Threatened schools to mentor academies

National Challenge heads called in to advise the Government's flagship institutions

The government has turned to schools threatened with closure for help with improving the performance of other secondaries, including its much-vaunted academies.

A number of schools on the National Challenge list will this term mentor other schools how to do better with children in poor areas.

Heads of schools involved in the scheme have reacted with amazement, saying the mixed messages from Government are "ridiculous".

The mentor schools, which all operate in deprived areas, have been described by the Department for Children, Schools and Families as "excellent" and included in its Extra Mile project to tackle the effects of generational poverty.

But some of these schools are also part of the National Challenge scheme, which targets schools that fail to get 30 per cent of their pupils to pass five good GCSEs including English and maths.

One of the measures that could be imposed on such schools is being closed and reopened as academies.

The Wordsley School in Dudley is one of the mentor schools even though only 27 per cent of its pupils got five good GCSEs including English and maths this year.

Headteacher Mike Lambert said: "It's ridiculous. I can't make any sense out of it whatsoever.

"On one desk in the department (of Education), we are a beacon of good practice; and on another in the same building, they think we don't know what we are doing."

Fifty schools were initially highlighted by Extra Mile for their "great track record of success". The schools are praised for dynamic leadership, strong systems for high-quality teaching and adapting the curriculum to their pupils' needs.

A DCSF document about Extra Mile schools says: "Despite the material deprivation of their intake, they have created a culture of aspiration and achieved impressive examination results."

Twenty-two schools were identified for special thanks. Of these, six had GCSE results below the National Challenge cut-off last year.

But staff from two academies will visit The Wordsley School this term for advice on how to teach disadvantaged children more effectively.

"I thought academies were supposed to be the answer to everything," said Mr Lambert.

"We are absolutely delighted to be involved, though. These days, schools get hammered for everything, so to have our successes acknowledged too is smashing."

Park High School in Birkenhead, where 26 per cent of pupils achieved five good GCSEs this year, is another mentor school.

Steve McMahon, its head, said: "Most reasonable people understand that things are not easily defined by being above or below an arbitrary figure ... I can live with the day-to-day froth of the National Challenge because I'm sure we can see it off."

A DCSF spokeswoman said that National Challenge schools could still set an example to others. She added that they would be given extra money and support, and that closure would be a last resort.

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