Schools are on the slide

File photo dated 11/06/08 of pupils sitting an exam. Ministers have ordered an urgent inquiry into England's exams system amid claims that examiners have secretly been advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday December 8, 2011. An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found evidence of teachers paying hundreds of pounds a day to attend seminars in which senior examiners offer detailed advice on how pupils can score higher marks in papers. See PA story EDUCATION Exams. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
File photo dated 11/06/08 of pupils sitting an exam. Ministers have ordered an urgent inquiry into England's exams system amid claims that examiners have secretly been advising teachers on how to boost GCSE and A-level results. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday December 8, 2011. An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found evidence of teachers paying hundreds of pounds a day to attend seminars in which senior examiners offer detailed advice on how pupils can score higher marks in papers. See PA story EDUCATION Exams. Photo credit should read: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
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EDUCATION chiefs today pledged to put Sheffield’s secondary schools back on track after GCSE league tables revealed the city has fallen further down the national pecking order.

The 2011 results show only a small 0.2 per cent improvement on the year before - overshadowed by a solid three per cent improvement across the country.

The figures mean just 49.4 per cent of Sheffield 16-year-olds achieved good grades in five GCSEs, including English and maths, compared with 58.2 nationally.

And the statistics represent a setback for the city after good progress was made over the previous two years. In 2008 only 40 per cent of 16-year-olds had been achieving five good grades.

Results last year at seven schools - Chaucer, Firth Park, Hinde House, Newfield, Parkwood, Sheffield Springs and Yewlands - are causing particular concern. They have failed to progress beyond the minimum pass rate demanded by the Government of 35 per cent - and face sanctions if improvements aren’t made.

There were disappointing performances too from other city secondaries, including All Saints, King Edward VII and Fir Vale.

But there were success stories as well, in a year which saw a wider spread of results than usual - Handsworth Grange, Notre Dame, King Ecgbert and City all did well.

Sheffield’s executive director of children’s services Dr Sonia Sharp said the focus in future needs to be on helping individual pupils reach their potential.

“Some students were just one or two per cent below the pass rate between a C and a D, and that can make a big impact,” she said.

“Research shows that if just nine children in a school fail to make the grade, that school can fail to reach its targets.

“We are planning a systematic, intense and detailed approach to help students reach their potential,” Dr Sharp said.

Dr Sharp has held inquests with the majority of the city’s secondary heads to see how standards can be improved this summer.

“Without exception heads and governing bodies are concerned by the situation and are determined to improve,” she said.

But Town Hall analysts believe some schools have been distracted by national pressures on them to consider opting for Academy status, with all the extra responsibilities such changes bring.

Schools undergoing rebuilding programmes through the Building Schools for the Future programme have also seen dips in their performance.

Dr Sharp said schools failing to meet so-called ‘floor targets’ were under tremendous pressure - with the expected pass rate due to rise still further this summer.

“There has never been a harder time to be a headteacher or a teacher in schools like these - the demands increase and people grow very anxious,” she said. “But as far as the city overall is concerned, we do have to see the bigger picture. We are in a much stronger position than we were five years ago.”

Coun Jackie Drayton, Cabinet member for children, said: “Overall Sheffield may not look great in terms of national figures, but a number of our schools have done better this year in terms of GCSE results than ever before and this should not be overlooked.

“In an ideal world we would be charging up the league tables and closing the gap with the national average. Sadly for several reasons this has not happened this year.

“But we have already taken a number of measures to help schools get the right results, including meeting with secondary heads and chairs of governors.”

Assistant director for learning and achievement Iain Peel said some secondaries had blamed below average year groups.

“Other young people are making strong progress - such as vulnerable students, those with special needs and those on free school meals,” he said. “But we need to track all pupils from primary school onwards, and intervene early when problems are identified.”

n See The Star tomorrow for South Yorkshire’s league tables in full.