Blair struggling to hit school targets

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Tony Blair is facing an uphill battle to reach the Government's key target for performance in secondary school exams this summer.

Figures out today show that a total of 114 schools still have a lot of work to do if they are to meet ministers' demands that every school in the country must get 20 per cent of its pupils to obtain at least five top grade A* to C grade passes.

All have failed to achieve the 20 per cent hurdle and 50 of them have failed to get 15 per cent. In addition, 11 schools have failed an earlier ultimatum delivered by David Blunkett when he was secretary of state for education that any school that fails to get 15 per cent in at least one of the past three years could close.

Of the 11, six are to become city academies, the new privately sponsored inner-city schools being set up by ministers, one will close and four will be given a last chance and extra remedial help.

One, Corby Community College, only missed the government target by one pupil.

Ramsgate in Kent, bottom with only 4 per cent of pupils getting top grade passes, is to close and become a City Academy. Meanwhile, a total of 24 new teachers have been hired after 27 of the existing staff faced competency hearings. Most of the teachers facing hearings left.

Failure to reach the target would be embarrassing for the Prime Minister. He made improving secondary school standards the top education priority of his second term.

However, today's tables do contain some encouragement for ministers as the number of schools getting less than 20 per cent has been whittled down from 361 to 114 in four years.

In addition, when Mr Blunkett first made his ultimatum, 129 schools scored under 15 per cent. Now the figure is 50.

Schools in the toughest inner-city areas also improved their performance by 2.8 per cent compared with an increase of 1.3 nationally.

David Miliband, the School Standards minister, said: "We are making steady upward progress in the numbers gaining five or more passes at grades A* to C.

"I am particularly pleased that those schools facing some of the toughest education challenges in the country have improved at double the rate."

However, John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, argued that the target "had never been a sensible measure of the performance of schools facing challenging circumstances".

"Schools still not meeting the 20 per cent target may well be doing a superb job in extremely difficult [surroundings]."