One of the most striking aspects of the collated secondary school exam results published yesterday is the fact that 34 of the Government's 73 academies are officially "failing".
By the Government's definition, a school is failing if less than 30 per cent of its pupils achieve five A-C grade GCSEs (including English and Maths). It is certainly not a perfect indicator of a school's performance, but it is a reasonable guide. And it is clear that academies, which were established by the Government to replace failing inner city comprehensives, have not yet fulfilled the hopes invested in them by ministers.
These latest results are depressing, but it is worth keeping faith in these schools. These institutions replaced some truly awful schools and took in pupils badly let down by the system for years. They were never going to turn out academic high flyers overnight. And the fact that several are still not meeting the required standard should not be allowed to obscure the fact that many are steadily improving their performance.
Moreover, the structure on which academies were founded still offers the best hope for improved pupil performance in the future. The teaching unions have always been hostile to the extra funding made available to academies, but it makes sense to give these schools, many of which were physically crumbling as comprehensives, a heavy dose of investment. Would the unions rather the additional funding went to the best performing schools in the most prosperous catchment areas?
And despite the centralising instincts of many MPs and civil servants, it also makes sense to allow the leadership of these schools the freedom to tailor their own approach to suit their particular circumstances. Would anyone seriously suggest that the pupils of academies would have done better under the control of the Local Education Authority?
The opponents of academies have nothing to offer but the discredited educational ideas of the past. And it would be fatal if the Government responded to these results by cutting the number of new academies or increasing central control over them. These schools still represent the best hope for the transformation of our secondary education sector.