Department for Education
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National Challenge on track for 2011 – nearly 40 percent reduction in schools below 30 per cent floor target

- Plans to accelerate progress in Kent, Leeds and Suffolk -

 

- Ofsted inspections to be triggered where there is significant decline in results and cause for concern -

 

Ed Balls yesterday said the National Challenge programme is on track to achieve its target and announced the next steps for National Challenge with a focus on schools at risk of not reaching the minimum standard.

 

Based on early indications from local authorities, results are better than expected and we predict that fewer than 270 secondary schools will remain below the minimum standard of at least 30 per cent of pupils gaining 5A*-C grades at GCSE including maths and English.

 

The number of schools below the minimum standard has dropped nearly 40 per cent from 440 last year - the largest drop since 1997. This was down from 631 in 2007 and around 1,600 in 1997. In 1997 around half of all schools had less than 30 per cent of pupils attaining five good GCSEs including English and maths; now there are fewer than one in 10.

 

Almost 75 per cent of the more than 750 schools being supported through National and City Challenges and the Academies programme improved their results between 2008 and 2009. More than 30 per cent have reported improvements of 10 percentage points or more.

 

Next steps include:

 

• with the agreement of Kent and Suffolk local authorities, we will send in expert advisors to prepare a progress review;

 

• in Leeds, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker has met with the local authority and discussed how progress could be made more quickly, including the structural solutions needed. Leeds will report back to the department in October;

 

• completion of the review in Blackpool, which will be made available next month alongside the council’s response to its recommendations;

 

• Ed Balls has written to local authorities urging them to issue warning notices or request Ofsted inspections at schools with a significant decline in results and which are a serious cause for concern. If local authorities fail to act, the Secretary of State will use his powers to trigger an inspection.

 

Children, Schools and Families Secretary Ed Balls said today:

 

“I want to congratulate local authorities, schools and pupils across the country on the great progress they have made. Schools and Academies have responded positively to the extra support the National Challenge programme has given them. Many schools facing challenging circumstances find this extra support can make all the difference when coupled with their drive and determination to improve.

 

“Where local authorities embrace this help there can be a real turn around. This year East Sussex and Coventry are reporting that all their National Challenge schools have gone above 30 per cent.

 

“The National Challenge is a floor target - not the summit of our ambitions for schools. We will be uncompromising in getting to our objective and will continue to back schools and local authorities that make good progress. In the minority of schools which are not making progress we will ask local authorities to do more work. And in those areas where a number of schools are not making progress we will work with them to see what more can be done.

 

“Where a school’s results have dropped unexpectedly to below the minimum standard or are otherwise a significant cause for concern, the local authority should issue a warning notice or ask Ofsted to inspect the school. If I am not satisfied that local authorities are taking the necessary action required I will not hesitate to use my own powers to prompt an inspection.”

 

In June Ed Balls announced three local authority reviews in Blackpool, Leicester and Gloucestershire. The department has now received Professor David Woods’ report on Blackpool and expect to receive his report on Leicester and GrahamBadman’s report on Gloucestershire shortly. The report on Blackpool will be made available next month alongside a response from the local authority.

 

David Lund, Director of Children’s Services Blackpool Council, said:

 

“Blackpool welcomed from the outset the involvement of Professor David Woods, who clearly has a wealth of experience in supporting local authorities in raising standards. The schools and the local authority were pleased to share with him the various good practices in place, particularly the support of the Children’s Trust to help raise attainment. We are now left with a number of very helpful recommendations, all of which we are happy to seriously consider and work towards implementing.”

 

Ed Balls said the department had now identified local authorities which need more intense support to accelerate progress based on this year’s self-reported results.

 

With the agreement of Kent and Suffolk local authorities, we will send in expert advisors to prepare a progress review. In Leeds, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker has met with the local authority and discussed how progress could be made more quickly, including the structural solutions needed. Leeds will report back to the department in October.

 

Ed Balls has today written to all local authorities to encourage them to seize the opportunity of National Challenge to achieve lasting transformation in their most challenging schools and consider radical solutions, including by establishing Academies, National Challenge Trusts and hard federations.

