford or Cambridge. Yesterday four students from LAE secured their places at Oxbridge. In 2011, only 39 children in Newham secured places at Russell Group universities. This year the figure from LAW alone was 68.

Even though this has been achieved in under two years, there are no short cuts. With its hardwired links to leading independent schools, LAE’s MO is to teach the toughest, most demanding subjects; the A-levels that the top universities want to see to grant entry to the most competitive courses. Known as ‘facilitating subjects’, 39 per cent of LAE’s students achieved AAB results with at least two of them, compared with 2.7 per cent in Newham’s schools elsewhere. What’s more, the school managed to outperform some of the country’s leading independent schools, such as Millfield, with nine out of every ten LAE students living in the most deprived postcodes in the borough.

Subscribe from £1 per week


This is a phenomenal achievement, and it shows just what can be accomplished when you start up a new school and have a searing vision of what is possible for the students who will attend that school. It confounds the shocking sentiment expressed far too often in our schools: ‘well, what can you expect from children from these backgrounds?’ This is exactly what free schools are about: a better deal for parents and pupils across the country. The students from LAE provide a fantastic snapshot of what is now possible, particularly for young people from some of the most challenged backgrounds.

And while each free school will have its own unique ethos and culture, LAE is typical of where new schools are being set up. For, despite what some commentators would have you believe, as a rule free schools are opening in the areas which need the most help – the areas where our young people are not getting a fair deal educationally. The simple fact is, a free school is 10 times as likely to serve the most deprived communities than the least deprived.

Over 330 free schools are now open or approved to open and the enthusiasm for them shows no sign of dimming. Here at New Schools Network, we offer intensive support to more groups applying to open free schools than ever before.

There are now primary, secondary, all-through and sixth form free schools as well as Special Schools and Alternative Provision schools. They all have their own vision and aspirations. Because most schools start from scratch and build up year-by-year, validation of free schools has had to rely on Ofsted judgements and the sight of parents voting with their feet.

Overall, the picture is very positive – on a like for like comparison, a free school is more than twice as likely to be judged outstanding than any other school – and in terms of popularity, free schools are twice as likely to be oversubscribed at primary age, and three times at secondary phase. In the future, we will be able to add compare schools’ examination performance too. Next year the first cohort of free schools, that opened in September 2011, will be entering students for GCSEs and so next summer will show the early crop of results – for both GCSE and A Level for other sixth form schools. And where LAE leads, I am sure others will follow.

Natalie Evans is Director of the New Schools Network.


More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.

Show comments
  • http://www.lkmco.org.uk/ LKMco

    “it shows just what can be accomplished when you…” select your students?
    No disrespect to the teachers or students of LAE who’ve know doubt worked their socks off and deserve all our praise, but let’s compare like-for-like before we go drawing policy conclusions.

  • Gwangi

    ‘For the first time in 32 years, the overall pass rate for A-levels has dropped, and the percentage of those achieving an A* or A grade has also dipped slightly.’
    Yep, but the pass rate has only dropped from 98.4% to 98%!
    May I be the first to congratulate the 2% of candidates who belong to the elite cohort who actually managed to failed. That takes quite a talent. I salute you all! I am sure you all have a bright future working in an area which requires no real talent or ability whatsoever. The TV industry, for example, or politics.
    Of course, an E grade at A level 30 years ago would now get an A (as shown by research at Hull university with maths A levels). The move from norm-based marking to criteria-based marking changed things utterly. In the 80s, only 15% of kids did A level and yes, their average ability was far higher than the average of the 45% of kids now who do A levels and go to uni. In the 80s, around 30% failed and that was built into the system – they would all pass now, those fails, probably with A grades. Exams are easier now, coursework allows marks to be boosted and there has been insane grade inflation, That is why no-one trusts qualifications any more. Ditto with degrees. And universities are scamming and swindling young people, encouraging them to get into massive debt, so they can spend their money at those 4th rate universities and leave with a meeja degree that qualifies them to do nothing but work in Maccy Ds or Lidl. Hoorah!
    ‘One part of the country that has bucked the national trend is Newham.- – a place which is 98% Bangladeshi, let’s not forget. Low-achieving white areas get ignored.

    • GraveDave

      Low-achieving white areas get ignored.

      It does cross one’s mind.

  • Mynydd

    What cost per A level at London Academy of Excellence compared to the cost per A Level at a state school?
    Why pick out this free school from all the other free schools, was it because the rest results were not better than state schools?

