What is the best boys’ school in England?

Many people will tell you that it must be somewhere like St Paul’s or Eton with their extraordinary Oxbridge success rates, but how many of these boys’ parents are Oxbridge graduates themselves? And how much money does it cost? It is around £25,000 for each pupil in fees for tuition alone. Eton also has an endowment fund that currently stands at £436 million. In contrast, my choice for the best boys’ school is a state school which gets just over £7,000 per pupil from state funding. It has no endowment fund. Indeed, it is currently still paying off a loan it received from its local authority.

Let’s stick to the state sector and use a measure of achievement that applies to all state schools: Progress 8. It is a measure of progress between the end of primary school and GCSE. It is not perfect, and it is important to check the confidence interval, which a gives range within which we can have 95% confidence in the score, but it is reasonably fair to most schools.

Looked at this way Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School in Blackburn tops the table with a very impressive Progress 8 of 1.35, compared to the national score for boys of -0.25.  As we look down the list of the top ten, however, two things become obvious: a majority (six) are selective grammar schools and the other four faith based schools, a different form of selection but nonetheless a form of selection. There is also a problem with Progress 8 overstating grammar and probably faith school performance. The baseline 2013 Key Stage 2 data only measures up to Level 6 in mathematics and effectively only Level 5 in English. Clearly many boys on entry to grammar school were already performing well beyond these levels. The system could not capture what they had achieved, so the actual progress in grammar schools may be less than it seems.

Let us eliminate faith and selective schools from our calculations, not because we think they have an easy job. The well performing ones have clearly allowed their students to make outstanding progress, but do these schools face as big a challenge as non-selective and non-faith schools? I think not and that leaves us with two schools both with a Progress 8 score of 0.80 vying for top place: Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich (incidentally on the site of a former girls’ school where I had my first job as an English teacher lesson in 1983) and Norlington School and 6th Form in Leyton.  Both have done exceptionally well, but can we spot a difference that might tip it in one’s favour? It is hard to say, but it is worth checking the demographic make up of the two school. Harris Boys’ Academy East Dulwich has a free school meals figure a bit higher than Norlington’s and it is ethnically very diverse with 85% of pupils from BME backgrounds. In contrast, well over a third of Norlington’s pupils are of Pakistani heritage. Nationally this group of boys are above average at -0.02, but well below the figure for boys with English as an additional language of 0.25.

Well done to all of the boys’ schools that buck the trend of boys’ achievement and progress, selective, non- selective, faith and non-faith. They are doing a fantastic job that does not get enough recognition in crude league tables. However, I want to finish by saying especially well done to the winner of my Best Boys’ School of the Year award, Norlington School and 6th Form.

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