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How do we halt the brain drain from Croydon's schools?


LESS than half of the top-performing children in Croydon's primary schools go on to attend one of the town's state secondary schools.

Despite recent improvements in GCSE results, 52 per cent of pupils who achieved a Level 6 in maths during last year's SATs went on to be educated outside of Croydon or in one of the borough's independent schools.

According to figures published by the council last week, one in three of the 436 children who achieved the highest level in maths last summer moved on to a school in Sutton, predominantly to selective education in one of its five grammar schools.

Some politicians and head teachers said the statistics, which are indicative of a long-established trend, are proof that, despite recent improvements, far more needs to be done to raise standards in Croydon's comprehensive schools.

Others, including Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, said the borough needs its own grammar school so parents interested in selective education do not have to look to Sutton or Bromley.

Whatever the interpretation, the council report concludes the brain drain from Croydon's state schools "inevitably impacts" on their GCSE results.

Riddlesdown Collegiate is affected more than most but head teacher Gordon Smith says the school, which has become an academy, is starting to attract more high-performing pupils due to recent improvements in its GCSE results, with the number meeting the expected standard set to rise from 67 per cent to 74 per cent when last summer's results are published at the end of this week.

"We're seeing a big increase in the highest ability children," Mr Smith said, pointing out 12 per cent of its current Year 7 achieved level 6 in maths at Key Stage 2.

"I think the improvements we've made are giving parents confidence but, as a community, we need to do more to convince them brighter pupils will do well in Croydon schools."

A look at the Government's league tables shows grammar schools like Wallington High School, in Sutton, and St Olave's in Bromley, are outperforming Croydon's best secondaries in a number of areas, including the new English Baccalaureate performance measure, which includes the core subjects as well as science, history or geography and a language.

There are other areas where certain Croydon schools perform well, particularly when it comes to getting the best out of pupils who start at a low level or for whom English is a second language.

After ten years of consecutive improvement to GCSE results (interrupted last summer with scores falling, as they did nationally), things are looking up, especially in comparison to a decade ago, when hundreds of children left secondary school without five good GCSEs, prompting the shift toward academisation.

Part of the problem, however, is that parents' perception of those standards have not risen alongside results.

Debbie Anderson sent her eldest son Paul, then a pupil at Oval Primary School, to Wallington County Grammar during the height of Croydon's school slump.

"We felt we didn't have much of a choice," she said. "At the time there were no academies and we weren't Catholic enough to get into what we considered the better schools in Croydon.

"The feeder school for Oval was Ashburton [Community School] and hell would have frozen over before my boys went there. It had an awful reputation.

"Sending Paul out of the borough was the only option."

Asked whether she would choose differently given the transformation of many of Croydon's secondary schools, she said: "I don't think so. If you have a bright child and you have any sense, you would go for a grammar school if you can."

Ashburton was one of the struggling schools which was converted into an academy, reopening as Oasis Academy Shirley Park in 2009.

Oasis Community Learning, its sponsor, has since overseen a significant improvement in results and, last year, an "outstanding" Ofsted report. Such is its progress that Mr Barwell believes it will soon start to rival the grammars for the most able pupils.

Mr Barwell was independently educated at Trinity School, a Whitgift Foundation independent. His eldest son is in Year 7 at a grammar school in Sutton. He says standards in Croydon must continue to rise, but also called for the return of selective education to the borough.

He said: "These figures are indicative of something that has always been a problem for secondary schools in Croydon, because the borough has some very good independent schools and there are also very good selective schools within commutable distance.

"The work the previous council was doing was always with a view that if you got Croydon's secondary schools up to that level, then you would begin to influence parental behaviour.

"I think they are not yet at the level. A number of the schools have improved quite a bit, but there's probably still some way to go before parents are going to change their behaviour.

"Personally, I would like to see a selective school in Croydon. It's a shame parents don't have that choice. I think that's where they feel their children will get the best education."

Cllr Pollard, former cabinet member for education and now leader of the Conservative opposition, also wants to see a grammar school open in Croydon.

He wanted one to open in South Norwood and says a Sutton grammar school came close to submitting a bid, but decided instead to expand within its own borough.

"I'm in favour of choice," he added. "It's a great shame so many boroughs abolished grammar schools. If I could turn back time and stop it happening, I would do it.

"I'm not sure these figures are a huge problem, but it does make our GCSE improvement even more impressive if you consider the schools ours are competing with."

Sarah Jones, standing against Mr Barwell for Labour in May, went to private school and sent her son to one.

She said the loss of pupils needs to be tackled "head on" by addressing the number of unqualified teachers working in Croydon schools. "Parents look at results and we need to look at what influences those results," she said.

MP: 'I want them to go to a grammar school because that's where they will get the best education' 

THE two main candidates hoping to represent the hotly contested Croydon Central constituency after May's general election were both privately educated and have sent their children to selective or independent schools.

Gavin Barwell's son Jack is in Year 7 at Wallington County Grammar School.

The Conservative MP said: "We included some Croydon schools on our option forms and if there had been an selective school in the borough that's where he would have gone.

"My two youngest children go to the local state primary but if they are able to pass the exam I want them to go to a grammar school because that's where they will get the best education.

"I only think that's an issue for politicians when they say one thing and do another. I've been very clear that I would like a grammar school in Croydon."

Sarah Jones, Labour's prospective Parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, attended one of the town's state primary schools before moving to Old Palace at John Whitgift, a private girls' school run by the Whitgift Foundation. Her parents chose the school because her mother worked there, she said.

She has two children at primary school in Croydon and her eldest, who has now graduated, went to an independent secondary school.

"I took a decision that I believed to be the right one for him at the time," she said.

"It was just down the road. It was a nice school. Lots of people he knew were going there. I thought it was the right school for him.

"All parents will want to do the right thing for their children and will make a decision based on what they think is the right thing to do.

"I think there are some great schools. I went round Edenham [High] the other day. It's got a great ethos. The kids are getting good results.

"There are some fine schools, but we need to do more." 

How do boroughs' best schools compare? 

THE list of the five highest achieving schools in Sutton and Bromley out-performed those in Croydon, even the town's well thought of private schools. The following shows the percentage of pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate performance measure – which is a C grade or above in English, maths, history or geography, the sciences and a language – in 2013.


Sutton Grammar Grammar - 89

Wallington High School Grammar - 89

Wilson's School Academy - 88

Nonsuch High School Grammar - 86

Wallington County Grammar - 79


Coloma Convent Girls' Faith (voluntary aided) - 81

Royal Russell School Independent - 48

Harris Crystal Palace Academy - 40

Old Palace School Independent - 37

Woodcote High Academy - 36


Eltham College Independent - 96

St Olave's Grammar - 96

Bromley High Independent - 84

Newstead Wood Grammar - 83

Babington House Independent - 62

How do we halt the brain drain from Croydon's schools?

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