Reflections on exam results

As this year there was only room for Years 11-13 at Speech Day I thought that I would use my blog to share the reflections I made on our public examination results for 2017.

This year over 65% of all passes were at A*/A grade – this is our second highest figure ever but to put this in context the only time we previously achieved this level was when the A Level exams were fully modular allowing students multiple resits.  This year in many subjects our students were having – for the first time in many, many years – all of their work assessed by a terminal exam at the end of the two year’s work – thus I think that it is fair to claim that these are our best ever results simply on the basis that so many of the exams were one take only.

Our % of A* grades was 28.3% – this is the highest figure achieved by any year group at the High School since this grade was introduced back in 2010 – again a really significant achievement and showing both the quality of our teaching and the hard work and determination of this year group.

38 students gained 3 grade As or better. 12 students gained at least three A* grades – another record.  In addition, this year 13 of our students secured Oxbridge places (8 boys and 5 girls) and whilst Oxbridge is not the first choice for all of our brightest students  we believe that there is no school in the region that was more successful in this respect. The same is true with applications to Medical courses this year with 12 successful in gaining places to read Medicine. Of course, we also had many students getting into their first choice universities with an amazing 80% being in this position and several others able to ‘trade up’ their choice of place following superb results.

When I set out our vision for the School to move to co-education a central part of this was the benefit that it would bring in the classroom.  Our A Level results confirm that this has indeed shown to be the case.  Indeed, the Times newspaper reported that across the country this year mixed schools achieved the best results – a ringing endorsement for the move that we have made.

Another central part of our vision for our move to co-education was to move the School into the top 50 of independent schools across the country.  In terms of League table positions these look primarily at the % of A* and A grades achieved and this year I was absolutely delighted to read that we finished in 35th position nationally – well ahead of all of our local competition (NGHS 137th; Loughborough Grammar 74th; Trent College 147th) and by some way as the top school in the region. Thus, another key goal has been achieved.

Table below created using results taken from the respective School’s websites on results’ day:

School Our results NGHS Loughborough Boys Loughborough Girls Trent
% of passes at A* 28.3% 17% 21% 18.5% 13%
% of passes at A*/A 65.4% 47% 56.1% 46.4% 44%

League tables can be a crude measure of school success but they are useful to us in comparing where we are with respect to the other schools parents in the area have the ability to choose from.  The top of the tables are dominated by schools in London and the South-East, much wealthier areas with many more potential students, but to put our results in context we are in the top six of all independent schools north of Oxford in the same company as prestigious schools like King Edward’s in Birmingham, Manchester Grammar School and RGS Newcastle and ahead of similar schools to ourselves in Bristol, Portsmouth, Leeds, Bath, Exeter, Norwich, Chester, Warwick, Solihull and many other places besides.

One final thought on the A level results.  I went back to the original entrance exam results for all of these pupils to compare how they did then with how they have done in their final exams.  If we look at the grades of the five pupils who came lowest in the initial entrance exam, between them at A level they gained 2 A* grades, 9 A grades grades, 2 Bs and 1 D grades.  Three of them gained three A grades or better. Even more impressively one is heading off to Oxford and another to medical school. This is just another sign of how much value the School adds over the years and just how effective we are at getting the best out of every student – at the High School dreams really do come true.

It is fair to say that at GCSE level I was concerned as to what picture might emerge following some modest mock exam results but I need not have worried and I am delighted to report that we had our best year since 2013. This year an impressive 74.2% of all of our passes were at A* or A grade and almost 48% at A* grade alone. For almost half of all subjects taken to be passed at the highest grade is simply stunning so well done to all of you in last year’s Year 11.  29 pupils (10 more than last year) gained a full set of A* and A grades and nine gained a full set of A* grades. Amongst all the fantastic success we have had this year one factor stands out for me and that is the progress made by some of our GCSE students.  It is fair to say that there were a few in this year group that had a great deal to do after their mocks but thanks to their hard work, the support of their families and the structured support given by so many of our staff so many of them were able to pull their grades up.  There were a few that had originally only been offered provisional places when they joined in Year 7 who were able to secure really positive results and thus will be returning for the Sixth Form.  Education is all about getting the best out of each individual and for many of us on the staff it is these stories of remarkable added value delivered by the school that we find most rewarding.

In terms of the GCSE League tables we again finished as the strongest school in the area and in a very pleasing 74th place nationally – again placing us as the top school in the area.  We were particularly delighted with the progress that many individuals made between the mock exams and the final exams.


