'Worst' primary schools to become academies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The worst 200 primary schools in England are to be forced to turn into academies, the Education Secretary will say today.

Announcing the move, Michael Gove will say that a system in which so many children leave primary school without a good grasp of English and maths "should no longer be tolerated".

Around 1,400 primary schools in England currently have less than 60 per cent of their pupils reaching a basic level in English and Maths at age 11, and children making below average progress between the ages of seven and 11.

These are the basic floor standards that primaries are expected to achieve.

Of these 1,400 primaries, about 500 have been below the floor for two or three of the last four years.

And a further 200 have been below the threshold for the last five years, with 120 of them below the target for more than a decade.

It is these that are expected to be turned into academies - semi-independent state schools that receive their funding directly and have more powers over areas like the curriculum and staff pay and conditions.

In a speech to the National College for School Leadership in Birmingham today, Mr Gove will warn that the education debate in this country has not "confronted reality".

He will say: "Education systems across the world are improving faster than England. We have to set our sights higher.

"We should no longer tolerate a system in which so many pupils leave primary school without a good grasp of English and maths and leave secondary school without five good GCSEs.

"We want all parents to have a choice of good local schools. Evidence shows that the academy programme has had a good effect on school standards.

"Heads and teachers should run schools and they should be more accountable to parents instead of politicians.

"We must go faster and further in using the programme to deal with underperforming schools."

Mr Gove will also set secondary schools in England a new target of securing five good GCSE passes for at least half of their pupils.

The new target of 50% of pupils attaining five A*-C grade GCSEs, including English and maths, would require the worst-performing secondaries to raise their results to the level currently achieved by the average school.

Those which fail could face takeover by a successful neighbouring academy school.

In the most recent round of exams, some 870 out of the 3,000 secondaries in England fell short of the benchmark.

Mr Gove has already raised the target for five good GCSEs from 30 per cent to 35 per cent of pupils.

He is expected to propose raising the threshold to 40 per cent in the 2012-13 academic year and 50 per cent by 2015.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mr Gove said the academy system had "transformed" secondary education and could do the same for primary schools.

The changes will start to be made to "200 of the weakest primary schools" from September 2012.

He said: "All schools that we're looking at are schools which have been below what we call the floor standard for more than five years.

"Every year we ask young people to sit tests at the end of primary school in English and mathematics. These are schools where more than 40 per cent of students haven't been getting to the right level, and they haven't been getting to that level for more than five years.

"So yes, these schools will know themselves the difficulties that they've been in, and starting from 2012, from September 2012, these schools will be converted into academies."

He said that the process could involve "significant change" in terms of staffing, and in some cases the headteacher would be removed.

"Sometimes, yes, the headteacher will go, but in other circumstances it will be the case the staff will remain the same but the leadership that's provided by another school will help those who have been struggling for far too long to improve.

"It's not intended to be anything other than a helping hand upwards for the staff in the school, but above all the children who have to be our first concern."

Mr Gove insisted the change would "strip out bureaucracy" for teachers and give them more freedom to vary the school day and change the curriculum.

"Ultimately the people who make schools better are teachers not bureaucrats and that's what the academy model incarnates," he added.

He wants "as many schools as possible" to become academies.