HALF OF the 800 secondaries taken to task by Lord Adonis last week for wasting pupils' talents have been described by inspectors as having good or outstanding leadership, The TES can reveal.
Of the rest, some 42 per cent had leadership described as satisfactory, leaving only 6 per cent with management that inspectors rated inadequate or unsatisfactory.
The schools minister told the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference that about 800 schools had fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gaining five top GCSE grades including English and maths. This, he said, was an unacceptable waste of pupils' talent. Although a large number of the 800 were improving rapidly, many were not and lacked leadership, governance, ethos and vision, he said.
The speech, which called for private schools to sponsor academies, led to headlines stating that the 800,000 pupils in these schools were receiving a poor education.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said Lord Adonis's comments were based on Ofsted inspection data. But The TES has now analysed the latest Ofsted reports from 730 of the 783 schools involved and found them nowhere near as damning as the minister's speech suggested. Of the 730, 379 had Ofsted reports that rated their leadership as good or better. Some 687 were satisfactory or better, with only 6 per cent unsatisfactory or inadequate. One in nine had leadership described as outstanding, very good or excellent.
Estimates that 800,000 pupils are in sub-standard schools are also misleading, according to our analysis. In total, the 783 schools educated only 685,688 pupils. And around 210,000 of those were in schools judged by Ofsted to be good or outstanding. This leaves a maximum of 475,000 in schools rated as satisfactory or worse.
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said of the minister's comments: "This was a wild statement to make to encourage independent schools to sponsor academies. It was not based on facts. Many of these schools are in the poorest areas. The last thing they needed was to be described, by implication, as failing."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The statement presented a bleak picture, which was misleading in its use of statistics. The majority of these schools are well led."
Moreton School in Wolverhampton, one of the 783, with 25 per cent of pupils achieving five good passes in 2006, was described by inspectors in March as an outstanding school. Tony Leach, the headteacher, said: "There isn't a secondary school in the country that has improved its figures as quickly as we have."
Southfields College in Wandsworth, south London, was also judged outstanding this year despite just 29 per cent of pupils achieving the Government's performance benchmark in 2006. This summer, the figure was 37 per cent.
Jacqueline Valin, its head, conceded that there could be some truth in Lord Adonis's comments, but added: "It is a load of rubbish to say there is a limit to what a school can achieve because of the nature of pupils in its intake."
Lord Adonis commented: "I never said there were 800 failing schools, and I never said there were 800,000 pupils being failed. It is a complete fabrication to suggest otherwise. What I said was precisely this: 'It is still the case that in some 800 secondary schools, fewer than 30 per cent of 16 year-olds achieve five or more good GCSEs including English and maths. The waste of talent and potential this represents simply isn't acceptable... Many of these 800 schools are improving rapidly under their own steam. But many are not.' These are all precise statements of fact and the only wild statements are by those who have invented statements which I never made."
WHY PROGRESS, NOT GRADES, MATTERS
Martin Stynes is assistant head of All Hallows RC High School in Salford, Manchester. Overall, the school and its leadership were rated outstanding by Ofsted earlier this year.
But with many children arriving at All Hallows with national curriculum levels below level 3, Mr Stynes said the school had a mountain to climb in English and maths GCSE.
"Small, urban schools in challenging situations have struggled with league tables since their inception," he said. "The truth has to be told, but there is a feeling in the teaching community that more has to be done to put these results in context."
Mr Stynes said that more than half his intake were eligible for free school meals and most were from a white, working-class background.
"Although the progress they make here is exceptional, the challenge in terms of literacy makes it very difficult for some children to get more than a grade D," he said.
He added that one of the measures of the school's success was that teachers and children did not feel they were being processed by a machine and continually subject to targets.
"We allow our teachers the freedom to innovate," he said.