Fifth of schools risk closure under govt targets

Poor academic performance will not be tolerated, the government said today, as latest figures show a fifth of schools would face closure under the prime minister’s own criteria.

More than 600 schools failed to reach the minimum standard set down by Gordon Brown, with fewer than 30 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs.

In November, Mr Brown said the government wanted all schools to see at least 30 per cent of pupils achieving five or more C passes at GCSE, including maths and English, by 2012.

Schools that failed to reach this minimum target would risk closure or takeover, the prime minister warned.

But today’s figures for GCSE results show 639 schools failed to achieve this target last year, although this was down from the 789 failing a year previously.

Schools minister Jim Knight said the government owed it to parents to make sure low-performing schools turn around more quickly.

Mr Knight said: “I share parents’ impatience for improvement not just in low-achieving schools, but in all schools.

“We will be investigating options such as closure, federation or becoming part of our academy programme for those at the very bottom. Poor performance is not tolerated.”

Although the figures show a fifth of schools are below par at GCSE, Mr Knight said the government eventually hoped to lift its minimum benchmark, describing it as a stepping stone not stopping point.

Nationally 46.7 per cent of 16-year-olds attained five or more GCSE passes at C or above. Girls continue to outperform boys, with a pass rate of 51.2 per cent and 42.4 per cent respectively.

But opposition politicians have raised alarm at the continued gulf between high- and low-achievers.

The Conservatives claim underachievement is getting worse, with 90,000 pupils not passing five GCSEs at grade G, an annual rise of 5,000.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said the figures show over half a million children are being taught in schools the prime minister thinks should close.

Mr Gove continued: “The gap between standards in rich and poor areas is growing and half our children fail to get five good GCSEs including English and maths.

“Until we slash pointless bureaucracy, give teachers real powers to enforce discipline, and focus on the basics we will fail another generation of our most disadvantaged children.”

The Liberal Democrats concurred that the government was “failing” children by not guaranteeing them a decent education.

Schools spokesman David Laws said: “Ministers seem unwilling to tackle the continuing educational chasm between affluent and deprived neighbourhoods.

“The government’s target of having no school where more than 70 percent of children are failing to get these five good grades is hopelessly unambitious.”