Schools leap ahead at key learning age

Schools in the North will see mixed results in national league tables for 14-year-olds when they are published today.

Pupils from Greencroft School in Stanley with acting head John Gibb

Schools in the North will see mixed results in national league tables for 14-year-olds when they are published today.

There were no schools from the region in the country's top 200, but the North-East had three of the 10 most improved schools in England for Key Stage Three tests.

Greencroft School in Stanley, County Durham, was the second most improved school in the country, with the number of children getting the target level in English, maths and science almost doubling over the last four years.

Samuel King's School in Alston, Cumbria, was the sixth most improved in England and Thomas Hepburn Comprehensive in Gateshead was seventh.

Berwick High School in Northumberland, Pennywell School in Sunderland and Bishop Barrington School in Bishop Auckland were also among the country's most improved. The region's top local education authority was Northumberland, which went up from 60th out of 150 LEAs last year to 41. It was followed in the regional table by Gateshead, North Tyneside and County Durham.

But Newcastle struggled, with the city coming 141st in the county and three of its schools being included in the list of the country's bottom 200.

David Clegg, head of education at Newcastle City Council, said: "Clearly there is still progress to be made at Key Stage 3, but it is pleasing to see that results in maths and science are continuing to improve.

"It is disappointing that results for English have dipped this year. This is partly due to the fact that a significant number of pupils were entered into the English tests a year early.

"We have set up a group of headteachers, council officers and consultants specifically to look at ways of improving performance at Key Stage Three."

A Northumberland County Council spokesperson said: "We are delighted with the results achieved by Northumberland pupils at Key Stage Three in 2006 which show that progress has been significantly above expectation.

"The results are a reflection of the pupils' hard work and the middle and high schools commitment to providing a high quality learning experience for them."

Key Stage Three results are a crucial indicator of how children are doing as they progress through secondary school.

In the national table of LEAs, Gateshead was ranked at 53; North Tyneside 65; Durham 82; South Tyneside 84; and Sunderland 97.

Greencroft School acting head John Gibb, said: "We're delighted with the sustained and continued improvement, which has been a result of high quality teaching, motivated staff and pupils, and supportive parents. This has been achieved by reducing class sizes in the core subjects from 25 to 16 on average, and by mentoring pupils throughout the three years. We still have to do that at Key Stage Four, but the trend is slowly starting to improve."

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RGS's Miller to retire from 'the best job in education'

The headmaster of one of the North's top schools said yesterday he planned to step down.

James Miller, who has been head at Newcastle's Royal Grammar School for more than 12 years, says he will retire in summer 2008.

Mr Miller, 56, has written to parents to tell them of the decision.

He has made his announcement in time to allow the school to attract a new head teacher - many top independent school leaders are on contracts which require a full academic year's notice.

Last night, he said: "It's a very demanding and tiring job. I'll have done it for 14 years and I'm not getting any younger.

"I really do believe it's the best job in education. It's a phenomenal school.

"The staff are superb, the kids are great and the governors are great. We've done a hell of a lot, but it's been a team effort."

His tenure at RGS will be remembered for the decision to begin admitting girls for the first time in its 450-year history.

He also oversaw the launch of a bursary campaign, giving talented pupils from poorer backgrounds the chance to attend the school.

A major redevelopment programme has been carried out at the school under his leadership - most recently a £10m performing arts centre opened last year.

Mr Miller has also worked to develop links with state schools in Newcastle.

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First class crew honoured

People who are doing some of the best work in the region's schools are recognised today as the shortlisted finalists in the North-East School Awards.

The Journal has teamed up with our sister paper on Teesside The Evening Gazette and sponsors Northumbrian Water to put together awards for the hard and often unsung work making a difference to our children's education.

From inspirational teachers and dedicated school staff to the hard-working pupils, there are hundreds of people who work to make the area's schools some of the best in the country.

And today we can reveal which schools, teachers and staff have are the three finalists in each of the 10 sections.

The winners, with an additional award of North-East School of the Year, will be announced at an awards night in Newcastle on March 21.

The finalists:

Best Primary Teacher: Michelle O'Donnell, St Joseph's RC Primary School, Newcastle; Miss J Miller, Layfield Primary School, Yarm; Moira Leman, Knoplaw Primary School, Newcastle.

Best Secondary Teacher: Amer Sheikh, Thornhill School, Sunderland; Christine Everett, Thornaby Community School, Stockton; Rose Atkin, Burnside Business and Enterprise College, Wallsend.

Best Caretaker: Brian Cunningham, Viewley Hill Primary, Hemlington; John Armstrong, Kenton Bar Primary, Newcastle; Michelle Hardy, William Cassidi CofE Aided Primary, Stillington.

Best Support Staff: Jean Dixon, Chopwell Primary School, Gateshead; Susan & Nigel Moore, King Edward VI School, Morpeth; Valerie Barnes, Kelvin Grove Community School, Gateshead.

Best Head: Dean Judson, Hurworth School Maths and Computing College, Darlington; Jo Warner, Westerhope Primary School, Newcastle; Callum Kidd, Carr Hill Primary, Gateshead.

Active Community Award: Hadrian Special School, Newcastle; St Joseph's Primary School, Bishop Auckland; Thornhill School, Sunderland.

Environment Award: Walbottle Village Primary School, Newcastle; Portobello Primary School, Chester-le-Street; Belsay First School, Northumberland.

Sustainable School Award: Cassop Primary School, County Durham; St Peter's CofE School; Brotton; Sir Charles Parsons School, Newcastle.

Healthy Living Award: Skelton Primary School, Skelton; Brandling Primary School, Gateshead; Portland School, Sunderland.

School Newspaper Award: Norton School Humanities College, Stockton; Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, Durham; Cullercoats Primary School, North Shields.

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Exams easier? What a sauce

Echoes of an age gone by have exploded the myth that exams today are easier than they used to be.

In an authentic, but slightly less than scientific, experiment, youngsters from the Newcastle Royal Grammar School unearthed a series of 1950s and 60s English and "intelligence" tests - then subjected their peers to them.

Twenty-five students from the school faced the entrance exams sat by pupils more than five decades ago.

And the results showed exactly the opposite of what most people think about 21st century exams - they're actually quite tough.

Tom Rowley, 16, who co-edits the school's magazine The Grammar, said: "The 16 and 17-year-olds notched up better marks in papers from 40 years ago than they did in recent exams, suggesting that the tests aren't getting more difficult.

"On the 1964 English paper students from Year 7 scored marks ranging from five to 27 out of 30, compared to the 2007 paper where prospective entrants scored between zero and 21 out of 30.

"When the papers were found in our archives we were struck by their novelty and some of the questions.

"For instance a general knowledge paper included questions like `what sauce do we eat with roast pork?' and `in what radio programme do the following characters appear?' which were fairly odd by today's standards."

Andrew Bellis, 17, Tom's co-editor, said: "We expected the results to prove that today's exams are easier - it just shows that it is unfair to suggest that students aren't as intelligent as they were 40 years ago."

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