Children’s secretary Ed Balls has accused some headteachers of “making excuses” for poor results as he renewed threats to close schools which failed to meet Government targets.
Speaking to the Birmingham Post, he congratulated Birmingham schools after a dramatic improvement in standards.
Last year, 27 secondary schools in the city failed to achieve the Government’s target of 30 per cent of pupils gaining five or more high-grade GCSEs – but that fell to 20 when the latest results were published.
However, Mr Balls said he stood by his commitment to close any school which failed to reach the target by 2011.
Ministers want 30 per cent of pupils in every secondary to achieve five or more GCSEs, including English and maths, at grades A to C.
Where this doesn’t happen, a school may be closed and replaced by a new academy, or taken over by a more successful neighbour. The Government scheme, launched last year, has been condemned by teaching unions and some heads, who claim Ministers have labelled schools “failures”.
But Mr Balls said he has not used the word, with the schools officially known as “national challenge” schools, and has praised some of the headteachers concerned as the best in the country, because they are raising standards in difficult circumstances. Birmingham received £2,796,000 from the Treasury last year, specifically to help improve results in the schools affected.
Mr Balls said: “There are lots headteachers who are upset by being labelled a failing school, and I have a lot of sympathy for those headteachers because, as I said last year, there were a good third of schools who had strong leadership, who did all the all the right things, who were on track.
“But at the same time, we did the right thing. We said, while there are some schools already on track, others aren’t. We’re not going to have high expectations only for some schools, we are going to have them for every school.
“The schools that were really upset were the headteachers who said, ‘why can’t you leave us alone because this is about as well as we can do, and this is what the kids around here can achieve, and rather than labelling us as failing, why can’t you celebrate our achievements?’
“To which my answer is, ‘your achievements aren’t good enough, and I don’t want excuses like that. Other schools in tougher circumstances than you do it through great leadership, so get on and do it.’”
Mr Balls also revealed Coventry, Dudley and Sandwell were on a shortlist to take part in a trial offering free school meals to every primary school pupil.