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New minimum standards to build on progress made by eleven year olds ...
New minimum standards to build on progress made by eleven year olds

and address underachievement in secondary schools were announced

today by education and employment secretary David Blunkett.

The new benchmark - with no school having fewer than 25 per cent of

its pupils gaining 5 good GCSE passes - will be backed up by a pilot

scheme of ten super heads who will support groups of schools that

are struggling or failing.

Speaking at the NUT's Secondary Education Conference in London, Mr

Blunkett said there are 530 schools where 25 per cent or less of

pupils get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE - of those 426 had similarly poor

results in 1998 as well.

He outlined a new approach to secondary school improvement:

- by 2004 there should be no secondary school in any LEA with less

than 20% of its pupils achieving 5A*-Cs. And by 2006 there should

be none achieving less than 25%

- consideration of a Fresh Start for every school that has not

improved to at least 15% 5 A*-C at GCSE over three consecutive


- a pilot scheme appointing 10 experienced, high calibre headteachers

with a proven track records to work with 3-5 schools each to tackle

failure and raise standards. An expansion of the successful

National Mentoring Pilot Project for pupils in low performing

schools. Businesses will be approached to see how they can offer

targeted support

- promoting models of excellence where schools are demonstrating

success including the School Performance Awards scheme so that the

system can reward good progress. Ideas will be sought from schools

and teachers about other ways of celebrating and spreading success

against the odds.

Mr Blunkett said:

'Overall results at GCSE are getting better and overall the

proportion of pupils gaining five or more A*-C grades has risen to

nearly 48% - up from 45% in 1997. We are well on track to achieve

our national target of 50% by 2002.

'Excellence in Cities and the expanding programme of Beacon and

Specialist Schools are helping to drive up standards in some of the

most challenging parts of the country.

'However there is still much to be done to transform secondary

education. The Key Stage 3 results show no significant rises over the

last 3 years. In English they slipped back a little this year and in

Science they are no higher than in 1996.

'As I indicated in my North of England speech on 6 January we must

capitalise on the gains made at 11. Progress is being made in

secondaries but it is slower, more patchy, with too many low

performing schools.

'There are 530 schools where we will be focusing our help to meet

the challenges they face. Some will be failing, some will be

struggling to cope in difficult circumstances, some will be good

schools that are already improving fast and achieving well in very

difficult circumstances.

'The challenge I am setting will be difficult and I can already hear

the cries from those who say it can't be done. We know it can and I

want all education authorities to share this aspiration with me. We

will be monitoring how education authorities are doing. We already

monitor progress on the lowest performing 200 schools.

'There are cynics out there who say that school performance is all

about socio-economics and the areas that these schools are located

in. No child is preordained by their class or by their gender or by

their ethnic group or by their home life to fail.'

Mr Blunkett said that there were significant differences between

schools with high numbers of pupils entitled to free school meals.

He cited a number of significant facts from the DfEE exam database.

Of schools with fewer than 25% of pupils getting 5 A* to C grades

at GCSE, the free school meal rate varies from 6% to 96%.

While over 200 schools which have fewer than 35 per cent of pupils

in receipt of free school meals are on the list, there are 175

schools with over 35% on free school meals who still get over 25%


'It is nothing like as simple as saying social circumstances

determines performance. That is part of the reason I am determined

to make secondary school improvement a key priority in the coming


'I am announcing today that we will be piloting a new approach to

tackling schools that are at risk of failing. This will involve

appointing 10 experienced, high calibre headteachers with a proven

track records to work with 3-5 schools each to tackle failure and

raise standards.

'We will be announcing more details shortly but we are keen to

ensure that there is a Memorandum of Agreement beween the

superheads, education authorities, dioceses and foundations.

'It is also important to maintain and make clear the continued role

of individual heads of the schools involved and their governing


'The aim will be to turn around schools that are struggling before

they fail. These heads will work in co-operation with the existing

school managements and will have at their disposal additional

resources to tackle improvement issues. The model will draw on the

experiences of both the Excellence in Cities and the Education

Action Zone experiences. We will be setting out full details of the

pilot later this month.

'We will be looking to build on the models we have developed through

Excellence in Cities and Education Action Zones to establish targeted

programmes to support disadvantaged schools. In particular we will

be building on the networking arrangements of these programmes so

that schools do not face challenges alone.

'All the schools achieving less than 25% 5 A*-Cs will be twinned with

a partner school the superheads pilot will remain

responsible for the day to day running of their schools and governing

bodies will continue to play their current role. The Memorandum of

Agreement for Superheads will explain the relationship between the

postholders, the LEAs, dioceses and foundations.

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