Headlines: September 24th, 2009

New figures show that nine out of ten schools now meet the minimum the standard of achievement. The number of schools failing the standard has gone down from 440 last year to 270 this year, a reduction of 40 per cent. The minimum standard requires that at least 30 per cent of pupils gain 5A*-C grades at GCSE including maths and English.

In a move to tackle the problem of failing schools, the National Challenge programme was launched in June 2008. A key aim is to break the link between depravation and poor performance. 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. The National Challenge is a floor target, not the summit of ambition for a school.

Support for local authorities is at different stages and all East Sussex and Coventry National Challenge schools have moved above the 30 per cent benchmark.

The experience of Blackpool is typical of situations where support is provided. 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.

It is planned to send expert advisors to Kent, where one fifth of schools fail to achieve the standard, and Suffolk, where there is concern about the rate of progress. There will also be discussions with Leeds on measures to tackle their failing schools.