Pupils at key Sheffield schools are celebrating improved GCSE results today – despite fears pass rates across the city are set to be some of the most unpredictable in years.
Yewlands at Parson Cross, Outwood City Academy at Stradbroke, and Sheffield Park Academy on the Manor all reported excellent progress, bucking overall trends.
Changes to the system have seen a new emphasis on final exams, fewer vocational qualifications counting, and a crackdown on students sitting the same subject twice.
Yewlands, now under new management as part of the Wakefield City Academies Trust, said its final pass rate for five good GCSE passes could be approaching 50 per cent.
Headteacher Susan Cousin said: “These results will certainly be our best ever. We hoped for an eight per cent rise on last year’s 36 per cent but we have surpassed that.”
Outwood, also part of a Wakefield-based academy chain, reported a 53 per cent pass rate, up 10 and its best ever. Principal Steve Roberts said the new regulations made it very difficult for students to achieve the new performance measure.
“For the first time in our history the majority of our students have left with good GCSE results,” he added.
Park Academy said it had made good progress for the third year in a row – in 2011 the pass rate was just 36 per cent but this year it was up to 65. But at Handsworth Grange, where progress has been steady for some years, the pass rate was down four to 58.
Deputy head Bev Matthews said: “We need to go away and analyse the data – it has been to some extent a case of trial and error this year. We need to take stock of all the changes. It has been more the immediacy of them which has caused problems.”
Some of the city’s traditional big hitters did well, with Notre Dame down slightly on 78, and Tapton up three to the same figure.
Silverdale’s pass rate had yet to be finalised but a spokeswoman said performances were ‘significantly up across the board’, while Bradfield head David Conway said his school had done ‘reasonably well’.
King Edward VII head Beverley Jackson reported a 66 per cent pass rate, the same as 2013, which were the school’s best ever results.
But Tapton head David Bowes sounded a warning and said: “Heads are calculating and recalculating the data, and are including their vocational courses to clarify the final picture,” he said.
“It is clear though there will be some major disappointments, city-wide, school-wide and worst of all for individual students themselves. You could say it is Mr Gove’s legacy.”
Dale Barrowclough, head at Forge Valley Academy at Stannington, said he hoped his school had weathered the storm with results broadly similar to last year’s 47 per cent.
“But it is still not quite what we were expecting, although we have seen improvements in some GCSE subjects, especially humanities,” he said. “Nationally a dip in pass rates is being predicted so performances have to be seen in that context.”
Iain Peel, Sheffield Council’s director of inclusion and learning services, said there had been a lot of nervousness among heads.
“Predicting student performance is never an exact science but it is usually known which young people need help if they are going to get an A grade, a C rather than a D, or even just an E,” he said.
“Schools have been much more reluctant to make any predictions this time around, while as a council we will be looking closely at the national picture and the performances of similar authorities.”
Since 2010 the improvement of Sheffield’s GCSE pass rates has outstripped progress nationally, with the city closing in on a long-held ambition of matching the national average.