No Gwent schools in top bandings
10:51am Friday 13th December 2013 in News
Annual banding results for Welsh schools were released by Welsh Government yesterday and spelled bad news for many of Gwent's schools. EMMA MACKINTOSH, KATH SKELLON, HAYLEY MILLS and DANIEL ANGELINI report.
THERE are no Gwent schools in the best category Welsh Government has for ranking them, according to new data published yesterday.
Three Gwent schools which were previously ranked in the top "band 1" category - Oakdale Comprehensive, Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni in Blackwood and St Alban's RC High School in Pontypool - have all dropped down, leaving the five counties with no schools in band 1.
Eight Gwent schools stayed the same as last year, while 13 went up and 15 went down.
The banding, introduced three years ago, is based on the percentage of pupils achieving five A* to Cs at GCSE including English or Welsh and mathematics; the best eight GCSEs of pupils; the performance of pupils at GCSE in English or Welsh and mathematics; and attendance.
Schools are graded from one (best) to five (worst).
As part of the system developed by former director of education in Newport and now director of school standards in Welsh Government, Dr Brett Pugh, some schools must be in bands 4 or 5, but he admitted at a recent meeting of the Gwent branch of Institute for Welsh Affairs in Cross Keys that the system may have reached the end of its usefulness.
Last year in Blaenau Gwent, Abertillery Comprehensive School and Tredegar Comprehensive were both ranked at 5 while Brynmawr School was in band 3.
Abertillery and Brynmawr have stayed the same while Tredegar has moved up two bands into band 3.
Head teacher at Brynmawr, James Retallick said he was pleased that GCSE grades and attendance have been recognised and is confident that performance will continue to improve year on year.
"The closure of our sixth-form presented several challenges, so we are so pleased that we’ve managed to improve results in these challenging times," he said.
Last year, Oakdale and Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni secondary schools were both in the top cateogry, band 1; Blackwood and Newbridge Schools were in band 2; Pontllanfraith and Risca Comprehensive were all in band 3; and Cwmcarn and Lewis School Pengam were all in band 4.
Both Oakdale and Cwm Rhymni have dropped to band 4 and band 2 respectively; Blackwood and Newbridge have both dropped to band 4; Pontllanfraith has dropped to band while Risca has improved to band 2; and both Cwmcarn, despite a tough year moving to Ebbw Vale due to asbestos on the old site, and Lewis School Pengam have improved to band 3.
John Kendall, head teacher at Risca Comprehensive School, said the school's focus remains firmly on the achievements and well-being of each individual child, and pupils are not only eager to improve on the achievements of last year's leavers, they are on track to do so.
"This is excellent news with which to end the year," he said.
Blackwood Comprehensive head teacher, Ravi Pawar, who has been in post for four years, said banding was "one single measure that’s used to judge and compare schools" and that the "huge volatility year on year" indicates that it has got "many flaws".
In 2012, only St Alban’s RC High was in band 1 in Torfaen; Abersychan Comprehensive, Llantarnam, West Monmouth and Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw were all in band 4; while both Croesyceiliog and Fairwater High were in band 5 last year.
Now St Alban's has dropped down to band 2; Abersychan and Llantarnam have both dropped to band 4; West Monmouth has stayed the same; Gwynllyw has improved to band 2; while Croesyceiliog has jumped to band 2 and Fairwater to band 3.
Helen Coulson, head teacher at Fairwater said that while they are pleased that "the tremendous improvement" in GCSE results has been recognised, they are "slightly disappointed" as they feel it does not fully reflect improvements made across all areas of the school.
"We are confident, based on current tracking of pupil performance, that this time next year our continued improvements in standards will place us in band 1 or 2," she said.
Abersychan head teacher Michael Conway said naturally the school is disappointed to slip into band 5.
"Abersychan, like many schools, is on a journey of improvement and I am confident that we have the strategies in place to secure sustained improvement in the coming years," he said.
Ellis Griffiths, head teacher at Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw said the school was delighted to be in band 2 and gave "sincere thanks" to pupils and parents.
Last year, Caldicot and Monmouth Comprehensive were in band 3; Chepstow Comprehensive was in band 4; while King Henry VIII Comprehensive School was in band 5.
In 2013, Caldicot and Chepstow have improved to bands 2 and 3 respectively, while King Henry VIII has stayed the same and Monmouth Comprehensive has gone down to band 4.
