Schools ‘fail on basics’

SCHOOLS in the North-East are failing to provide pupils with basic maths and English skills, it was said last night.

SCHOOLS in the North-East are failing to provide pupils with basic maths and English skills, it was said last night.

The failings are highlighted in tables published yesterday which show that fewer than half of GCSE students in the North-East are leaving school with good grades in these two core subjects.

Most of the region’s provisional results fall below the national average.

Rules introduced this year judge local educational authorities by the percentage of children who gain five or more GCSE passes at grades A* to C, including English and maths rather than just five passes in any subjects.

Minister for the North-East Nick Brown, who is MP for Newcastle East and Wallsend, said the Government’s investment in Newcastle was bearing fruit and the GCSE results reflected great credit on teachers and students.

But experts say the tables reveal that schools have been neglecting basic literacy and numeracy to meet government targets, with many schools entering pupils for so-called “soft” courses, such as sports science or GNVQs, to boost their results for school league tables. Even though Gateshead has the region’s best GCSE results, only 45% of pupils are passing basic numeracy and literacy tests.

North-East business leaders say the figures show the problems they face in attracting school leavers with good basic skills.

North-East Chamber of Commerce head of policy Ross Smith said: “Congratulations to those schools improving steadily. However, business regularly reports that many recruiters complain about shortage of skill levels.

“We must continue to strive to improve these results and emphasise how important it is to get staff with high skill levels.

“It is important for business to encourage the education system to ensure our youngsters have a higher level of skills needed for this region’s prosperity.”

Since the new tables were introduced, every local education authority in the country has seen its GCSE score fall, but some of the biggest differences have been recorded in this region.

NASUWT North-East executive member Mick Lyons said: “Teachers work extremely hard and results are beginning to go up in the region – it is not an overnight process. However, the Government’s strategy of setting targets is too simplistic and unrealistic and the data collected is sometimes questionable.

“I blame ‘curriculum overload’. The Government thinks it is the schools’ responsibility to cure all the ills of society, like healthy eating and sex education, which can often take time away from the curriculum to learn the basics.”

Results in Northumberland and North Tyneside declined. Last year, 49% of pupils in Northumberland gained English and maths in their five passes compared with 46% this year. North Tyneside saw a percentage drop from last year, despite being the only LEA in the region to match the English average.

A spokesman for North Tyneside Council said: “Although the figure for five or more A* to C grades including maths and English has dipped slightly, this is also above the national average and places North Tyneside as the top-ranking education authority in the region.”

Gateshead Council cabinet member for children and young people Coun Catherine Donovan said: “Although figures are only provisional at this stage, they show another year of fantastic achievements for young people.”

Schools in Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland can also take comfort in a slight increase in this year’s provisional GCSE results.

Schools minister Jim Knight said: “The new target of at least 53% of young people getting five good GCSE passes, including English and maths, by 2011 – which requires a doubling of the current rate of improvement – will be another important milestone towards a world-class education system.”

But shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: “After this week’s Ofsted report showing that half of our secondary schools are not good enough, this is yet more evidence that the Government is failing to deliver the quality of education that parents demand and children need.”

To find out the full results from your area, click here

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'More get better start in life'

NATIONWIDE fewer than half of England’s teenagers mastered the three Rs in their GCSE passes this summer. Only 46.5% scored at least five C grades in subjects including English and maths.

But the figure was an improvement of 0.7 points on last year, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said.

There was also a rise in the number of pupils scoring five A to C grades in any subjects to 61.5%.

Schools minister Jim Knight welcomed the results. He said: “Whatever the carping from the usual doom-mongers, 470,000 more young people since 1997 have got a better start in life.”

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How they score

Percentage of children getting five or more GCSE passes at grades A* to C, including English and maths (2006/2007 provisional)

LEA

Durham 41.9% (40% last year)

Northumberland 46.2% (49%)

Gateshead 45.5% (45%)

Newcastle 37.6% (34%)

North Tyneside 47.0% (48%)

South Tyneside 41.3% (40%)

Sunderland 38.3 % (34%)

England Average 46.5%

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