Switch focus to success, not failure

13th June 2008 at 01:00
These are troubled times for the Government, with the latest poll showing Labour 20 points behind the Conservatives
These are troubled times for the Government, with the latest poll showing Labour 20 points behind the Conservatives. It is curious, therefore, that ministers were this week stressing their failures after 11 years in power rather than their successes.

It is true that Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, pointed to the "huge progress" that has been made since 1997, when there were 1,610 secondary schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieved five good GCSEs, including English and maths. The figure today is reduced to 638, a massive improvement by any standards. That is surely a cause for celebration.

Why, then, have ministers chosen to highlight failure rather than present their achievements in improving schools? Instead of putting a "failed" label round the necks of the remaining 638 schools, Mr Balls should be emphasising the positive steps, especially in areas where poverty and disadvantage are rife.

There is much in the National Challenge announced this week that schools would welcome: pound;400 million to help schools struggling to reach the 30 per cent threshold, with more individual tuition and study support to improve pupils' English and maths. The strategy also seeks to build on the success of the National Leaders in Education scheme and will employ the expertise of a panel of experienced heads to help schools overcome seemingly intractable problems. All this is positive.

But Labour refuses to acknowledge its own failure to tackle the inequities of school intakes, which is the reason many of the 638 schools find it so difficult to transform their results. Intake is the strongest contribution to a school's performance. Asking a secondary modern to reach the same floor target as a grammar school is unfair: like relegating them to League 2, docking them 25 points at the start of the season, and expecting them to catch up.

Ministers should also be ashamed that schools performing well in terms of their intake - as measured by their contextualised value added scores - are named and shamed on the basis of raw results.

Is it any wonder that teachers and heads in these schools are angry? To be labelled as a failure when you are not failing is hard to take. The danger is that the best and brightest will not risk their careers in the schools that need their services most.

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