Response to Michael Gove

Last week in the Times former Education Secretary Michael Gove suggested that not only should the charitable status of independent schools be ended but also that that VAT should be charged on school fees.  He was critical too of the support given to private school cadet forces.


He went on to say that “the fees for these schools are all more than £30,000 per year.” ‘They are out of reach for all save the very wealthiest’ he goes on to say.  He then questions just who gets the bursaries that are offered.


How wrong can Mr Gove be in one article?  It is though a concerning attack on the private school system.  It is particularly disappointing that he seems to see all independent schools as the same.  We do not charge even half of the fee he quotes.  We offer bursaries to well over 100 children, many of them from the most deprived parts of the city.  This year we had over 90 applicants from families desperate to give their children a brilliant education and one which sadly is not always available to them in the Schools in their local neighbourhoods for which Mr Gove had responsibiility until recently.  We could take many more of the deprived students Mr Gove states that he is so keen to support if only the government would work with us to find creative ways of extending the reach of independent schools.


Of course, if all of Mr Gove’s plans were to be adopted it would be a major challenge for the independent sector and many smaller schools might not survive.  If this were to happen the state would have to take them all into the maintained sector at considerable additional cost to the public purse.  The Independent Schools council quotes research from Oxford Economics in 2014 which found that the saving to the taxpayer from the 500,000 pupils in Independent Schools Council schools not being in state education is worth £3 billion, while the tax revenues generated by these schools is £3.6 billion. ISC schools additionally contribute £9.5 billion to the UK economy and the sector supports well over 200,000 jobs in the UK.  Can the state really afford to take on the extra burden – each child transferring from an independent school would cost the state £5,500 to educate?  What too would he propose to replace all the fantastic work being done by schools like ours in supporting children in maintained schools with a wide variety of activities.  Would the government really start to fund the Sunday cricket coaching that we provide to local children, or organise a cross-country event for over 400 primary aged children or provide opportunities for children across the city to hear about Oxbridge entrance.  The opportunities that he criticises us for providing in CCF are also opened up to a local state school – would he really replace the support that we are able to give them in setting up in due course their own contingent?  Would he really pay for the local primary school in one of the toughest inner-city area to take their children on a residential weekend?  His plans would decimate the fantastic work that so many schools do to support those in the local area.


Sadly he does not list those really deprived areas of Nottingham where we are offering bursary places too but places like St. Ann’s or the Meadows are very similar to those that he does name such as Knowsley or Sunderland and our bursaries reach into these communities.  Teachers working in primary schools in these areas, many of them suffering cuts to budgets, see the fantastic opportunity that our education with a bursary offers and recommend their students to us.  In return a charity linked with our school helps to fund such things as breakfast clubs or residential trips in these same schools.


It would make much more sense for the government that Mr Gove supports to take up the offer of 10,000 extra free places in schools such as ours which the Independent Schools Council has offered.  This would entail the government transferring the money which they are already paying to send these children to state schools to us and we would then top up the additional costs of these places.


Mr Gove wants to take the additional money his scheme would raise so that he could offer it to the most disadvantaged children in society – those in care.  He is clearly just completely unaware that schools like mine are already supporting such children in our schools and thanks to our bursary provision they are given a fantastic opportunity and superb pastoral care.


He speaks of those attending our schools as the ‘global super-rich’ – I am not sure that our parents would recognise this group in our school.  As I have said before, our parents are much more likely to be taxi-drivers than hedge fund managers.  Many more of our parents are making huge sacrifices because they believe in the importance of education in a way that governments of whatever political hue seldom do.


Mr Gove, please come and visit schools such as mine which provide a really amazing range of opportunities to all of the children we educate irrespective of their background.  Many of those on bursaries with us will be the first from their families to reach university and many of them will go on to give back in society in so many ways just as Ken Clarke, a former Tory politician of considerable reputation, has done since he came to our school on an assisted place.  Perhaps Mr Gove should read the section in Ken Clarke’s autobiography when he talks of the contribution that Nottingham High School gave him as a result of his supported place.

Far from being the problem that Michael Gove suggests we are, why not see us as part of the solution?

Independent Schools in Crisis?

Recently the Times ran a front page article suggesting that independent schools across the country are in crisis. This came as a huge surprise to me as the head of Nottingham High School as we have just had record numbers sit for entry next September to our school.  Many more families are currently expressing interest in independent education as the austerity cuts start to hit state education and with ever-growing class sizes. In fact, numbers of pupils at UK independent schools has never been higher and overall across all independent schools our exam results remain unparalleled. Nationally, nearly a third of pupils received A or A*s at GCSE in 2015 compared with just 7% in state schools (in fact the figure for the High School in recent years is just shy of 80%), and half of A Level entries were awarded A or A*, again a picture more than matched in most years by the High School.  At A Level pupils are four times more likely to achieve one top grade than in state-maintained schools.

