Second inspection for schools near 'failure': Patten alarmed at small number new system has not passed

SCHOOLS which narrowly escape 'failing' under the new privatised inspection system will face further action, it was revealed yesterday.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, said that some could be listed for another full inspection within a short time. He is said to be alarmed by the small number of schools that have been failed by the system so far.

Mr Patten told headteachers late last year that he planned to appoint Education Associations to take over a number of failing schools by the middle of this year. Of 390 secondary schools inspected during the 1993 autumn term, just one, the Northicote School, Wolverhampton, has been identified as being in need of special improvement. One other, Stratford School in Newham, east London, is also thought to have failed but its report has not been published yet.

Between 40 and 50 schools causing concern were scheduled for inspection during the first year of the programme. Two primary and one special school - still being inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools (HMI) - have also been failed. Mr Patten said yesterday that government inspectors would visit 'near-miss' schools, and that they would be free to take further action if they felt it to be necessary.

'I have been concerned that some schools, whilst not judged to be 'failing', are nevertheless found by inspectors to have serious problems. If HMI have particular concerns about any school, they may include it in their inspection programme at an early date,' he said.

Professor Stewart Sutherland, chief inspector of schools, has launched a national survey of exam results, focusing on schools where fewer than 10 per cent of pupils gain five or more A-C grades at GCSE.

An analysis of the first batch of inspection reports revealed that schools in danger of failing their pupils were not necessarily those with poor exam results.

Under the 1993 Education Act, a school has 40 days to prepare an action plan in response to an inspector's report. If it has been identified as failing, then Mr Patten must decide within another two weeks whether to appoint an Education Association, possibly made up of former head teachers and advisers, to run the school.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, welcomed the examination results survey but said it should be designed to help teachers in schools.

He said that further inspections of weak schools would only be useful if they were aimed at helping them to improve. 'The identification of near-miss schools must be supportive. It must not be about castigation but about helping to improve and develop,' he said.

Better schools, page 31