 

He added that a minority of schools had seen a decline in results and has written to local authorities urging them to act quickly to understand the causes of decline and formulate an improvement plan to address the issues.

 

He said the overall performance of academies has been very positive with the vast majority reporting improved results in 2009. GCSE results are improving at over twice the national average.

 

Ed Balls said a small minority of Academies may not improve as quickly as others because the programme targets schools that have been underperforming for years in particularly challenging and deprived areas. But he expects all Academies that have been open for three or more years to achieve above 30 per cent 5 A*-C at GCSE including maths and English by 2011 or to be making very strong progress with clear evidence that they will be above the benchmark very soon after.

 

He added:

 

“The Academy programme has proved to be a genuine revolution in how secondary state education is delivered for those areas and pupils that need it most and for the programme to continue to succeed it is right to rigorously challenge sponsors and offer tailored support.

 

“Parents rightly expect us to act if any school is not making satisfactory progress and we will do that with Academies as with any other school. No educational institution is exempt from scrutiny in our desire to raise standards.

 

“In the same way as we support local authorities and schools that are struggling to reach the minimum standard, similar support is and will be available to academies and their sponsors.

 

“It is imperative that sponsors and their Academies make every effort to improve performance and achieve the minimum standard by 2011 and we will work together to achieve this.”

 

Where an academy is not making satisfactory progress the department will work closely with sponsors to secure whatever changes are necessary to accelerate progress. This may include a change of leadership, a new partnership with a successful strong Academy, sponsor, partner or school. This was the case both at Unity Academy in Middlesbrough and at the Richard Rose Academy in Carlisle.

 

Schools Minister Vernon Coaker added:

 

“Breaking the link between deprivation and low educational achievement are what the National Challenge, City Challenge and Academy programmes are all about.

 

“This is one of the biggest tasks facing our education system and we know the National Challenge programme and the Academies programme are really working to turn around underperformance.

 

“All pupils deserve the chance to go to a good school where they can fulfil their potential and I believe our radical school improvement policies will help us achieve this.”

 

Editor's Notes
This press notice relates to 'England'

School level results will be published in January 2010. The figures reported today are based on schools’ self-reported results and will change when we have validated data in January.

 

For those Academies with results in 2008 and 2009 the increase in the proportion of pupils achieving at least five GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths is expected to be 5.1 percentage points – an increase on last year’s Academy improvement rate of 4.3 percentage points. The national average increase was 2.5 percentage points last year.

 

Just as with maintained schools and local authorities, if standards remain unacceptably low, the Secretary of State will use his powers and this could mean replacing the governors and ultimately finding new sponsors to run the academy by terminating the funding agreement with an existing sponsor.

 

Earlier this month the DCSF announced plans to open up the programme to new sponsors by scrapping the £2m sponsorship fee. The 200th Academy opened this month a year early and up to a further 100 are opening next year.

 

The DCSF will work with Kent, Leeds and Suffolk offering extra support as part of the National Challenge programme. In Leeds Vernon Coaker has met with the local authority and agreed progress has not been fast enough and that structural solutions are needed. Leeds will report back to the department in October. The local authorities in Kent and Suffolk have requested extra support and we will work with them to carry out a progress review.

 

The National Challenge programme was launched in June 2008 and is supported by £400m until 2011. We aim for every secondary school in the country to have at least 30 per cent of pupils gain 5A*-C grades at GCSE including maths and English by 2011. Each school below the 30 per cent benchmark or at risk of falling below it has a National Challenge Adviser working with them to identify and broker the support needed to secure lasting improvements.

 

Progress reviews were announced on 30 June 2009 in Blackpool, Gloucestershire and Leicester.

 

Where necessary, the Secretary of State works with Academy sponsors to instigate a change of leadership and/or create a new partnership with a strong successful academy, sponsor or school. He also has powers to take control of the running of the Academy by replacing the governors and ultimately to find new sponsors to run the academy by terminating the funding agreement with an existing sponsor.

 

The Secretary of State has a power under Section 8(1) of the Education Act 2005 to require HMCI to inspect a school.

 


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