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
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
- 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
'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
'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
'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.