Education & Family

Secondary school league tables: The schools at the top

exam hall
Image caption The tables are based on last summer's exams

Two grammar schools are at the top of this year's secondary school league tables for England.

Both academically selective schools they are no strangers to the top of the table.

The Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, Warwickshire, has the highest point score for GCSEs for the second year in a row and the Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex tops the table for A-levels for the sixth year running.

The top-performing comprehensive is Thomas Telford in Shropshire.

The tables show how well schools do on the government's main measure of school performance - how many pupils get five good GCSEs (A* to C) including maths and English - and on a range of other data.

This year, the government has put out four times as much data as it did last year.

'Not an exam factory'

Lawrence Sheriff, a boys' grammar, was also top of the GCSE table in 2008.

Head teacher Peter Kent is delighted: "It's a very sweet surprise. We did not see it coming. We knew our students had done well, but you never know how well other schools have done.

"It is good to know that the positive things we continue to do from year to year are having such an effect in helping the boys to achieve their full potential."

Boys arrive at the school having passed the 11-plus, so are academically very able, and few are from disadvantaged homes, as measured by those on free school meals, but the school's value added score (which measures progress from age 11) is strong.

Dr Kent says the school's success lies in its ethos.

England league tables

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England league tables

Compare schools in your area

"It is to do with the culture of the school. We are not the most selective school and have a non-selective sixth form. We feel we are an extended family," he said.

"We have a very high quality of staff, parents and governors and they help the children to go in the right direction."

GCSE courses at the school run over three years, rather than two as is traditional, although exams are not taken early.

Dr Kent says this gives pupils a chance to have a broad education and a personalised curriculum.

Pupils also have what are known as "enrichment lessons" once a week.

Each term they choose from about 40 topics and have lessons on them in mixed age groups for half an hour a week.

"They are taken by teachers who have a passion for a particular subject. It might be philosophy, or astronomy - there is even one on a local football team," the head teacher said.

"The teachers are teaching about something they are passionate about and this helps inspire a love of learning. We are not an exam factory."

The Colchester Royal Grammar School in Essex comes out as the best performer at A-level for the sixth year in a row.

The average point score per pupil there is equivalent to more than four A*s and one A grade at A-level.

Most students take three academic A-levels and general studies.

Headmaster Ken Jenkinson says league table success is not something the school targets.

"We concentrate on individual students and think if we help them achieve their potential, it will also lead to a good league table position," he said.

"We are an academic and selective school and the ethos is such that students enjoy education and want to do the best they can in whatever they do.

"They are supported and encouraged by talented teachers. It's a partnership."


Like many grammar schools, the proportion of children on free school meals is low (about 1%) compared with the national average of about 17%, but it does score well on the value-added measure of pupils' progress.

Girls are admitted to the school in the sixth form, and all pupils there will want to go on to university, Mr Jenkinson says.

Part of the school's success, he believes, is also due to the broad education it offers.

"We are a school which prizes extra-curricular activities such as sport, music and drama and personal development," he said.

Tomorrow, teachers will enjoy a celebratory pastry at morning break, but otherwise it is business as usual at the school.

"It is yesterday's news. We are looking at this year's students now," Mr Jenkinson said.

Top comprehensive

All of the top 200 schools in England's league tables are either selective state schools or independent schools.

The Thomas Telford school in Shropshire is the highest-performing comprehensive school in England and 98% of the school's pupils who sat GCSEs last summer achieved five or more top grades including English and maths.

Head teacher Sir Kevin Satchwell said: "We have worked hard over the 20 years since the school opened to create the best possible working conditions for staff and students and they have responded magnificently by consistently producing excellent results.

"However, we should not underestimate the importance of close relationships between school and home in providing the best possible outcomes for students."

Parents receive reports on their children's progress every four weeks - 10 times a year - and the whole curriculum is available for students and parents to access from home via the internet.

And the school has an unusual approach to lessons. They start early, at 08:30, all are at least two hours long with a break and some do not end until 18:00.

About 12% of the school's pupils receive free school meals. The school says pupils come from a range of social backgrounds from the inner city areas of Wolverhampton and Telford.

Critics of the league tables, including many heads and teachers, complain they do not give an accurate picture of what schools are doing - and often say more about the intake than anything else.

Lawrence Sheriff head teacher Peter Kent said: "League tables are with us and we have to accept it.

"I would hugely emphasise we are very fortunate and we are conscious of the fantastic job being done in all kinds of schools which have very challenging intakes."

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