Opt-outs gather on failure list

26th May 1995 at 01:00
A growing number of grant-maintained schools are joining the list of those identified as failing to provide adequate education. As well as Stratford school in Newham, east London, one of the first failing schools, Upbury Manor in Gillingham, Kent, has been told urgent action is required to improve standards.

Two others, as yet unidentified secondaries, have been judged to be failing. The first GM primary to fail is St Ann's Roman Catholic in Sheffield.

Although there are only five GM schools in the first 60 identified by the Office for Standards in Education as failing, they pose a particular problem for the Government because the local authority has no powers to impose conditions on such schools. (Local authorities can take over the finances of schools under their control).

Upbury Manor is criticised in its inspection report for paying inappropriately high salaries to senior management. The school is running an annual deficit of Pounds 25,000, partly because of high staffing costs. In addition, the report points out that the school has six senior managers who between them teach the equivalent of just over one timetable.

Overall, says the report, standards are inconsistent and progress made by pupils uneven, and a nucleus of teachers have poor classroom management skills. The report highlights the fact that in many lessons there is an undisciplined approach to work; pupils show an inability to listen, concentrate and keep on task.

Exam results are poor with only 4 per cent of fifth-formers gaining five or more higher grade GCSEs. The results in science and drama are average for similar schools, but results are particularly poor in maths, history, geography and technology. The school is in an area where grammar schools are available.

At the GM primary, St Ann's, inspectors report inadequate standards of achievement and weak leadership.

Concern over the performance of GM schools is highlighted in new research by the anti-opting-out Local Schools Information this week. It claims GM schools appear to be underperforming in exams, considering their generally more advantaged intakes.

Analysis of Government performance tables and free school meals uptake by the LEA-backed advisory service, suggests that grant-maintained schools fall short of academic expectations.

According to LSI, twice as many GM secondaries have below-average numbers of pupils entitled to free meals - the most widely used indicator of educational disadvantage.

However, only one-third more score above average GCSE levels as score below average. This figure includes 85 grammar schools.

The analysis is based on the latest Government performance tables for schools and a Parliamentary answer to Labour MP Estelle Morris, which detailed the level of free meals in GM and LEA schools.

It raises serious questions about claims by Education Secretary Gillian Shephard and HM chief inspector Chris Woodhead that GM schools outperform local authority schools.

According to the LSI research, 17.7 per cent of pupils in LEA secondaries were eligible for free school meals compared with 12.4 per cent in the GM sector.

Of the 592 opted-out secondaries for which both free school meal figures and performance scores are available, 396 (67 per cent) had proportionally fewer children entitled to free meals than the figure for maintained secondary schools in their LEA area.

In contrast, only 341 (58 per cent) GM schools have a greater proportion of pupils gaining five or more GCSE passes at grade A to C than the LEA average; 251 (42 per cent) scored lower than the LEA average.

Martin Rogers from LSI said: "These figures raise serious questions about the performance of the GM sector in the context of its relatively advantaged pupils, even though the indicators . . . are crude and simple.

"They certainly demonstrate the need for a properly funded study of the real position before any more claims are made about the performance of GM schools. "

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