June 13, 2008
Minister’s Defence Enrages Teachers ; Balls Hit Back at Criticism of School ‘Hit List’
By Paul Loraine
SCHOOLS Minister Ed Balls was slated by North teachers last night after he defended Government plans which could see the closure of schools deemed to be under-performing on GCSE marks.In the North East, 20 schools have been named in the National Challenge programme because fewer than 30% of their children achieve five or more GCSE grades A*-C, including maths and English.
Yesterday Mr Balls denied the move has demoralised school staff and pupils.
Speaking at Consett YMCA in County Durham, he outlined his vision for "excellent" GCSE results in "even the poorest communities".
Those schools that do not achieve the 30% target by 2011 could be closed, merged with top-performing grammar schools or replaced with privately-backed academies. Local authorities have been given a 50- day deadline to come up with a rescue plan for each of the schools on the hit list.
When asked whether the challenge ran the risk of sapping morale at the listed schools, Mr Balls said: "I think it is the opposite. We are absolutely not about undermining reputations.
"Those schools that are below 30%, but are on the right track, we will celebrate their achievement.
"Schools which have been persistently stuck below the 30%, we owe it to the children and parents to get results up.
"We are going to put pounds 400m of funding in place - an unprecedented amount."
Mr Balls predicted that many schools on the list would respond positively to the challenge and maintained that it was not unreasonable to have a uniform 30% target, regardless of schools' differences.
"I'm not saying that every one of those schools is a failing school," he said.
"A lot of them have strong teachers, strong governors, and will achieve this target this year and the year after.
"There are some schools who need extra help - extra support for the teachers and headteachers. With the right kind of leadership even in the poorest communities we can have excellent results."
Teachers in the North East last night criticised the "heavy- handed" proposals and questioned Mr Balls' assertion that morale in schools is not being damaged.
Mike Booth, head at Walbottle Campus Technology College, Newcastle, one of the schools on the list, said he was disappointed with the Government.
"It is a simplistic view on education and they are using a blunt instrument to identify schools' success or failure.
"This is a Government that wants to come across as tough - one week on schools, then crime, then the health service."
Vince Allen, North-East spokesman for the National Union of Teachers, said: "To say schools who are achieving below 30% but have made reasonable progress or had good Ofsted reports should be treated the same as those who have indifferent Ofsted reports begs the question: what measures do we use to judge what is a successful and what is a failing school?
"We can't use two completely diverse mechanisms for assessing schools and then hit them with either of the outcomes depending on what the Government is wanting. Schools are not all the same and some schools struggle significantly to get that 30%. Proposals of this kind and threats of closure are the Government's heavy handed way of failing to acknowledge that."
For a full rundown of schools on Ed Balls' hit list go to www.journallive.co.uk
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