Almost a quarter of Birmingham primary schools are in danger of failing to meet tough new performance standards.

Guidelines announced recently by Education Secretary Michael Gove mean that 60 per cent of children at each city primary will be expected to achieve at least level 4 in English and maths during Key Stage 2 tests.

At the moment 71 out of 300 schools are failing to meet the more challenging benchmark, which will be introduced in 2015.

Judged on present performance, 20 Birmingham secondary schools will also struggle to meet Mr Gove’s directive that at least half of pupils should achieve five or more GCSEs at A*-C including maths and English by 2015.

City council education officials confirmed that a handful of primaries are not achieving overall standards demanded by the Department for Education and could come under Government pressure to convert to academy status, freeing them from local authority control.

A spokeswoman said the precise number of schools falling behind and classed as “vulnerable” by the DfE is yet to be confirmed because the criteria for tracking pupils’ progress has changed over the years. The council is working with the DfE to establish which schools are already in the vulnerable category and how many are borderline.

The council has attracted criticism from former Schools Minister Lord Adonis over claims that it is opposed to the academy initiative – an allegation strongly denied by the city’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Twenty-two of Birmingham’s 433 primary and secondary schools have converted so far and other applications are pending.

Birmingham’s Transitional Director for Children, Young People and Families, Eleanor Brazil, confirmed that she was urgently looking at ways to bring test results up to the minimum standards.

Ms Brazil said in a briefing note to staff: “We are in active dialogue with the DfE on appropriate solutions for these schools and, where possible, are seeking arrangements which are based upon using local expertise and excellence as the key driver for future improvement.”

Discussions with head teachers and governors had concluded that a list of the vulnerable primary schools should not be published, she added.

Instead, the council has issued the criteria the DfE uses to identify vulnerable schools “to calm the speculation that this kind of analysis can produce”.

Ms Brazil added: “All those schools identified by this analysis have been contacted and we are in the process of developing a common understanding of the issues and challenges they face, progress being made and future actions which will lead to improvement.”

The DfE uses data from the past five years to assess whether schools are vulnerable and required targeted support or intervention.

The minimum expected attainment is that 60 per cent of pupils should achieve Level 4 or above in maths and English.

Schools are also marked on the percentage of pupils achieving two or more levels of progress in maths and English.

City education officials point out that exam results must be seen against Birmingham’s challenging social problems. Seven of the 40 council wards are below the national average for deprivation, with 60 per cent of children living in poverty.

Exam results in primary and secondary schools have risen steadily since 2004 from very low levels, placing Birmingham at the top of the performance league for large cities.

Just under 58 per cent of pupils achieved the benchmark of five A*-C GCSEs including maths and English this year – an increase of three per cent. The figure is marginally under the national average. Results in primary schools also improved, with 70 per cent of pupils attaining Key Stage 2 Level 4+ in English and maths.

The council has set up a primary and secondary school improvement group, consisting of national and local education experts as well as head teachers, to provide a network of support to vulnerable schools across the city.