Chepstow headteacher, Claire Price, whose school was last week released from the Estyn monitoring programme, said she was "delighted" with the progress the school is making.
"I know strong schools are built within strong systems and we will continue to work with all schools in the local authority and family to ensure students across Wales achieve the best outcomes possible," she said.
In a statement from Caldicot School, deputy headteacher Gareth Whitcombe described an improvement in banding as "testament to the professionalism of the staff, the commitment and determination of pupils and the very strong partnership with parents and the governing body."
In 2012, Bassaleg, Newport High and St Joseph’s RC High School were in band 2; Duffryn High and St Julian’s Comprehensive were in band 3; Caerleon Comprehensive and Lliswerry High Schools were in band 4; and the recently rebranded Llanwern High was in band 5.
This year, Bassaleg and Newport High have remained the same; Caerleon has improved to band 2; Duffryn and St Julian's have dropped to band 4; Llanwern has improved to band 3; Lliswerry has dropped to band 5; and St Joseph's has dropped to band 3.
Councillor Bob Poole, cabinet member for education said compared with other local authorities in south east Wales, Newport has a smaller proportion of band five schools.
Head teacher of Caerleon Comprehensive School for four years, Tim Pratt, said he was pleased the school has moved up following frustration last year.
"[Banding] is something that professionally I don’t want to take too much notice of but members of the public and my parents look at it and have a view on how the school is doing," he said.
“It will be really interesting to see what Welsh Government come up with in the calculations for next year, they are going to revise the way it’s calculated."
Peter Jenkins, head teacher at the 860-pupil Llanwern High School said he was delighted to go up two places.
“We were slightly disappointed to miss out on band 2 by just one point,” he said. “The consolation was that we were in the top 10 schools in terms of expectations in level 2, pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and maths.
“I think the whole philosophy of the school has had an awesome effect, the facilities and expectations are all major contributors.”
Denise Richards, head teacher at St Julian's, said she knew it would take a couple of years for changes at the school to reflect in results and other areas.
"All our students and staff are working extremely hard and striving to ensure there is consistent improvements in all areas of the school," she said. "We see an exciting future ahead."
This is the third year that data of this kind has been published by the Welsh Government with a total of 218 Welsh schools being banded in 2013.
Across Wales, 20 schools were in band 1; 62 schools were in band 2; 60 schools in band 3; 51 schools in 4; and 25 schools in band 5.
Education minister Huw Lewis insisted banding data is "crucial" in seeing how schools are doing, despite teachers' assertions that the system could be re-worked next year.
"It’s encouraging that since banding has been in place absenteeism has fallen and we’re seeing improvement in our exam performance," he said.
"We continue to narrow the gap with England on GCSE performance and that’s very encouraging."
Steve Davies, head of the body in charge of improving Gwent education, the EAS, admitted he was disappointed there were no schools in band 1.
"The national banding framework is constructed on the basis of comparison between schools, and therefore there will always be schools in each band," he said.
Meanwhile teaching unions unanimously blasted the banding system, describing it as "flawed" and "unfair to schools".
Rex Phillips, organiser for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) said the body opposes the banding system and it should be scrapped, as it is unfair to schools.
"It creates a system where there will always be schools in lower bands," he said.
"For those that sustain good results, they may still fall into lower bands because they don’t show improvement. Schools are continually moving. What you have is a roundabout."
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) Cymru says this year’s figures underline "the need for a fundamental review of the system", in particular issues around the frequency of publication and methodology used to band schools.
Union secretary, David Evans said: "The education minister has stated that he intends to review aspects of the banding system. That commitment is very welcome and hopefully it will deliver a more acceptable system."
A spokeswoman for the Welsh UCAC education union said: "Each new set of banding results only emphasises the meaninglessness of this process and any information that emerges from it.
"Yes, the government and local authorities need to be able to identify schools that require extra support – that’s perfectly reasonable. However, that would be possible on the basis of a series of individual items of data relating to school performance.
“We call once again on the Welsh Government to reconsider the system. Tinkering with the individual data items is not the way forward – the system in its entirety needs to be scrapped."
Chris Howard, acting director of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said 20 per cent of schools move rapidly around the bands so it is difficult to judge or compare schools this way.
"The point is, you don’t move from a good school to a bad school overnight, it just doesn’t happen," he said.
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