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Islington GCSE Results Day 2019: Courtyard special educational needs school celebrates 80% passes in English, maths, biology and computer science

PUBLISHED: 16:58 22 August 2019

Deborah Shepherd is headteacher at The Courtyard school. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Deborah Shepherd is headteacher at The Courtyard school. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

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The headteacher at an Islington free school claims the “abstract” new GCSE syllabus has made tests tougher for autistic students.

Nonetheless, Deborah Shepherd, of The Courtyard school for children with special educational needs, which is linked to St Mary Magdalene Academy, is "absolutely over the moon" that 80 per cent of her pupils have passed their English, maths, computer science and biology GCSEs.

The Liverpool Road school caters for pupils aged 14 to 19 who struggle with the social dynamics of secondary school,

Ms Shepherd told the Gazette: "When they arrive with us in year nine they have had a fairly difficult three years in secondary school. They might have been persistent absconders, had application issues or been victims of bullying, so when they come to us we have to work extremely hard to rebuild confidence levels and rebuild them before they can start learning. [...]

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"It's not just them that needs to believe in themselves, it's their parents as well . It's wrong to say they don't have aspirations for their children because they do but it's just to be happy and healthy. But after their time with us they have a future and something to work towards to succeed."

The school has just 36 students, which helps to alleviate the social stress of classroom learning. When teachers have build kids up to a certain point, they take them across to have some integrated lessons with kids at St Mary Magdalene Academy.

Former education secretary Michael Gove changed the GCSE syllabus and exam system, making the latter harder to create greater differentiation between top greats. In GCSEs a 4 is now equivalent to a C, a 5 or 6 is a B, and 7 to 9 range from A upwards to create more differentiation between students scoring top marks. There is a lot less course work and grades hinge on one set of exams at the end of two years.

Reflecting on the new system, Ms Shepherd said: "We have found it particularly difficult. The condition of autism means they find it difficult to work with abstract concepts. The change of steps has been difficult for pupils but also for teachers to make sure [kids] are engaged and really learning."

Asked for an example, she added: "Poetry is extremely difficult for somebody with autism to get their head around. They struggle with using their imagination, so with quite a large element of literature being poetry quite a lot of our teaching went on breaking down what the poet was trying to say."


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