    • Colonel Mustard

      How is education doing in Wales under a Labour-led government?

      http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/plaid-cymru-hits-out-plans-7624048

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-26962501

      http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/news-opinion/gareth-evans-improvement-still-long-7623841

      Of course how much Labour’s usual dumbing down has contributed to the “improvement” is an unknown but duplicity, manipulation, lying and cheating are bound to figure in that somewhere.

      • Mynydd

        Feel free to answer the two questions I asked.

        • Colonel Mustard

          I’m not here to answer your questions.

          • Mynydd

            So why tag my comment?

            • Colonel Mustard

              To give you a taste of your own medicine. You are always tagging mine.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Labour Troll ignore.

    • grammarschoolman

      Odd that a left-winger is going on about cost – that’s usually a right-wing complaint.

      You lot don’t mind throwing money at a problem when it has no effect at all, or actually makes things worse – it’s only when they succeed that you have a problem with it.

      What you really don’t like about these results is that they prove once and for all that the old left-wing line that deprivation causes low achievement is utter and total nonsense, and, as a result, demonstrates just how bad state school teachers are and how much they’ve been using the poverty of their pupils as a fig leaf to hide their own inability to teach.

  • kyalami

    Just remind me – why was Gove fired?

    • southerner

      Well Gove’s “accomplishments” have been wildly overstated (including in this self-interested article) but the answer to your question is because Call Me wanted to parade all the new laydeees in his cabinet. Not cynical. No posturing. All there on merit of course.

    • Gwangi

      Because he bravely tried to put the toothpaste into the tube – against the wishes of leftie ideologue teachers who want high pass rates to continue for their own selfish reasons – and selfish amoral parents who just want their little darlings to get A star grades for GCSEs and A levels with mediocre level of ability (why we have a whole generation of kids who think they are wonderful, whose attitude stinks so much they’re unemployable; and who absurdly think they are ‘smart’ and special when they are not even close).

      The alternative to traditional solid education of the type they have in most of Europe and the world, is the so-called progressive child-centred comprehensive mess which has failed millions already (and which educated so many badly-educated teachers in schools now).

  • swatnan

    This privatisation of education is a disgrace. Instead of diverting money away from State Schools its being poured into ‘Free Schools’ that are basically set up for middle class parents like Toby Young. Gove’s reforms have been a disaster, and need to be reversed. Parents have always had the power to influence their State Schools by actively participating as governors, but they’ve chosen to go down a selection route which in fact disadvantages the deprived children even more.

    • kyalami

      Do you have ANY data to back up your rant? Can you explain how the “deprived children” of Newham are being “disadvantaged” by markedly better exam results?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Tripe. What disadvantages deprived children is for the Labour party and NUT to have anything to do with their education. Both organisations should be prosecuted for child abuse. As if the dumbing down and revisionism is not enough there is the political indoctrination of young and vulnerable minds too.

    • BigAl

      What rubbish, most parents just want good schools for their children to attend and where the teachers makes decisions not the Unions. You have a choice – just send your children to local authority schools run by the Unions and leave the rest of us to make our own choice.

      • swatnan

        Thats ok, but you pay for your ‘Free School’ ‘private’ education and don’t burden the State with it. I have nothing against Private Education, as long as parents are prepared to pay for it themselves.
        OfIf theyt don’t want to pay, then they have a choice, send your children to the local community state school, thats the way it should be.

        • Colonel Mustard

          “…thats the way it should be.”

          Why? Because you (and others) say so? From my disinterested perspective the last fifty years of “…that’s the way it should be” have not been good for this country. I prefer “…that’s the way it is” and “why not?”. Free schools should be able to thrive in the no-man’s land between the clumsy, cumbersome, inefficient state and the purchase of privilege. People without money should be able to stick two fingers up at the state, meddlers like Fiona Millar (no-one asked YOU!) and the NUT too. Especially those who thrive on keeping the deprived under so that they can continue to exploit them as a source of emotional blackmail and power – like the Labour party.

          http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-27904205

    • andagain

      Children in free schools seem to come disproportionately from ethnic minorities. You might want to think about that.

      • vieuxceps2

        Children in ALL schools seem to come disproportionately from ethnic minorities.

        • andagain

          What exactly are you trying to prove by stating a mathematical impossibility?

          • vieuxceps2

            Yes, it is not logical,I admit.But it’s how it feels ……

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Yes we really need to get back to the mediocrity and failure for everybody that Labour and the NUT are so excellent at promoting. After all, stuff the kids and their parents it’s the teachers that count. Idiot.

  • English Majority

    Yes.

    Its such a positive thing that, after trillions of our pounds, and the colonisation of our nation, a few Third World immigrants will go on to positions in which they can further their Black Power/Islamic cultures.

    And all while the English people suffer in filthy, forgotten council estates.

