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Only the weak shall enter this kingdom

Sir Cyril Taylor outlines his proposed criteria for ensuring that schools which become academies are truly deserving

High-performing schools are not eligible to become academies. The academies programme is intended to transform schools in areas of high social disadvantage which historically have had weak educational performance.

Schools which are already successful are generally not eligible to apply, especially if they are in well-off areas.

Academies will normally be established on the sites of existing schools, with the pupils already enrolled transferring to the academy.

Generally the following criteria must be met for schools to be eligible for conversion to academy status:

* There must be clear evidence of under-performance in a wide variety of measures including average key stage 3, GCSE and if available A-level results, and other measures such as attendance, the ratio of applications to places, the number of exclusions, incidence of bullying, poor leadership and high turnover of staff, together with a large number of staff vacancies. Particular focus will be given to converting schools which recent Ofsted reports indicate were in special mea-sures or have had serious weaknesses;

* Schools must be situated in socially-disadvantaged areas, as shown by the high proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals or other indices of deprivation including the level of unemployment, single parent families, crime and poverty;

* The state of the buildings must be poor, urgently needing either renovation or demolition;

* There must be a need for the proposed number of pupil places.

In certain circumstances, academies may be created in new schools starting with a Year 7 intake or even a post-16 provision only, providing there is a clear need for the additional school places. As a special one-off measure all city technology colleges, even though they are very successful schools, have been invited to convert to academy status since their current position is an anomaly. However, the budget for conversion of CTCs to academy is much lower than for normal academies - usually only pound;5 million.

Several of the CTCs are also partnering underperforming schools in a federation of academies.

The average performance in terms of percentage of five or more A* to C grades at GCSE of the predecessor schools of the 27 academies already is only 24 per cent - this is for the year prior to conversion to academy status. This compares with 55 per cent for all maintained schools in 2005.

The average proportion of pupils in academies eligible for free school meals is 39 per cent, compared to only 14 per cent for all maintained schools. Among the academies with the highest proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals are Manchester with 68 per cent and the academy at Peckham, south London, with 54 per cent. Finally, many of the schools had been identified by Ofsted in the period before conversion to academy status as being in a state of serious weakness, special measures or giving cause for serious concern.

This data clearly shows that the criteria for underperformance and social disadvantage required for conversion to academy status are being met.

There are an estimated 150,000 secondary school children attending some 200 under-performing schools, most of which are situated in socially challenged urban areas. Many of these schools occupy run-down, sometimes unsafe buildings which have not been properly maintained in recent years. These schools frequently have to accept an unfair proportion of problem children who have been excluded from other schools. The schools are understandably unpopular with parents.

Many of these children currently leave school without the skills necessary to obtain jobs and will receive welfare benefits for most of their lives.

Others will drift into crime and will cost the State even more. Far from being economically unsound, the academy programme will prove to be a wise use of the nation's resources, producing untold social benefits as well as savings to the taxpayer. As a nation, we cannot continue to go on maintaining schools, which are providing an unacceptable standard of education. The essential purpose of the academy programme is to bring social justice and equity to the inner city through the provision of high-quality schools.

There are of course many schools performing well, which occupy buildings in a very poor state of repair. These schools shouldn't feel aggrieved by the investment in the academy programme, since the Building Schools for the Future, the Private Finance Initiative and the Partnership for Schools programmes have substantial sums - pound;2-pound;3 billion a year for the next 15 years - to refurbish all schools in need of repair.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust is advising member schools which need refurbishment on how to ensure they receive their share of the funding.

Letters 26

Sir Cyril Taylor is chair of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust

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