Commentators often bemoan the fact that independent schools are so good that our pupils dominate the most successful universities and careers. How can this be when we are busy failing and going out of business?

Lord Lucas, the owner of the Good Schools Guide, is correct in saying that the best state schools are improving, but that improvement is not across the board. Many parents are not able to find a state school of the standard they want for their child and independent schools offer consistent excellence in teaching, co-curricular activities and preparation for university. Notably, 99.7% of them also work in partnership with state schools to increase opportunities for all pupils.

I have to say though that I find this constant sniping to suggest that there is a ‘battle’ between state and independent schools very distasteful.  We work with many schools across the city in a spirit of collaboration which both our own pupils and many in city schools benefit from greatly.  We open many of our sporting events and facilities to students across the city.  We have a programme whereby one of our coaches provides cricket training in city primary schools.  We support all of the local city championships in many sports and help run some of these.  We invite primary aged children in to our school for a wide variety of educational experiences.  I welcome the improvements that we are seeing in education across the city.  Yes, this increases our competition but that is no bad thing as it removes complacency and after all anyone who believes in the power of a good education must surely want this to spread beyond their own school.  I want education in Nottingham to be superb for all children and we stand prepared to help in any ways we can.

There is often lazy journalism that equates all independent schools with privilege.  This too is nonsense.  We had nearly 100 families this year apply for bursary places at our school.  We will be supporting with completely free places a good number of children from some of the most deprived areas of the city.  The parents of these children can see beyond the terminology of battles and elitism to strive to give their children the best possible opportunity.  We are probably more diverse than some of the state schools in the leafier suburbs.

I urge schools of all types to work together to give the young people of this generation the best possible education.  We need schools to meet the needs of all children and with rising birth-rates and smaller budgets there is more need than ever for schools to work together creatively and collaboratively.  I do not want to ‘battle’ with local state schools, I want to reach out to them to see how we can work together to improve education in all of our schools.  I am certain that many state school heads would want the same.

A few more interesting statistics (with thanks for these to HMC, the association for the Heads of leading independent schools):


Exam results

  • A-level.  In 2015, of all A*/A grades achieved, 49% were in independent schools, compared to 26% nationally.
  • A-level.  Independent school pupils are four times more likely to achieve at least one top grade than state school pupils.
  • GSCE.  In 2015, one third of independent school entries were awarded A*, compared to 7% nationally.

Teachers’ subject expertise

  • Oxbridge graduates.  Since 2003, 6,000 state school secondary teachers have been appointed with Oxbridge degrees (increasing the proportion in the state school workforce from 3% to 5%). The equivalent workforce figure for independent schools is stable at c.17%.

Attainment value added

  • Sixth form. In the sixth form, DFE figures show that 37% of state schools add value compared to 94% of independent schools.
  • Sixth form.  Across all sixth forms the added value average for independent schools is 0.16 and that for state schools -0.09.
  • 16-year-olds.  New research from Durham University shows that once prior attainment, socio-economic background and gender are taken into account, pupils aged 16 in independent schools have gained the equivalent of two additional years of schooling compared to their state school peers.

University entry

  • Russell Group access.  Among children born in 1970 those attending independent schools were c.2.5 times more likely to gain a degree from a Russell group university than their state school peers with the same A-level results.
  • Overall prospects.  2015 was the best-ever year for university entry for schools in independent schools.
  • Offer rates.  The offer rate for university applicants from top independent schools has increased steadily since 2011 and outpaced the equivalent figures state schools.
  • Degree classifications.  82% of independent school pupils gain a First or 2:1 degree compared to 73% of state school students.

Strategically important subjects

  • Maths and science.  Independent school candidates comprise one fifth of all A-level entries but achieve nearly one third of all A* grades.
  • Modern Foreign Languages (MFL). In 2015, 24% of such entries came from independent school candidates who, between them, secured 42% of the A* grades.
  • MFL.  In 2015, independent school pupils were five times more likely to apply to university for MFL than all UCAS applicants combined.

Sport music and drama

  • Overall achievement in sport.  Sir Michael Wilshaw commented recently that ‘overall, independent schools are producing far more elite athletes across a range of sports than we would expect… This indicates that these schools are more effective at recognising, supporting and nurturing sporting talent than maintained schools and academies’.
  • Olympians. 41% of London 2012 medallists were from independent schools.
  • Rugby.  Ofsted reports 61% of premiership players and 20 members of England’s 31-man 2015 Rugby World Cup squad came from independent schools.
  • Sports fields.  The Conservatives sold off 10,000 state school playing fields during 1979-97. Labour added a further 200 to this total between 1997 and 2010.

