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Strugglers need help not branding

Since it launched its National Challenge strategy in June the Government has struggled to gain support from teachers and school leaders, who viewed it as a crude and largely unfair way to treat secondary schools in some of the most deprived communities.

The TES criticised ministers for their decision to name and shame schools that failed to achieve the government's benchmark - a coarse measure based on raw GCSE results. We said many of the 638 schools concerned were performing well in terms of their intakes - as measured by contextual value added scores. "To be labelled a failure when you are not failing," we argued then, "is hard to take."

The Government seems to be listening. In an interview with The TES today (pages 24-25) Jim Knight, the schools minister, indicates that the Government is considering a radically different approach for struggling primary schools. Instead of adopting a rough benchmark based on raw test scores, ministers are considering forming judgments based on a combination of indicators, including Ofsted reports.

As we reported last month, the Government is planning to introduce a new measure of school accountability from 2011, based on a scheme run in New York. Under this scheme every school will be issued annual "report cards" giving them an overall grade based on a combination of key stage test results, CVA scores, and other school factors, including their record on attendance, bullying and safety.

In combination with Ofsted reports, such an approach would at least have the merit of giving credit to schools working in the toughest areas.

The Government would do well to look at its various, and often contradictory school improvement strategies and ask itself whether it intervenes too much. Too often, schools do well on one measure or get praised by one arm of government, only to get clobbered by another when test or GCSE results unexpectedly slip.

Ministers should seek to build on the best features of the successful and less threatening London Challenge which has seen a huge drop in the number of secondary schools falling into special measures. This is based on partnerships between successful and struggling schools, an approach being tried, with promising results, in the primary sector. Schools in trouble need help, not branding as failures.

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