Best progress: Pride and sadness as school faces up to closure

BEING named as the most improved secondary in the region is a bittersweet moment for staff and students at Birkdale High in Dewsbury, who have lost a battle to save their school from closure.

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It is being shut down this summer by education bosses at Kirklees Council because of its low pupil numbers.

But headteacher Christine Caraher said the school's latest league table ranking yesterday has proved that it is both a successful and sustainable school.

Birkdale was named top of a league table measuring the region's schools who have delivered year-on-year improvements in their GCSE results since 2007.

Four years ago just 11 per cent of its pupils reached the benchmark target of getting five good GCSE grades, including English and maths.

This year 38 per cent achieved it – surpassing the Government's tougher new minimum target of 35 per cent.

The sustained four-year increase of 27 per cent more pupils making the grade was the biggest of any secondary school in Yorkshire and also placed the Dewsbury school in the top 50 nationally.

It was identified for closure as part of Kirklees Council's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) plans.

Campaigners thought they had been thrown a lifeline when Education Secretary Michael Gove pulled the plug on the BSF programme last year meaning Kirklees missed out on the cash it had planned to use to fund its school reorganisation plans.

Last month, however, the authority pushed ahead with the plans to close Birkdale this summer.

Mrs Caraher said: "We felt the council should have revisited the decision and our league table position today underlines this but it is too late, the fight has already passed and the school will close this year."

She told the Yorkshire Post that the improvements which Birkdale pupils have achieved since 2007 was made all the more impressive because the grades have been secured against a backdrop of uncertainty over Birkdale's future.

"We are very proud of what we have achieved. We have had a couple of key strategies and we've worked really hard on what happens to children in the classroom," she added. "We have concentrated hard on the standard of teaching and that has obviously had a huge impact on the results the pupils achieve. We also have an extremely intensive tracking system which allows us to carry out early intervention if a pupil's results drop in a particular area."

She said she believed the size of the school allowed them to make the most of this approach. Mrs Caraher also said it's nurturing environment had helped pupils from deprived backgrounds to make good progress.

"The school has 450 pupils but we could accommodate 750 to 800.

"However when you see plans for free schools to be opened up with less than half of the numbers we have then it is a source of frustration for us that we are being closed down."

Mrs Caraher said the school had ruled out the possibility of bidding to stay open by becoming a free school.

Free schools are a flagship policy of the coalition Government which is encouraging groups of parents and teachers to apply to open up their own state schools wherever they are unhappy with the choice on offer from the education authority in their area.

In 2005 Birkdale was placed in special measures by Ofsted inspectors who said teaching and learning at the school were poor and leadership was unsatisfactory. Three years later an inspection team from the schools watchdog decided it no longer needed "significant improvement" and was delivering a satisfactory standard of education.

Ofsted acknowledged that results were improving two years ago and praised the school for introducing "a strong emphasis on raising students' aspiration" which had made pupils more determined to succeed.

Hull Trinity House School pupils achieved the second highest level of improvement in GCSE results since 2007 in the region, according to yesterday's tables.

Four years ago 64 per cent of its year 11 students made the grade compared with 89 per cent last summer – an increase of 25 per cent.

The Cathedral School, in Wakefield, has also seen a 25 per cent increase in the level of students achieving five A* to C grades at GCSE including English and maths however it is ranked below Hull Trinity House in the league table as its level of pupils reaching this standard is lower. Last summer 48 per cent of its students achieved the benchmark compared with 23 per cent four years ago.

Tong High School, in Bradford, was Yorkshire's fourth highest ranked school with an improvement of 24 per cent more pupils making the grade compared with 2007.

Figures better year by year

BIRKDALE High was Yorkshire's best performer in a league table measuring the performance of schools which have delivered year-on year improvements since 2007.

The tables published yesterday by the Department for Education show how every school in the country performed at both GCSE and A-level exams last summer. They also provided a breakdown on the country's best performers, the schools which add the most value to their children's education and those with the worst attendance record. This year's table also include information about how a school spends its money to enable parents to make an informed choice about where to send their child.