Lauded schools are on 'failing' hit list

29th February 2008 at 00:00
EXCLUSIVE

More than 70 schools officially praised this week for being among the most improved in the country are also on a Government hit list of "failing" schools, analysis by The TES reveals.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) hosted a dinner on Tuesday for 359 schools that have made significant progress over three years in raising pupils' results.

But more than one in five of them are among the 638 secondaries singled out by Gordon Brown for closure, takeover or local authority intervention. He has said their 2007 GCSE results amount to failure because fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieved five A*-C grades including English and maths.

Elizabeth Reid, chief executive of the SSAT, congratulated the 75 threatened schools, saying: "It is important that we recognise success in the education system as it is the product of hard work, good leadership and innovative approaches to teaching and learning."

But her comments came as Ed Balls, Children, Schools and Families Secretary, ratcheted up the pressure on the 75 by setting authorities a summer deadline for action plans to improve their performance.

Schools were invited to the trust's celebration because they had fulfilled one of a number of criteria measuring improvement.

Joseph Ruston Technology College in Lincoln, which is on the Government's hit list, picked up three of 26 special awards handed out. It was congratulated for being the most improved technology college in the country, the most improved school in the East Midlands and the most improved school with year-on-year improvement.

Just 13 per cent of pupils at Joseph Ruston achieved five good GCSEs including English and maths last year. But 74 per cent of pupils achieved five good passes excluding English and maths, up from 13 per cent in 2004. It is among two-fifths of the hit list schools The TES found are above average, according to the Government's own value added measure.

David Lea, deputy head, said: "We are delighted that the achievements of our students have been recognised. We are puzzled that any school that is performing at a high level can be criticised. We are far more concerned with individual pupils than stark numbers."

Mr Balls said authorities would be encouraged to adopt a London scheme in which successful heads, deputies and heads of department help low performing schools. Plans are to focus on the 70 per cent of the 638 schools that have failed to improve in the past four years.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families said there are about 35 local authorities where particular intervention is needed.

Schools could be taken over by an interim executive board, or by a successful neighbour through a trust or federation, turned into academies, or closed. Mr Balls has said only "a very small number" would require the final option.

Philip Hunter, the chief schools adjudicator, backs Mr Balls' approach. He believes schools with an excessively high share of their area's pupils eligible for free school meals should be closed, because their intake makes improvement so hard.

It was a solution local authorities had too often shied away from.

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