Inspectors' praise is no protection

MOST of the schools being targeted for closure by Education Secretary David Blunkett have been given clean bills of health by Office for Standards in Education inspectors.

Before this week's announcement, only those schools which were identified as failing by inspectors and did not improve within two years could be closed down and given a fresh start.

But Education Secretary David Blunkett has announced a new criterion for closure - failure of more than 15 per cent of pupils to get at least five C grade GCSEs.

Only 15 of the 86 schools on Mr Blunkett's hitlist are in special measures. A further 18 have been identified as having serious weaknesses but the remaining 53 have received satisfactory reports.

The 68 schools which could face closure because their results have remained below 15 per cent for three years include several which have recently been praised for their improvement in difficult circumstances and have come out of special measures.

The Ridings School, in Halifax, which was released from special measures in 1998, is listed for possible closure because the percentage of pupils obtaining 5 A* to C GCSE grades has not risen above 6 per cent over the past three years.

Headteacher Anna White said the new school hitlist did not help her continuing battle to improve.

She said: "I think it's a bit harsh and it's hrd for us to take. But I can't call it unfair because the facts speak for themselves. If it's the only criteria we are being judged by, then yes we are not reaching our targets.

"But we are doing very well in so many other ways and in six years we hope to be up there in the 20 per cent range.

"As one of the children said the other day we have to work twice as hard as anyone else because we still have to battle with the stigma of being The Ridings school."

A spokesman for Leeds education authority, which has five schools achieving below 15 per cent for the past three years, said schools should not be judged on the basis of GCSE A*-C grades alone. Tom Murray, councillor responsible for education, said: "Schools which consistently provide their pupils with a poor standard of education must improve or face closure, with or without a Fresh Start.

"But I do not believe that naming and shaming schools simply on their rank within a very narrow set of criteria is helpful to pupils, parents or dedicated staff at many of these schools."

Schools on the hitlist which have recently been praised by inspectors and taken out of special measures include: Forest comprehensive, in Nottingham; Staunton Park community, in Havant; Beechwood, in Slough; All Hallows RC high, in Liverpool and West Gate Community College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

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