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Bill could shut 95 failing schools

New powers allowing ministers to close failing schools more swiftly will put 95 schools at risk.

Ofsted figures show 42 primaries, 39 secondaries and 14 special schools and pupil referral units have been in special measures for a year or more.

Ministers have said that failing schools which do not show significant improvement within 12 months will be closed using powers contained in the new education Bill.

Ofsted data shows that almost a fifth of schools in special measures fail to recover within 12 months. However, most are turned around later. The majority recover within two years, although some take as long as four.

Eighty-five schools were placed in special measures last term, suggesting up to 50 each year could be at risk of premature closure. Two-thirds of failing schools recover within a year but 15 per cent are closed before they come out of special measures.

Seventy-eight which had been in special measures came out last term and three were closed, reducing the number in special measures for longer than 12 months from more than 130 to 95.

Darwen Moorland school in Blackburn and Darwen came out of special measures earlier this month after more than two years as a failing school. Gareth Dawkins, who took over as headteacher in April 2004, said the 12-month deadline is a useful benchmark but warned it is not always possible to improve schools that quickly.

"Schools often deteriorate in the first six months after being put in special measures. It's a very tough assignment and a professional risk for a new head. Heads will be put off if the 12-month rule is applied too strictly."

David Bell, Department for Education and Skills permanent secretary and former chief inspector, told a committee of MPs: "I think it is right that schools should start to improve within that period. If they do not, then for that period students are not getting an acceptable education."

Jacqui Smith, schools' minister, played down the threat to schools when questioned by heads at the Association of School and College Leaders conference recently.

When Joan McVittie became head of White Hart Lane school in north London in January, she asked whether the Government seriously believed that a year was long enough to turn round the school, which is in the bottom 20 in the country for GCSE results.

Ms Smith told her: "No, I don't think one year is enough time for you to turn the school around. We are clear that we want to see, not a complete turnaround, but evidence of progress within the year and consideration of what needs to be done."

John Bangs, National Union of Teachers' head of education, has written to Maurice Smith, chief inspector, saying that the powers to close failing schools could be used by ministers to force local authorities into opening academies or trust schools.

Moreover, a new power for the chief inspector to investigate concerns raised by parents would leave schools vulnerable to vexatious complaints, he said.

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