    Yes. Positive.

    • HookesLaw

      Sieg heil

      • English Majority

        Let it all out, Hooke.

        Let it all out.

        • HookesLaw

          You do thats for sure you nasty racist bigot.

          • Kitty MLB

            Supporters of the Golden Dawn are indeed what
            you say.And a world away from UKIP…bare
            that in mind.

            • GraveDave

              You’re pro Gove and a free school fan right? And UKIP to boot. So what you think of that picture Kitty.
              I’ve never seen anything like ti in west London.

    • Ed LoveNest

      that fourth paragraph was surreal

      • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

        The only surreal bit was the ’30 million, what part of the rest looks like it couldn’t happen…very soon. Most of it has already happened on a small scale what is possibly surreal about reality?

        • Ed LoveNest

          and what about shakespeare being a pakistani muslim

          • Gwangi

            Eh? Are you on drugs? Or had too much curry?

            • Ed LoveNest

              what makes you think I’ve had curry!

          • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

            I was referring to the 4th paragraph, which you mentioned. The final paragraph is very funny…and indeed surreal but it is obviously a joke being the first course in the mentioned reeducation therapy.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Oh Gawd. Get a life.

  • Cooper1992

    I will congratulate the students of London on doing well in their A Levels whilst living in such a dump of a city.

    However one can’t help thinking that as each year passes, these grades become more and more meaningless.

    Tough gradings, high expectations, and lofty standards, with a sprinkling of British-Christian values, built an Empire not long ago.

    This has been replaced unfortunately with a focus on rewarding all so that nobody can experience failure.

    If an A Star is the highest grade that one can receive, then my God it should be awarded to the elite students of our country, the very pinnacle of academic achievement. The 1%.

    Similarly a B grade is not a true ‘B’ grade if it is given to more than 20% of the country.

    As gradings have become higher, standards have become lower. Standards which don’t just encompass our views on secondary education, but standards which are expected of all Englishmen to preserve – what once – was an elite A* nation.

    • HookesLaw

      More yawn inducing bigotry.

      • southerner

        Did you read it? What is it you actually disagree with? I mean specifically.

        • English Majority

          Think of Hooke as the Hologram Doctor from Star Trek Voyager.

          Except he’s not a doctor; he’s a grumpy man who likes a whisky, and he has a subconscious awareness of the horrific future his Baby Boomer generation have left us with, but it comes out in weird ways as he can’t handle the guilt.

          • HookesLaw

            sieg heil.

        • HookesLaw

          living in a ‘dump’ ? yes i read it.

          • southerner

            That’s the sum total of your critique eh?

            • http://owsblog.blogspot.com Span Ows

              Maybe if you’d have commented on the lack of ‘white’ faces he could have a point, not sure what he’s getting at: of the 27 or so people in view there are only two ‘whites, if you’d have said that he have had a point although I don’t think so as it’s merely an observation.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why on earh do you think London is a dump. London is the best city in the world..Milllions flock there. Where on earth do you live?

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Use the spellcheck, Fergus.
        Jack, Japan Alps

        • sevanclaig

          Now that is a beautiful place.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Twurp!

          • kyalami

            Stay after class, Pickering, and write out “twirp” 100 times.

          • Kitty MLB

            Bearing in mind the response you have got
            from those two, all I say is: They have a plentiful
            lack of wit..A spot of Shakespeare for all occasions.

            • Fergus Pickering

              People who claim to be scientists are not good with jokes.

    • telemachus associates

      Our chair is currently away in Eastern Europe/Putinland.
      He would wish to point out the tragedy in Newham that gives good grades to an elite gaining 39%
      While the rest of the poor kids get just 2.7%
      The major major investment given to the elite school should have been spread across the borough.

      • eclair

        You know, I thought you were away, grinding your teeth into a sand bucket…but no, here you are…ah me!

    • andagain

      However one can’t help thinking that as each year passes, these grades become more and more meaningless.

      Not this year, it seems, as the average grade has apparently not risen. This year, these grades seem to be only as meaningless as the previous year.

  • Barakzai

    Shome mhistake, shurely?

    The answer to Life, the Universe and everything is Comprehensive Schools. Melissa Benn and/or Polly Toynbee will doubtless regurgitate this message in the Grauniad next week . . .

    • GraveDave

      As far as celebrating Diversity goes, I’m sure Polly Toynbee and the Guardian readers would be right at home with that picture. As you seem to be. For myself, long used to living in a multicultural and racially mixed borough, I find it shocking.

      • Barakzai

        As I seem to be? I’m not sure you caught my drift!

        • GraveDave

          So where’s the thing you really wanted to say?

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here