Top Girls Schools UK

Girls' schools lead GCSE league tables amid warnings of maths gender gap

Dame Helen HydeDame Helen Hyde, head at Watford Grammar School for Girls, which had the top rate of As and A*s for a non-selective state school. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Two other selective state girls' schools – Chelmsford County High School for Girls in Essex and Queen Elizabeth's School in north London – were the only ones to achieve the double of 100% passes for all their pupils in both the government's target for GCSEs and the newer English Baccalaureate, or EBacc, measure.

The best performing non-selective state school was Watford Grammar School for Girls – it is a comprehensive despite the name – which had the highest proportion of pupils gaining A* and A grades among schools of its type.

However, the GCSE results for exams sat in 2013 were released by the DfE on the same day as the OECD published analysis warning of a "gender gap" in mathematics, with low-achieving girls in the UK doing worse than the OECD average.

Using research carried out for its Pisa education comparison, the OECD found that the maths ability of teenage girls in the UK was on average about three years behind their counterparts in the best performing countries.

Dame Helen Hyde, head teacher of Watford Grammar School for Girls – where three out of four pupils who took maths at GCSE gained A* or A grades – said: "You have to overcome parents' perception of what maths is about and the careers it can lead to – and the future for girls in, for example, aviation and engineering.

"People still think engineering is like being a motor mechanic."

Overall, 154 schools in England failed to pass the benchmark of at least 40% of pupils achieving five GCSEs of grade C or higher, including English and maths.

That was an improvement on last year's performance, when 195 schools failed to make the grade. In 2010, 407 schools would have fallen below the government's floor target, while 251 would have failed to do so in 2011.

Education secretary Michael Gove praised the improved performance in school league tables in England as "a credit to the professionalism and hard work of teachers".

Colyton Grammar School, a selective co-educational school in Devon, gained top results nationally for the second year in a row. Its 120 pupils gained at least five qualifications at grade C or higher, and the school recorded the highest average points score per pupil.

The most improved school in England was St Thomas More Catholic school in north London. Three years ago just 31% of its pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at C or above, including English and maths. In 2013, 91% achieved the grades.

But the government's league tables differed from previous years, because of the absence of leading independent schools that usually dominate the upper echelons.

Schools that opted to have their pupils take so-called "international GCSEs" or IGCSEs in English found their results were not counted in official league tables. As a result, a string of well-known independent schools such as St Paul's Girls' School, Cheltenham Ladies' College and Marlborough College failed to appear in their usual positions.

Six out of 10 pupils nationally achieved the government's definition of five good GCSEs – A* to C grades, including English and maths – while 23% of state school pupils achieved the EBacc, compared with just 16% last year. The EBacc is a measure introduced under Gove that counts A* to C grades in core subjects, defined as English, maths, two science subjects, a language and either history or geography.

Knowsley in Merseyside was the worst performing local authority, with more than half of pupils failing to get five GCSEs at A* to C, including maths and English.

Brian Lightman, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the overall results reflected the huge amount of effort made by teachers in the face of continual changes to qualifications and rising targets.

"The caveat with performance tables is always that raw data does not tell the full story, it can only help to identify the questions that might be asked, " Lightman said.

The results also revealed some good news for Gove's flagship free schools programme, with an unorthodox free school in west Lancashire achieving some outstanding GCSE results.

Interesting facts:

The High School for Girls is a grammar school with academy status on Denmark Road, Gloucester. It is one of only three girls' grammar schools in Gloucestershire, and consistently ranks in league tables as one of the best schools in England, and one of the Top 50...

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