Tough new targets for underperforming schools

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The Independent Online

Up to 400 schools could be tagged as "underperforming" and will face being taken over if they fail to meet tough new achievement targets set out in today's Education White Paper.

Secondary schools will be subject to intense scrutiny if less than 35% of their pupils get five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, and fewer students are making two levels of progress between the ages of 11 and 16 (Key Stages 3 and 4) than the national average.

Education Secretary Michael Gove would not be drawn on the precise number of schools likely to be affected by the measure, which would mean many more schools are likely to be identified as failing.

"I don't think it's right that you can have a school where two-thirds of children aren't getting five basic GCSEs," he said.

"Our approach is going to be more sophisticated than the last government's.

"If a school has a really tough intake but it is still making tremendous progress, then we won't be classifying it as underperforming. We will recognise the unique circumstances of every school."

Where schools are found to fall below standard, "outstanding headteachers" would be brought in to help "raise the bar on achievement".

But Mr Gove said schools would not be categorised as "failing", insisting they would simply be termed "underperforming".

The measure will replace a target introduced under the last Labour government for schools to have more than 30% of pupils achieving five C grades, including the basics.

As part of the new plans, former troops will be encouraged to retrain as teachers.

"I can't think of anything better than getting people who know all about self-discipline, teamwork and a sense of pride into our schools to complement the huge numbers of great teachers we have there at the moment," Mr Gove said.

Servicemen without a degree would take two years to qualify for a teaching position, with graduates moving through more quickly, he said.

While there is currently no target for primary schools, these are expected to fall below the bar if fewer than 60% of their pupils reach level 4 in English and maths and fewer youngsters make two levels of progress between ages five and 11 (Key Stages 1 and 2) than the national average.

Any school that fails to meet the target will face intervention and could be turned into an academy.

The White Paper - The Importance Of Teaching - represents a major overhaul of the English schools system and is expected to lay out proposals covering teacher training, qualifications and assessment, inspections, league tables and funding in an attempt to boost standards.

It is due to be published by the Department for Education later today.

Mr Gove said last week he wanted trainee teachers to spend more time in the classroom. It is expected to mean a shift in focus away from university-led courses to more would-be teachers training in schools.

School leaders are also likely to be given unlimited time to scrutinise teachers, scrapping a rule that says they can be formally observed for only three hours a year and plans have also previously been mooted to scrap funding for teacher trainees who gain a third-class degree.

The sweeping changes could mean abandoning modular - so-called "bite-size" - GCSEs in favour of linear exams taken after two years of study.

Reforms of qualifications would also pave the way for plans for an "English Baccalaureate", which would reward pupils for achieving five good GCSEs in English, maths, science, foreign languages and a humanities subject.

Students could be marked on their spelling, punctuation and grammar in GCSE exams in the future and schools could be prevented from using vocational courses as "equivalent" qualifications to push themselves up the GCSE league tables.

The shake-up is likely to promote a take-up of languages, as well as other traditional subjects such as history and geography, effectively rewarding schools where pupils opt for core subjects.

The Government believes the move will counter the "catastrophic decline" of language learning under Labour, the Daily Telegraph reported. The subject saw a sharp decline after it was made optional from the age of 14 in 2004.

The White Paper is due to include plans to introduce a reading test for six-year-olds to check if they can read simple words such as "cat" and "street".

And there are also expected to be proposals to streamline Ofsted inspections, reducing the number of categories schools are judged on to four.

Under reforms introduced under the Labour government, inspectors now rate schools on a number of additional measures such as community cohesion and pupil wellbeing.

The changes could mean inspectors focus on four areas - leadership, behaviour, achievement and teaching standards.

Ministers have previously revealed plans to improve behaviour by allow teachers to search pupils for more items, including mobile phones and pornography, and improving guidance on when teachers can use force.

It comes a day after Ofsted's chief inspector suggested that weak teachers should be removed from the classroom and warned that pupils are still being subjected to "dull lessons".

The quality of teaching in schools is too "variable" and not good enough in half of England's secondaries and in more than two-fifths of primaries, Ofsted's annual report found.

Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that teaching in England had improved, but other countries were moving ahead faster.

"Over the last 13 years teaching, as a profession, has had the initiative, the fun, the enjoyment, squeezed out of it," he said.

Mr Gove promised a slimmed-down national curriculum, saying: "The original intention of the national curriculum wasn't that it should cover everything in the school day."

He said he wanted his reforms to be judged by two tests: "Is our education system holding its own internationally and are more children from poor homes getting into top universities?"