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GCSE Grades

Volume 504: debated on Monday 25 January 2010

1. Which five schools have shown the greatest increase in numbers of passes of GCSE grades A* to C since 1997. (312577)

We are unable to make a statistically valid comparison of results for all schools individually between 1997 and 2009. However, 45.1 per cent. of pupils achieved five or more good grades—A* to C— in 1997 and that rose to 70 per cent. in 2009.

I know that the figures are now normally given including English and Maths and so no straight comparison is possible with those from 1997. However, on the basis of the figures that are comparable—those for straight GCSE passes—is the Minister aware that the results of Battersea Park school in my constituency have improved by 66 percentage points, from between 4 and 5 per cent. in 1997 to 70 per cent. now? Does that not make it the most improved school over that period in the country?

It certainly makes it one of the most improved schools in the country over that period, and I congratulate all the staff, pupils and parents at Battersea Park school on all the work that they have done. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the improved results in obtaining five A* to C GCSE grades—as he says, the figure for his local school has risen from 5 per cent. in 1997 to 70 per cent. in 2009. He may be interested to learn that 11 per cent. of Battersea Park school’s pupils gained the benchmark of five A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths in 2005, whereas 36 per cent. of its pupils did so in 2009. However one measures it, Battersea Park school has made significant and substantial improvements, and should be congratulated on doing so.

I welcome any improved results, but does the Minister agree that the basic standards of literacy and numeracy in this country are nowhere near good enough for a country that is attempting to compete in a global economy?

I do not accept that numeracy and literacy standards are nowhere near where they should be—a significant rise has taken place in those standards. The number of primary school pupils gaining level 4, which is the benchmark that we use, has risen significantly. I mentioned the GCSE results at Battersea Park school, but the results of other secondary schools up and down the country also show a significant improvement. Are we satisfied with that and do we want to do more? Of course we want to do more, which is why we are introducing one-to-one tuition in primary schools. Such tuition will be carried on into secondary schools and will be backed up by the resources and investment needed.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of pupils obtaining five good GCSEs in Westminster has more than doubled since 1997? Will he join me in congratulating Martin Tissot and the teachers and pupils at St. George’s school? That school had a particularly troubled history and the fact that it has just been recognised as the most improved school in London shows what can be done with a combination of excellent leadership and resources.

Of course I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the school in her constituency and Martin Tissot on his work. It goes to show that schools that have good leadership, work with their communities and focus on teaching and learning can, even in the most difficult circumstances, raise standards and improve results. That is what has happened in the school that she mentions, and it is happening in schools up and down the country.

Is the Minister not concerned that nearly half of the 75,000 children on free school meals do not get a single GCSE above a grade D; that fewer than 4 per cent. of those 75,000 children are even entered for a GCSE in biology, physics or chemistry; that the independent sector now accounts for nearly half of all A* grades in GCSE French and achieves more A grades at A-level than all our comprehensive schools put together; and, most damning of all, that the achievement gap in GCSEs between the poorest areas of the country and the richest is widening—from 20 percentage points last year to a staggering 25 percentage points this year? Why, when pupils and teachers are working harder than ever, are this Government generating deeper and deeper inequalities?

The key stage 4 results for children on free school meals are rising faster than the average, and between 2002 and 2009 the number of pupils on free school meals achieving the equivalent of five A* to C grades at GCSE rose by 26 percentage points. It does not do the hon. Gentleman justice to keep pointing negatively at the achievements of those on free school meals. Significant improvement has been made in respect of those pupils, many of whose schools face the most difficult and challenging circumstances. Do we want to achieve more? Of course we do, which is why there has been a focus in those schools on standards and why, over time, we will also see an improvement in numeracy and literacy, particularly through the introduction of one-to-one tuition. As I say, there are things that we need to do and we need to do more, but more will not be achieved by simply decrying the achievements of schools that serve the most difficult areas.