Threatened schools are doing well
Nearly half of the secondary schools under the greatest threat of closure are performing above the national average by one of the Government's main yardsticks. A TES analysis raises questions about ministers' claims that their clampdown on struggling schools has taken into account the challenging context in which thousands of teachers work.
The Government announced last week that its new National Challenge would target 638 secondary schools missing the benchmark for 30 per cent of pupils getting five good GCSE grades.
Ministers suggested that many of the 638 could improve, but that "radical" measures might be needed for 240 of those where under a quarter of pupils have reached the target for three years running. Radical measures include closure or being replaced by an academy or trust school.
The TES analysed the contextual value added scores (CVA) for these schools. They take into account pupils' prior attainment, socio-economic background, ethnicity and gender. We found that 105 of the 240 achieved better results than were predicted for their intakes.
Among them was the Grange School, Oldham, which had one of the top 50 CVA scores in the country and gained coveted high-performing specialist school status. Graeme Hollinshead, its head, said the Government's campaign was "ill-informed and ill-judged".
"Some schools have been slated in local papers as failing because of this when actually they were doing really well," he said.
Some schools on the list have had letters from Jim Knight, the schools minister, congratulating them on their value-added GCSE results. In the past, ministers have spoken highly of the CVA measure, adding it to league tables in 2007.
Mr Knight said last year that it "allows schools to be recognised for the outstanding impact they have had on their individual pupil's progress - not simply on headline GCSE and A-level results".
Last week ministers said they were taking CVA into account in their crackdown on underperforming schools. But asked whether ministers were aware of the CVA of the bottom 240 schools, Mr Knight told The TES there had not been "detailed analysis school by school".
CVA scores would be looked at, he said, but it would be raw results that counted in the end. If schools were not above the 30 per cent GCSE threshold by 2011 then "there will have to be measures to radically turn that around."
John Bangs, head of education at the National Unions of Teachers, said: "This just shows the absurdity of drawing the line using raw results and it blows out the attempts by Government to make performance tables fair through CVA."
National Challenge, page 10.