Six of the Government’s flagship academies and a chain running three academies have been warned to pull their socks up - or face government intervention that could include a change of sponsors.
The schools include one run by the Swedish company Kunskapskolan - one of the pioneers of the free schools movement in that country which inspired Education Secretary Michael Gove to introduce the programme over here.
In addition, an academy in Oxford run by the local Church of England diocese and two sponsored by one of the country’s largest academy chains, United Learning.
The letters sent to them, signed off by former Schools Minister Lord Hill, are in essence the first warning shot by ministers that they need to take action. If they fail to respond top what are described as “pre-warning letters”, an official warning will follow with Mr Gove imposing new directors on their governing bodies if they still fail to improve.
In the case of the Kunskapskolan-sponsored Ipswich Academy in Suffolk, the latest visit by education standards watchdog Ofsted observed: “As a result of infrequent marking students’ work is often scruffy, poorly organised and frequently incomplete.”
Inspectors acknowledged changes were being introduced but added: “The changes are not yet consistently embedded across the curriculum.”
The letters have been sent to the Ipswich Academy, Oxford Academy, the Sheffield Springs Academy and Swindon Academy - run by United Learning, Djanogly City academy in Nottingham sponsored by millionaire philanthropist Sir Harry Djanogly, South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy - sponsored by its local further education college - and the West Grantham Academies Trust, which sponsors three schools in the Grantham area.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “The majority of sponsored academies are thriving under great leadership ... But results in a minority of sponsored academies remain stubbornly low. We will not tolerate long-term under-performance in any school - including an academy.
“As with maintained schools, if these academies do not make the progress we expect, we will take further action. This may result in a change to the sponsorship arrangements.”
In all, there were 604 sponsored academies by the start of this term - the majority of whom have improved their GCSE results at a far faster rate than the norm. The majority of academies (2,015) are “converter academies” - schools rated by Ofsted as good or outstanding which have switched from local authority control.
Last year, the DfE sent out eight pre-warning letters to academies which resulted in an average 16 percentage point improve in the percentage of pupils gaining five or more A* to C grades at GCSE including maths and English.
In one school, the Bishop of Rochester academy in Chatham, Kent, the percentage of pupils achieving the Government’s GCSE benchmark shot up from 16 per cent to 42 per cent.
Meanwhile, twice as many teenagers attending the best performing schools obtained at least five good GCSEs last year as those taught in the worst, official figures show. The details emerged as a result of a Parliamentary question by Andrew Griffiths, Conservative MP for Burton and Uttoxeter.