THE principal of a Wigan academy whose GCSE results were branded among the worst in the country today hit back.
Paul Bousfield said Orrell’s Abraham Guest was on the up and a true reflection of the work being done there would be better shown when newly formatted league tables come out this year.
He also offered an explanation as to why its results - in terms of the percentage of pupils passing five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, with at least a C (otherwise known as 5EM) - has gone continually downward since the old Abraham Guest High School opted out of local authority control.
While it has been hit in recent years, like many other schools, by a toughening of exams, a reduction in course work and basing league table figures on first sittings of papers only, the intake has also changed markedly.
The old Pembec High, which often had some of the lowest 5EM grades in the borough, began to close in 2010 and since then virtually all the pupils from one of the most deprived areas in the country had transferred to Abraham Guest.
In its last year as a state school (2011), Abraham Guest’s 5EM was 59 per cent. It has fallen each year since, until only 28 per cent hit that benchmark last summer.
But Mr Bousfield says it was unfair to compare the old high school’s results with more recent years. He said: “The old Abraham Guest intake was completely different. That had students from more affluent areas. The catchment now is effectively ex-Pembec; we serve the Norley Hall estate. I am not running the community down; far from it, we are happy to serve that community. But it does present its own challenges which Ofsted, among others, has recognised.
“The merger took a couple of years and then in came the changes in rules which affected many schools’ results. So it was a bit of a double-whammy. But we are in the system the Department for Education wants; I think we have an appropriate scheme and well set to take the school forward.”
In future league tables will put greater emphasis on measuring improvements in children’s performance based on their abilities when they start at secondary school. Mr Bousfield that he expected the academy to do better under this new measurement, but even under the old 5EM he expected to see results above 40 per cent this summer.
He added: “Since the school was relocated under the Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme in 2010, the starting points of many of our students are below national averages and so we are very pleased that we can accelerate their learning to gain them exam success in subjects across the whole curriculum.
“We also remain proud of our extremely low NEET (not in employment, education or training) figure in comparison to National averages which means that a very high proportion of students leaving the academy after their exams go on to further education, apprenticeships or find employment.
“Coupled with our high expectations in relation to standards, which have led to a significantly improved learning environment, we continue to raise aspirations and aim for excellent outcomes for all of our learners.
“Working with our sponsor (Winstanley College) we are accessing appropriate external advice from a variety of sources including outstanding providers from across the North West, as well as our Local Authority.
“In particular the academy receives valuable support from the local authority in accelerating performance in maths. It is our status as an academy that allows us the scope and freedoms we require to drive improvement and gain the best outcomes for our students. It does not in any way risk safeguards for parents or students and any suggestion that is does is incorrect.
“We remain accountable to the local community through our governing body – just like any other school.”
Abraham Guest was today also backed by its academy sponsor Winstanley College. Principal Louise Tipping said: “Winstanley College and Abraham Guest Academy (AGA) have been working in partnership to enhance opportunities for local young people for five years.
“We are very proud to sponsor the academy and every day can see the difference that staff are making to the lives of students.
“We currently have over 29 former AGA students at Winstanley studying A-levels and aspiring to some of the most selective universities in the country. These are students who are achieving As and A*s at A levels and studying high level degrees such as biomedical sciences.”