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Pupils from poorer families make gains in GCSE results
Buy this photo » Headteacher of Oxford Spires Academy Sue Croft eating lunch with Year 7 students
CHILDREN from poorer backgrounds have made big strides in their GCSE and A Level exam results New figures from the Department for Education have revealed that last year 59 per cent of school pupils eligible for free school meals came away with five A* to C GCSEs compared to 37 per cent back in 2005.
And one in four children achieved two or more A-Levels or equivalent – a rise from 17 per cent to 25.
The figures also reveal that across the county the gap between the proportion of free school meals children achieving five good GCSEs and those not on free school meals has reduced by eight percentage points, from 34 to 26 per cent.
In 2005 only 179 of the 484 children on free school meals made the grade, compared with 3,993 of the 6,159 not on free school meals.
By 2012 numbers stood at 268 children out of 454 for free school meals, and 4,984 out of 5,933 for the rest of the cohort.
But the gap was far smaller in England as a whole, at 17 per cent.
Melinda Tilley, Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for children, education and families, said: “There are clearly lots of issues, but it means we have got to do more rather than be complacent.”
At Oxford Spires Academy, where about a quarter of all children are eligible for free school meals, the gap is far smaller – about eight percentage points.
Headteacher Sue Croft said she was staggered at the figure.
She said: “Some children on free school meals don’t get the extra books, the trips to museums and art galleries that others do, but that is the only trend we have noted.”
She said things like booster programmes, providing free school meals children with things like extra books to take home and programmes aimed at raising aspiration had all helped narrow the gap.
In two other performance measures the gap increased including that between the two groups of children achieving five A* to Cs at GCSE including English and maths which rose from 34 per cent to 35 per cent.
At the same time, the gap shrank nationally, from 30 per cent to 27 per cent at GCSE.
At Wheatley Park School, Holton, about nine per cent of pupils are on free school meals.
Headteacher Kate Curtis said: “We still have a lot more work to do across Oxfordshire with the vulnerable people in our county.”
“Where there is a lot of privilege, there are also still a large number of young people who are not getting the results they need to be able to function properly.”
Simon Spiers, headteacher at King Alfred's Academy, Wantage, said the focus on the performance of the group required a “culture change”.
He said: “If you have a school with 20, 30 or 40 per cent on free school meals, it's in your face, you have to work with those students.”
'MY MUM IS MY INSPIRING ROLE MODEL'
Riema Eldawi, 16, from Cowley, is among pupils at Oxford Spires Academy eligible for free school meals.
She came to Oxford from Sudan aged eight, and joined Oxford School – which became Oxford Spires Academy in 2011 – in Year 7.
Her father still lives there and and her mother Muna, 47, is currently studying for a university course and so receives child tax benefits alongside her student loan. Riema’s older brothers Muhammed, 20, and Ahmed, 18, start at university in the coming weeks.
Riema defies the statistics, having achieved four A*s, four As and four Bs in this summer’s GCSEs, saying her family particularly her mother support her in doing well.
“I think traditionally children who have free school meals have parents that don’t work or are on benefits whereas children who don’t have free school meals have parents who are employed and they are good role models.”
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