Under-performing schools to be turned into academies

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The Independent Online

England's worst schools will be turned into academies, Michael Gove announced today.

The Education Secretary said local authorities should intervene if a school is under-performing and failing to improve.

Addressing the National Conference of Directors of Children's and Adult Services in Manchester, Mr Gove said it was "unacceptable" that in many schools, two-thirds of children fail to achieve five good GCSEs.

Schools which have low attainment, where pupils are failing to make progress, have low Ofsted ratings and show no sign of improving, should be considered for academy status, he said.

Academies should be used to tackle under-performing primaries as well as secondaries, he added.

Mr Gove told delegates: "I would like local authorities to consider more schools for academy status where both attainment and pupil progression are low and where schools lack the capacity to improve themselves.

"In particular I want to focus our shared attention on how to improve schools where: attainment is low and pupils progress poorly; the most recent Ofsted judgment is that the school is eligible for intervention or is merely satisfactory; there is a record of low attainment over time; pupils in secondary schools achieve poorly compared to schools with similar intakes."

Mr Gove said he would use his own powers to take over if local authorities fail to intervene.

Under the new Academies Act, he can make an Academy Order in respect of a school that is eligible for intervention - for example those that Ofsted have placed in special measures.

"I will be ready to use this power in the months ahead where I judge that academy status is in the best interests of an eligible school and its pupils, and where it has not been possible to reach agreement on a way ahead with the local authority or the school or both," he told the conference.

"Of course, I would hope that I do not need to use these powers extensively as I fully expect local authorities to use their own extensive intervention powers to bring about change in poorly performing schools that are failing to improve."

A White Paper, due to be published later this month, will set out measures to assess if a school is under-performing. These will come into force from January next year.

According to Ofsted figures, as of March, there were 75 schools that had been in special measures for more than a year.

Today's announcement will further expand the academies programme - a key aim of the Coalition government's education policy.

In the summer Mr Gove wrote to every primary, secondary and special school in the country, inviting them to apply for academy status - those rated "outstanding" by Ofsted were pre-approved.

Some 32 schools converted in September, with a further 110 converting over the coming months.

This is in addition to around 200 academies opened under Labour.

Academies - which are semi-independent state schools - were a flagship measure of the Labour government, and first introduced under Tony Blair.

Labour also introduced the controversial National Challenge initiative, announcing that every secondary school that failed to have 30% of its pupils gaining five A*-C grades, including English and maths, at GCSE by 2011 faced closure or being turned into an academy.

Unions criticised the initiative saying it led to the "naming and shaming" of schools.