Watford Grammar school for girls recorded the most spectacular top grades among schools of its type in England , according to a study of last year's GCSE results by the Guardian and the analysts FFT. Watford Grammar, which is not a grammar school but an academy, had the largest proportion of pupils awarded the top A* and A grades in English, geography, art and design, maths and music among non-selective state schools in England , as well as top 10 places for the percentage of pupils awarded top grades in history and languages. In several cases its results ranked alongside the best selective state and independent schools, with 96.5% of entrants awarded A* and A in music, and 85% in geography. The headteacher, Dame Helen Hyde , credited her staff for the success. "I have got outstanding teachers, of course. They are outstanding because they are so enthusiastic," she said. For example, she said, her geography and maths teachers had generated interest for their subjects: "My head of maths is a young bloke; he eats, sleeps and drinks maths. His whole department makes maths fun. It's quite a zany maths department." While the school is largely non-selective and allocates the bulk of its places according to proximity, it admits 25% of entrants each year based on academic ability and a further 10% on musical aptitude. But that is only part of the explanation for the school's remarkable music results. "Music is part of the soul of the school," Hyde said. "These children are gradually sucked into music and become more and more interested in it, because it's a fun area, they love the singing and performing." A headteacher for 25 years, Hyde has seen many fashions in education come and go. But she said she was convinced that academy status - Watford Grammar converted from being a voluntary-aided school three years ago - was a good thing. "It's wonderful. A head can take decisions and put them into practice quickly, so the impact on the child's education is quick." Hyde singled out staff as the prime area where academy status had allowed flexibility. "You can employ your own staff in the way you want, you can employ as many or as little. You can write your own job descriptions. You can improve pay and conditions for all staff, not just for teachers. My support staff are on much better pay and conditions than they were before. "I can restructure things within a year; I can change everything if I wanted to. It frees up your thinking," she said. "You are training children to think in a free and independent way, and not be cramped."
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