Soft skills

  • Assisted Places holders.  Sutton Trust research into assisted places holders (1980-97) has found that these pupils displayed much more self-discipline, self-reliance, ambition, curiosity, communication skills, cultural sophistication and self-confidence than their state school peers with similar levels of attainment. Nottingham High School was fully involved in this scheme.

Social Mobility

  • Parental profile.   40% of independent school pupils’ parents did not themselves go to an independent school.
  • Ethnic minorities.  29% of pupils at independent schools are from ethnic minorities – more than the average across the state sector.

Salaries added value

  • First 36 months of employment.  When social and income background, prior attainment, ethnicity and region are accounted for, independent school pupils achieve a 6.8% (£1,500) salary premium over their state school peers.

Career-long earnings.  When family background and prior educational attainment are allowed for, independent school pupils will have earned £58,000 more than their state school peers by the age of 42.

Women in Science

An organisation called WISE inspires girls and women to study and build careers using science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). They have an aim of getting 1 million more women to work in these areas.   At Nottingham High School we have a long tradition of excellence in these STEM subjects and so in planning for our move to co-education we were incredibly keen that the girls we recruited were encouraged to study these subjects. It is often said by those that support single sex education for girls that girls are more likely to study Sciences in single-sex schools. Such figures though have their limitations. In constructing them what is being compared is the number of girls studying science in single-sex independent schools with those girls studying science in all schools, state and maintained. A fairer test would be to compare the numbers of girls studying science in co-educational independent schools with single-sex independent schools. Here I would contend there would be a very different picture.

Last summer we recruited 41 girls into our Sixth Form. 46% of our new female students are studying Maths and at least one other science. This bears favourable comparison with single-sex girls schools across our region. 63% of our girls are studying at least one science; 61% of them are studying Maths and a total of 78% are doing Maths or at least one Science subject. We have 17% of our girls studying Further Maths – again a figure that few single-sex schools can challenge. 22% of girls are studying Physics. We are very proud of these figures and if you are considering where to study in the Sixth Form do look at each school’s published results for previous years so that you can work out the relevant statistics for yourselves. Just take the number studying any one subject and divide by the total number of students to work out your own school’s figures. What is also very interesting is that across almost all of our most popular subjects the percentages of girls and boys opting for each one is very similar – in other words there does not seem to be any great gender bias in how our students are selecting their subjects.

Key to our philosophy of becoming a co-educational school is our desire to become the strongest academic school in the region. For us to do this we have to be strong in all subjects and the Science subjects have always been a key strength here at the High School. We strongly believe that many girls are joining us because we are so strong in many of our subjects including the Sciences. I am already aware that a good number of our girls are hoping to study Medicine at university. Again our success in preparing students to read Medicine is good – 23 have gained places across the past two years, again this is often a figure that can be gleaned from school websites or lists of leavers’ destinations by way of comparison. It is right that at NHS we have a strong record of getting students in to work in the NHS!

We believe passionately like WISE that girls should be encouraged to take up careers in the important areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The number studying Further Maths in any school can often be seen as a sign of how strong the school is academically – we have 2 sets of students across Year12 doing this subject (24 students in total).

Thus, please do not believe the lazy stereotypes that suggest that girls will be put off studying Science and Maths in co-educational schools. Strong academic schools will work hard to ensure that both boys and girls pursue careers in these areas and the fact that both genders are studying alongside each other will make it so much easier for them both to move into real world situations once they leave school. We have a number of strong female role models teaching Science in our school. We are confident that girls who study Science with us will be well-prepared to embark on scientific careers and that by studying alongside so many others studying such subjects they will be stretched to achieve. Girls who join us will be given the confidence and encouragement to seriously consider these careers areas. Through Futurewise we undertake career profiling with all of our students so that we can guide them towards potential career areas where they will thrive and such guidance is not defined by gender. This focus on each individual allows us to show each student what they might achieve and encourages them to think beyond any lazy stereotyping.

In conclusion, we believe that co-education opens doors rather than closes them, it allows students to confront stereotypes and enables us to both identify potential and then deliver on it. Great schools are defined not by the gender of their students though but by the quality of their teaching and their results. We have a proud record in delivering excellence and it is this we want to build on in the future. We believe in the goals of WISE and are certainly doing our part in supporting girls into scientific careers.