Hundreds of "coasting" secondary schools are likely to be targeted for support and be put under pressure to improve results in a Pounds 40 million Government school improvement scheme unveiled today.
The programme - for schools where results are not the worst but could be better - will provide extra resources to encourage them to form trusts and federations. It will include improved teacher training on tracking pupils' progress.
A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "Until now, 'coasting' schools have often missed out on focused attention and interventions, which lower-achieving schools have benefited from, because of having satisfactory results.
"But the overall results can mask a range of missed opportunities for individual pupils who have failed to fulfil their full potential."
The scheme marks a move away from the approach adopted earlier this year in the controversial National Challenge scheme, which angered heads by targeting schools with raw results below an arbitrary level, regardless of pupil backgrounds.
Instead, local authorities are being asked to consider many factors when nominating schools, which must be outside the National Challenge scheme (see panel, right). The level of progress made by pupils at a school is seen as particularly crucial.
Government analysis found that one in seven pupils did not progress a national curriculum level in English between 11 and 14.
Half only progressed one level, despite the fact that four-fifths were above the expected level when arriving at secondary school.
Local councils will also be encouraged to use their powers to intervene in coasting schools, which could, in extreme cases, mean closure, although department officials stress this is unlikely.
Intervention could also lead to forced federation, new governing bodies and the loss of control of budgets. And the Government warned it would force councils to step in if necessary.
Help for coasting schools will include extra time with school improvement partners and guidance on how to make learning "more interesting and relevant" through book and subject clubs, inspiring speakers and visits to places of educational interest.
Officials believe many coasting secondaries are likely to be in rural shire counties. They think this is because they lack the "competition" that they believe prevents urban schools from resting on their laurels.
The Government said coasting schools that have turned themselves around tend to have a positive view of pupil progression targets; take a personalised approach to teaching and learning; and have high aspirations for pupils.
WHAT COUNCILS MUST WATCH FOR
- Low pupil progress;
- Below average contextual value added scores;
- No overall improvement in exam results for several years;
- Poor Ofsted reports;
- Weak assessment for learning: pupils not being tracked or tracking data not used;
- Complacent leadership;
- Poor quality subject leaders;
- Significant in-school variation in results, such as a larger than average achievement gap between pupils who qualify for free school meals and those who don't;
- Failure to implement workforce remodelling.