Cameron attacks school ‘mediocrity’

Almost 3,500 schools in England rated as “requiring improvement” face being forced into new leadership, under plans to be announced by David Cameron.

He will promise that if the Tories win the May general election they will tackle “coasting” schools that are failing to make sufficient progress.

The prime minister will say: “We’re waging an all-out war on mediocrity.”

Labour’s Tristram Hunt has said raising standards depends on making sure that schools have qualified teaching staff.

Teachers’ union leader Mary Bousted rejected the criticism of schools as “self-serving, publicity-seeking nonsense”.

“When will politicians stop declaring war on schools?” said the leader of the ATL teachers’ union.

The prime minister’s proposals are designed to improve standards – focusing on schools with the Ofsted rating of “requires improvement”.

They would face having new leadership imposed – from “superheads”, high-achieving local schools or being taken over by academy trusts. Struggling academies could be switched to other academy sponsors.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan: “Just enough is not good enough”

Schools labelled as “requires improvement” are above the lowest “inadequate” rating, but below the levels of “good” and “outstanding”.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the BBC: “This is not about saying heads would automatically be replaced.

“Where a school doesn’t have the capacity to improve itself, and many do, or where they don’t have a plan that is going to lead to that school being rated good or outstanding, then one of the answers might be to get new leadership in.”

‘Not good enough’

Almost a quarter of secondary schools, about 720 schools, are rated as requiring improvement. About 16% of primary, more than 2,600 schools, would be affected by the proposals.

The intention is to “raise the bar” so that an even higher proportion of pupils are in good or outstanding schools.

“No-one wants their child to go to a failing school and no-one wants to them to go to a coasting school either,” Mr Cameron will say, in a speech setting out Conservative education policy.

“‘Just enough’ is not good enough. That means no more sink schools and no more ‘bog standard’ schools either.

“Our aim is this: the best start in life for every child, wherever they’re from – no excuses.”

The proposals to be announced on Monday would mean that schools rated as requiring improvement would automatically be considered for academy status.

Only schools able to prove they have a “clear plan for rapid improvement” will remain under their existing leadership.

Pupils walking to school
The education select committee reported there was no clear evidence academies raised standards

Alasdair Smith, from the Anti Academies Alliance, challenged the assumption that turning a school into an academy would improve results.

“There is not a single scrap of evidence that academy status improves our education system and increasingly there is plenty of evidence that it is producing a chaotic education system,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Last week the cross-party House of Commons education select committee reported that there is no clear evidence that academies had “raised standards overall”.

In particular the MPs said there was no evidence of improvement from primary academies and called on the government to commission research as a matter of urgency.

Changing control

Schools which are already academies and which fall into the “requires improvement” category face being taken away from their existing academy chain and run by another.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt says the key to improving standards is “really high quality teaching in the classroom”

Ofsted’s annual report shows that more than a third of sponsored academies, both primary and secondary, are currently rated as requiring improvement, a higher proportion than local authority schools.

Free schools which are in this rating could also be handed over to another academy group.

The areas more likely to be affected are those with the highest proportion of pupils not attending “good” or “outstanding” schools.

For primary schools this would be Medway, Doncaster, Bracknell Forest and East Sussex.

At secondary level, Ofsted’s figures show it would be the Isle of Wight, Hartlepool, St Helens and Oldham.

The label “requires improvement” was introduced by Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw, replacing what had previously been the “satisfactory” category.

Times table tests

On Sunday, head teachers’ leaders had reacted angrily to suggestions that primary schools could be failed or heads replaced if any pupils failed to pass a times table test.

Mrs Morgan announced plans for tougher primary maths tests, including that all pupils should know their 12 times table.

Sir Michael Wilshaw
Sir Michael Wilshaw replaced the “satisfactory” grade with “requires improvement”

Ministers announced two years ago that primary pupils would have to learn the 12 times table by the age of nine and it became a requirement of the updated curriculum.

Mrs Morgan’s target is for England’s schools to catch up with international competitors and to enter the top five of the PISA tests in English and maths by 2020.

But Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, attacked “this latest gimmick”.

“The new tests have not even been implemented before they want to change them,” he said.

Mrs Morgan also indicated that she was hoping to protect the schools budget, under a future Conservative government.

But a report from the Liberal Democrats claims that in the negotiations at the outset of the coalition government in 2010, the Conservatives “tried to cut the schools budget”.

The Lib Dems warn of “scorched earth plans” for future public spending cuts.

And shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt argued that the quality of teaching was the key to raising school standards to match international competitors.

“Many parents will be shocked to learn that David Cameron’s government has changed the rules to allow unqualified teachers into the classroom on a permanent basis, leading to a 16% rise in the last year alone,” said Mr Hunt.

“The surest way to raise standards in every lesson, in every school, is to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. Labour will ensure that all teachers are qualified and continue to train to improve their teaching as a condition to remaining in the classroom.”

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