Improving Schools Programme
Mr Stephen Timms (Newham North East)
My point is that the individual we are talking about has, as chair of Newham education authority, presided over the very programme that I have been describing, which has focused wholly on raising standards in our schools. It is beyond dispute that the programme has produced impressive results, but it must continue, because there is still more to be done.
I conclude with a brief comment on each of the three secondary schools to which I referred. Each of them did well last summer. They are very different schools, and I have visited all three in the past month. The first is Langdon, a big mixed comprehensive. It has always been highly regarded in Newham, but in recent years there has been a significant leap in its ambition and determination to equip its youngsters for the future. Officials at the Department for Education and Employment know the school well, and visit it often. That level of interest from the Department is greatly appreciated locally.
The school's determination to improve is reflected in its achievements. Last year, 30 per cent. of pupils taking GCSEs achieved at least five A to C grades; this year, the figure was 35 per cent. That trend will continue.
The head teacher picks out three special strands in the successful efforts to improve the school. The first was to create an ethos and a "can do" atmosphere at Langdon school, emphasising the importance of responsible citizenship on the part of the students. Student participation was encouraged in school and year councils. The students were involved in the drafting of a behaviour code, which set out the expectations that pupils could have of the school, and, equally, what the school expected of its students. An ethos has successfully been created in the school.
The second strand picked out by the head was an emphasis on sporting achievement. Tomorrow morning. 20 teams from Langdon school and another Newham school will take part in competitions on Wanstead Flats. Each year, at a major assembly, presentations are made to all those who have taken part in the school's teams during the year. There is an award to the sportsman and sportswoman of the year. That process contributes to raising the general level of achievement throughout the school, particularly among boys. The question of boys' achievement has already rightly been raised in the debate.
The third strand is achievement in the arts. I was recently at the school for a dance presentation. A professional choreographer had come into the school with funding from Lea Valley regional park, and an excellent performance was the result. There are links with artists, and work has been done with the local primary schools to support Langdon's art curriculum. There are drama performances in the community.
All those developments contribute to the esteem of the pupils and their sense of achievement. The last two strands are not necessarily academic, but they have contributed to a much improved level of achievement throughout the school. Any visitor to the school can see the effects of that.
The second school I want to mention, Little Ilford school, is in a very different position. It is a large, mixed comprehensive. It has more than 1,000 pupils who speak a second language alongside or instead of English at home. In April last year, the Ofsted inspection at Little Ilford resulted in the school's being deemed to need special measures. That verdict was confirmed last summer, when only 11 per cent. of the youngsters at the school achieved five or more grades A to C at GCSE.
However, this year the picture is different. The school feels different to walk into. The head, who came into post shortly before the Ofsted inspection, has transformed the school. She singles out particularly the strength of the support from the local authority in allowing her to take that transformation through. The local authority has given access to a special fund to enable improvements to be made, and has attached an inspector as the lead inspector to work alongside the school in dealing with the problems that Ofsted rightly identified.
This summer, the proportion of pupils achieving five or more grades A to C at GCSE exceeded 20 per cent. and there is great confidence—I am very confident—that the trend of improvement will continue as a result of the successful partnership between the school and the LEA in dealing with the problems that had arisen.
The last school to which I wish to refer is Plashet school, an all-girls comprehensive with pupils drawn largely from the ethnic minority communities in East Ham. The recently appointed head—herself an Asian teacher—like her colleagues, has brought a new determination to raise the standards in that school. Last year, 29 per cent. of pupils gained five or more grades A to C at GCSE; this year, the figure was 43 per cent. That is not a fluke, but the product of determination and hard work through a series of carefully planned initiatives to raise the level of achievement in that school.
The school targets students who are on the borderline between grades C and D as they approach GCSE, and the heads of department and subject staff work together to ensure that they get the extra help that they need. A revision programme was organised, with funding from the London Docklands development corporation; teachers offer extra sessions at weekends and during holidays to prepare their pupils for GCSE; and there is a programme of monitoring attendance and ensuring that students do not miss school.
Requests are often made for pupils in year 11 to go on extended holidays to visit relatives in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh; the school refuses those requests, because it wants to emphasise the importance of pupils remaining in school throughout year 11 to achieve their maximum potential at GCSE. All those initiatives and more have been successful, and will continue to improve achievement at Plashet school.
A great deal remains to be done, but I was impressed by the determination of head teachers and staff in all three secondary schools in my constituency to improve standards, working in partnership with the local authority and with employers in the borough, and by the significant and measurable progress achieved as a result.