'Humiliation' of 101 schools facing closure

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The Independent Online

More than 100 secondary schools are threatened with closure after failing to achieve government GCSE targets in official exam league tables published today.

More than 100 secondary schools are threatened with closure after failing to achieve government GCSE targets in official exam league tables published today.

Headteachers accused ministers last night of "the crude and public humiliation of schools". Under the "three strikes and you're out policy", schools where fewer than 15 per cent of pupils gain five good GCSEs will be considered for closure in two years. Some may reopen under new management.

The figure rekindled a fierce dispute between David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, and Ofsted, the standards watchdog headed by Chris Woodhead. Mr Woodhead, who handed in his resignation as chief inspector of schools a fortnight ago, was furious when he discovered the Government intended to introduce the 15 per cent target. He argued privately that inspection reports were a better guide than a crude numerical target.

Today, tables for more than 4,000 schools place the first black mark against 101 of them, most of which have passed their inspections. Nine have been givensuperheads under the "fresh start" scheme.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "The crude and public humiliation of schools which have not necessarily been failed by their Ofsted reports ... is totally unwarranted. It can only serve to damage the morale of their staff and pupils and make it considerably more difficult for them to avoid damaging closures."

Government sources said: "We are very encouraged by what other schools have been able to do in very challenging circumstances. We will be working with these schools, many of which are in difficult areas, to help them improve." They emphasised that those who missed the target would not close automatically.

Anna White, headteacher of the Ridings School in Halifax, where pupils gained 9 per cent of good GCSEs this year, said she was confident that by 2003, the figure would be 18 per cent. Ofsted gave the school a clean bill of health. But she warned: "It's very difficult for schools in our situation. I am perfectly happy to have targets, but they should be based on children's prior attainment and not just a figure plucked out of the air."

Four schools - Kingswood High in Hull, Telegraph Hill in London and Gillingham Community College and Ramsgate School in Kent - managed only 3 per cent in the tables.

Overall, ministers said they were delighted with the improvements, which vindicated their policies of creating more specialist schools and concentrating money in inner cities.

Nationally, the proportion of pupils achieving five good grades rose from 47.9 per cent last year to 49.2 this year. Standards are rising more rapidly in some places covered by the Government's "excellence in cities" programme, such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield and Hackney. Exam results are also improving more quickly in specialist schools.

Mr Blunkett said: "These results show how our policies, particularly those targeted at young people from more deprived areas, are working. There is, however, more to be done to sustain and extend these improvements." John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said specialist schools were doing better because they had more money from the Government and private sponsors.

Comprehensives are catching up with selective grammar and private schools, and Thomas Telford school in Shropshire was the first comprehensive to notch up a score of 100 per cent for top GCSE grades. The proportion of pupils leaving school without any exam passes fell from 7.7 per cent two years ago to 5.6 per cent this year.