1 in 10 schools fails to meet minimum GCSE standard

Latest figures show gap between rich and poor pupils is growing
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The Independent Online

One in ten schools failed to achieve the Government's minimum target of five top grade GCSE passes including maths and English, with the gap between rich and poor pupils growing, league tables published yesterday showed.

Of the 301 schools that failed to reach the target, 46 recorded worse results than last year and 15 remained the same. The tables also revealed a fall in the percentage of pupils receiving three A grades at A-level in the poorest schools, while the numbers in more affluent ones rose.

In almost 1,000 schools, or one in three, fewer than half of the pupils made the expected level of progress in English and maths between the ages of 11 and 16. The figures immediately sparked a political storm, with opposition MPs claiming that thousands of pupils were being left trapped in struggling schools.

Ministers have promised that any school failing to achieve the target next year will have three options: to close; be turned into an independently run academy; or merge with a more successful school. The Schools minister, Vernon Coaker, said he was confident that all schools would reach the target.

Fifty-four of the 301 schools on the list have already closed, but a further 54 have less than 20 per cent of their pupils reaching the target – well below the required figure.

"Labour's failure on education means that there are still thousands of pupils in schools in which most fail to get five good GCSE grades," said David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman. "This is completely unacceptable in a rich country such as Britain."

Michael Gove, the shadow Children's Secretary, said the gap between rich and poor schools had grown. There was a 0.1 percentage point improvement in those receiving the five top-grade passes at the poorest schools, compared with a 4 point improvement in more affluent areas.

Only 5 per cent of pupils in the poorest schools obtained three grade As at A-level – a drop of 1.3 percentage points – while this figure rose from 11 per cent to 12 per cent in more affluent areas.

However, Mr Coaker congratulated schools on a major improvement in exam results overall. Last year, 440 of them fell short of the Government's target, and the year before 638 did. He also highlighted the fact that the percentage of pupils getting the five top-grade passes had broken the 50 per cent mark for the first time – rising to 50.7 per cent.

Boys were also seen to be catching up with girls, reducing the gap in performance to 7.3 per cent. An analysis of the tables revealed that 41 of the 301 schools failing to reach the minimum target were academies. The worst performer was the Steiner School in Hereford, a government-financed academy with a philosophy that is opposed to exams, where not one pupil received five top-grade passes including maths and English.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The much-trumpeted success of academies seems to be flaky, and means that they should not be seen as the panacea to improve results. But the bottom line is that our exam system continues to fail too many of our young people."

The tables also revealed that, in nearly 300 schools, one in 10 pupils regularly skips one day of lessons a week.

One of the academies – the New Line Learning Academy in Maidstone, Kent – is shown as having the worst truancy record, with 26 per cent of its pupils said to be persistently absent. However, its principal rejected the figures and said the actual rate was 16 per cent. Plant Hill Arts College in Manchester also registered more than one in four pupils as persistently absent.

However, Mr Coaker said the overall percentage of pupils regularly skipping lessons had fallen from 6.4 per cent to 5.7 per cent in the past year.

He said: "We refuse to give up on these pupils. That is why we deliberately started publishing these statistics from last year to ensure we have the best picture of the problem."

The tables confirm that many state schools are still shunning languages at GCSE level, following the Government's decision to make the subject voluntary for 14 to 16-year-olds.

Almost 600 schools recorded that fewer than one in 10 children gained a top-grade pass in a language subject at GCSE level, and, in the case of 30 schools, not a single pupil managed to do so.