'Fresh start' for pupils fails to improve results

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The Independent Online

The government's controversial programme to offer a "fresh start" to failing schools was attacked by headteachers and opposition leaders yesterday after only one showed a big improvement in GCSE results.

The government's controversial programme to offer a "fresh start" to failing schools was attacked by headteachers and opposition leaders yesterday after only one showed a big improvement in GCSE results.

A survey of the first 11 schools to be closed and re-opened under new management found that most had reported no significant increase in achievement.

Headteachers said the results cast doubts on plans by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, to consider a relaunch under the scheme for schools that fail to raise the proportion gaining five good GCSEs above 15 per cent over the next three years.

They called for headteachers put in charge of failing schools to be given more support and bigger budgets and warned that ministers would have to wait up to five years to see real improvements.

A survey by The Times Educational Supplement found the proportion gaining at least five top grades fell to 6 per cent at the Islington Arts and Media School, formerly the George Orwell Comprehensive, relaunched under Fresh Start last year. Results also fell atFirfield School in Newcastle, formerly Blakelaw Comprehensive, and the East Brighton College of Media Arts.

All three schools gained notoriety after the resignation of "superheads" who were drafted in to turn them around.

The survey found that results at Fir Vale School in Sheffield, however, showed the proportion gaining top grades increased from 11 to 17 per cent.

All Fresh Start schools are to be given substantial extra grants to help them improve under a policy announced last week.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said it was wrong to judge the success of the fresh start policy on the basis of one year's results. He said: "To pretend that big improvements can take place after a single entry of GCSE pupils who have spent most of their secondary education in a failing school is naive." He added that school-by-school targets would now be set.

But Theresa May, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: "Fresh Start has been a failure right from the start. This survey proves that headteachers could not turn their schools around because of the restraints they are under from Whitehall."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "It's ludicrous to think that you can judge these schools on one year's results. You need at least three years to expect to see real evidence of progress and probably five years before you see major change."

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