Grammar school county warned over GCSE results

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The Independent Online

The council with the largest number of grammar schools in the country was told by Schools Secretary Ed Balls it must pull its socks up today.

Figures released by the Department for Children, Schools and Families today showed that Conservative-controlled Kent County Council had the highest number of schools failing to reach the Government’s target of 30 per cent of pupils getting five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English.

In all, 22 of the 270 secondary schools still failing to reach the target – and thus facing closure or being turned into one of the Government’s flagship new academies. All of the schools are non-selective and surrounded by nearby grammar schools – thus effectively remaining secondary moderns.

Expert government advisers have now been sent into Kent to help it draw up a blueprint for improving the schools’ performance.

If Kent fails to satisfy the Government with its plans, Mr Balls could order emergency inspections of the schools involved by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, or demand changes to their governing bodies.

Mr Balls said yesterday: “We have powers to intervene if we’re not seeing the improvements we need.

“More than 20 per cent of the secondary schools in Kent are below the floor we have set.

“We would like all of them to clear the floor by 2011.”

Mr Balls said he accepted it was harder for non-selective schools in a selective area to improve.

However, he added: “Some of the most passionate and dedicated headteachers are heads of secondary modern schools.”

A similar warning has been delivered to Suffolk County Council.

Under the Government’s National Challenge programme, ministers set a target of every school getting 30 per cent of its pupils to achieve five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English - or face closure, being merged into a federation with a high performing school or being turned into an academy.

When it was first announced two years ago, 638 failed to reach the target. The numbers this year have fallen to 270 – although 68 of these are schools which had cleared the hurdle but have now slipped behind it again.

Mr Balls said he had written to local authority leaders, telling them to ask for an Ofsted inspection of any school which had seen a significant and unexpected fall in its results.

He made it clear that schools in the Government’s flagship academies programme would not escape this blitz. At present around thirty academies are still below the hurdle.

Two academies whose problems have been highlighted in the past year - the Richard Rose academy in Carlisle where the head was replaced after pupil discipline broke down and the Unity Academy in Middlesbrough where the sponsor had to replaced.

Mr Balls warned that academies which failed to clear the hurdle could find their governing body replaced or their sponsors removed and replaced with a fresh team.

However, he said that – on average – academies were improving at a faster rate that the national average – with a 5.1 percentage point improvement in the percentage getting five top grade passes.

Nick Gibb, the Conservatives’ schools spokesman, said: “There are still far too many schools where fewer than a third of children reach thew basic standard of five good GCSEs including maths and English and it is the poorest areas that are worst affected.”