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The push to break through the 30% threshold by 2011

Ed Balls announced last Thursday that 137 local authorities had agreed plans with the Government to transform their National Challenge schools.

The Pounds 400 million scheme was launched by the Schools Secretary in June last year to ensure that by 2011 every school has at least 30 per cent of pupils achieving five high-grade GCSEs including English and maths.

The proposals include:

- Creating 70 academies on top of the 110 already proposed;

- Forming 70 National Challenge trusts, where schools go into partnership with another school or college or even local businesses;

- A National Challenge adviser for each school;

- Incentives to recruit and retain teachers and subject leaders in English and maths;

- More one-to-one tuition for targeted pupils;

- Bolstering middle leadership and providing more teaching assistants;

- Extra revision support and measures to address pupil disengagement.

The National Challenge trust plans were drawn up following news that the number of schools failing to meet the 30 per cent benchmark had dropped from 638 last year to 440.

Mr Balls said he was encouraged that 264 schools had managed to push their results over the threshold, but he was still "concerned" by those "yet to meet the National Challenge".

"These are the schools that are still under 30 per cent but not yet improving," he said.

"Many of these higher-risk schools are already subject to transformational plans, including academy projects, National Challenge trust negotiations or other strong partnership arrangements. In each case, we have built a team around the school, providing more expertise in the core subjects and helping children to learn.

"Schools that we and the local authority believe to be most vulnerable are receiving more intensive support."

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