Blunkett accepts no excuse for failure

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
Up to 70 secondaries with the worst GCSE records face closure as the Education Secretary displays zero tolerance of poor performance

NEARLY 70 schools with the worst GCSE results in the country could face closure under a new government scheme which costs an average of pound;1.5 million per school.

Even secondaries praised by inspectors and removed from special measures have been branded "failing" by Education Secretary David Blunkett.

Hundreds of teachers may be forced to reapply for their jobs under plans to shut schools and reopen them under a new name with new management and staff.

Schools where fewer than 15 per cent of pupils get five good GCSE passes for three years may have their names published and be put on the Fresh Start programme.

The Department for Education and Employment estimates that a Fresh Start school will receive an average of pound;1m for building refurbishment plus pound;500,000 for other transitional costs.

A team of pound;100,000-a-year superheads is also to be drafted into struggling schools as part of a pilot scheme to boost their results.

But every secondary must now meet challenging new GCSE targets. More than one in five pupils at every school must get at least five A*-C GCSEs by 2004. More than one in four pupils should reach this standard by 2006.

Mr Blunkett said 530 schools currently fail to achieve this standard - and 426 of those had similarly poor results in 1998.

Speaking at a National Union of Teachers secondary education conference in London, Mr Blunkett highlighted the different exam performance of schools with similar socio-economic profiles. In the 530 struggling schools, the free school meal rat varied from 6 to 96 per cent, he added.

He said: "There are cynics who say that school performance is all about socio-economics and the areas these schools are located in. No child is pre-ordained by class or by gender or by ethnic group or by their home life, to fail."

Doug McAvoy, NUT general secretary, said: "This is not an education issue; it is a political one. This Government likes to talk tough and is determined to be seen to be tough on schools and teachers.

"This will only reinforce the problems these schools face and increase teachers' difficulties."

Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "I deplore the Government's determination to persist in promulgating its perverse view that school failure is entirely down to the head and teaching staff, regardless of the circumstances.

"I can only warn teachers who apply for jobs in 'challenging' schools to do so with their eyes wide open. Their work will be constantly monitored and inspected and they will be blamed by the Government if they do not produce miracles."

David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This will mean a sword of Damocles over the heads of a significant number of secondary schools for a lengthy period of time."

Local government chiefs condemned the strategy and urged ministers to tackle the root causes of deprivation. Chris Waterman, general secretary of the Society of Education Officers, said: "It is too easy to say there is no link between social factors and school performance. Naming and shaming will only discourage schools and demoralise teaching staff."

Leader, 16

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