Fewer schools failing, says Blunkett

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THE NUMBER of failing schools is falling for the first time, David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, will tell a teachers' union conference today.

Mr Blunkett will deliver a tough speech to the National Union of Teachers' conference in Brighton, reminding delegates that the Government's policy on bad schools, which the union fiercely opposes, is working.

He will also defend his plans to introduce performance-related pay for teachers just before the conference votes on a motion backing a one-day national strike on the proposals.

Four years ago, Mr Blunkett was jostled into a cupboard by union left- wingers at the conference after he said Labour would close failing schools and sack incompetent teachers.

Now, Mr Blunkett says, for the first time in five years, there are more schools coming off "special measures", the inspector's label for failing schools, than are being put in.

During the last two terms, 135 schools have been failed by inspectors and 147 have been given a clean bill of health. Six have closed.

The average turnaround time has been cut from 25 to 18 months and 37 schools which have been failing for over two years will be closed or out of difficulties by the end of the summer term.

Mr Blunkett will tell the conference: "For too long schools have been allowed to remain on special measures without a strategy for improvement, which is far-reaching and radical enough to make a lasting change."

Mr Blunkett's reminder of his previous clash with the union comes as he is about to cross swords with them over the even more explosive issue of performance-related pay, proposed in a Green Paper last year.

Conference delegates are expected to vote today for a motion backed by their leaders to ballot members over a boycott of the new appraisal system which underpins the Green Paper and for the first national one- day strike to be held by the union for 30 years.

Last night Doug McAvoy, the union's general secretary, warned that the Government would jeopardise its agenda for raising standards if it imposed performance-related pay on an unwilling profession.

In particular, teachers were opposed to the use of pupils' results to determine pay.

Though a one-day strike would not affect public exams, it might disrupt national tests for 11- and 14-year-olds in May, Mr McAvoy warned.

The new national literacy strategy, designed to help ministers achieve ambitious targets, would also be threatened, he said.

So far the union has co-operated with the strategy despite complaints from members that it is too bureaucratic and that they have not been properly trained.

Mr McAvoy said: "The union's opposition to the use of appraisal for pay is total, its opposition to performance-related pay is total and its opposition to payment by results is total. There is no compromise to be had. If the Government rides roughshod over the profession's views, it can't then turn to the profession and say `help us'. It runs the risk of losing for a long time any prospect of partnership with teachers."

The union, he said, would aim to convince parents that the reintroduction of the Victorian idea of payment by results would do more to harm education than the disruption required to stop it.