I won't switch off National Challenge cash like a tap

5th September 2008 at 01:00

This year's record GCSE results showed once again the huge progress made by schools across the country. I know heads and teachers will be rightly proud of the hard work and success of their students.

But for one particular group of schools this year's results will have a special significance. In May we announced the National Challenge programme, backed with significant new resources of pound;400m, to support and challenge the 638 schools where less than 30 per cent of their pupils achieved five A*-C at GCSE including English and Maths in 2007. I firmly believe that, with the right support and determined leadership, all schools can be above the benchmark by 2011.

Every head I've met tells me that most children in their school have the potential to succeed. In 1997, there were 1,610 schools below the National Challenge benchmark - nearly three times as many as in 2007. When I look at how far so many schools have come, I'm confident it can be done in every school. Not only are we building on a track record of success, but we expect this year's results to be a major step towards reaching our ambition.

Over the next three years we aim to reduce the number of schools remaining in the National Challenge to zero. This year a number of schools have told us they have risen above the benchmark and I'd like to congratulate every one of them.

But while these are no longer National Challenge schools, it would be wrong for the extra support to be switched on and off like a tap on the basis of one year's results. Getting over the threshold is a tremendous achievement, but many will still be working hard to overcome the obstacles they face and secure continued improvements.

Each of these schools is different, and we will continue to work with local authorities to make sure that each gets the right kind of support - depending on their need. What really matters is that we see the figure for National Challenge schools get smaller and smaller each year so that in every school pupils can expect to succeed.

There will also be a small number of schools who have dipped below 30 per cent this summer. We asked for improvement plans for schools below the threshold and also for schools at risk of falling below it. So much of the thinking is already underway about what support is right for them.

National Challenge is just one part of our strategy to raise standards. At the same time we are strengthening primary schools with reforms such as Every Child a Reader, Every Child a Writer and Every Child Counts, and the Jim Rose review into the primary curriculum so every child arrives at secondary schools ready to learn and succeed. I want to see heads and teachers working with their governing bodies and local authorities to develop the right solution for their school to get the backing they need. I believe we can see all schools rise above the threshold and be confident they will stay there.

Ed Balls, Seceretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

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