She tested the 11-year-olds and found that the highest reading age was that of an average nine-year-old. Less than a fifth of them were leaving with five GCSEs at grades A-C.“We worked our socks off,” says Myers, who puts in a regular 16-hour day. Sure enough, now nearly 90 per cent of girls obtain five GCSEs at grades A-C, and Bishop Challoner is in the top 2 per cent of state secondaries even though more than half the pupils receive free school meals, 27 per cent have special needs, and they speak a total of 73 mother tongues
To those educationists who disapprove of testing, let Myers be a lesson to you, and to me, as I sit down in her new office (passing five girls waiting nervously outside the door). She gives all new pupils a cognitive ability test (CAT) and retests them every year. The CAT is also used to help in choosing subjects and careers. Each student is given an ambitious performance target.
Although this approach is now catching on, 18 years ago Myers was the pioneer. She can produce for me spreadsheets of each child’s progress; if pupils fall behind, she and the teachers ask them why.
“We ask children, how do you like to learn? Aside from the core subjects, there is no reason why they can’t like to learn and learn what they like.”
Catherine Myers’s formula for educating teenagers successfully:
1. Educate girls and boys separately. It’s not just girls that do better in single-sex schools. “That’s an assumption that is generally made, but if boys have teaching geared towards them, they will achieve.”
2. Let them do it their own way, as long as they do it.Encourage pupils to analyse and develop their own style of learning (eg, last-minute, in groups). “Children should learn what they like and like what they learn,” says Myers.
3. Don’t see vocational subjects as second best — they are not. Think beyond the British school tradition, to the more vocational Scandinavian model. “As a mother I know that if you spend half your life making them do what they don’t want to do, you only make your life difficult. Everyone should leave school qualified for something.”
4. Set targets. Try not to compare your child to others — but set individual targets that will stretch his or her particular abilities. Respond quickly and collaboratively if the targets are not being met.
5. Get respect by giving it. “You have to like children and believe that they can achieve”.