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'Academies are the answer to Bradford’s worst schools’
Twenty-two Bradford primary schools have been warned that they could be forced to become academies after they under-performed in this year’s tests for ten and 11-year-olds.
Figures released yesterday show that Bradford was the local authority with the third highest percentage of primary schools that the Government felt had fallen “below the floor”.
But the Department for Education has singled out one Bradford school for praise, saying it proves the academy system works.
Key stage two performance tables published yesterday show that 22 schools, 16 per cent of Bradford’s primaries, are not reaching new, tougher minimum Government standards.
Schools are deemed to be below the floor target if fewer than 60 per cent of their pupils reach level four or above in reading, writing and maths, and if pupils are also making below-average progress in each of these core skills.
The DfE said while its previous focus had been on under-performing secondary schools, the Government would now look at tackling primary schools that do not improve.
A spokesman said: “Schools with a long history of under-performance, and who are not stepping up to the mark, will be taken over by an academy sponsor.
“The expertise and strong leadership provided by sponsors is the best way to turn around weak schools and give pupils there the best chance of a first-class education.
“Some of the improvements seen at new sponsored primary academies are remarkable – ending years of chronic under-performance.”
The DfE hailed Ryecroft Academy in Holme Wood, Bradford, which is sponsored by the Northern Education Trust, as an example of how becoming an academy can turn a school around. The tables show that the number of pupils achieving their expected levels in the tests rose from 26 per cent last year to 74 per cent.
But Councillor Ralph Berry, executive member for children’s services at Labour-run Bradford Council, criticised the approach, saying said he did not believe changing a school’s status improved its results.
He said good leadership at a school was far more important.
Coun Berry disputed the assertion that changing Ryecroft to an academy had prompted the turn-around in its fortunes, saying it had already been improving.
He said while conversion to an academy could be right for some schools, for others it could have a negative effect. And he warned against a one-size-fits-all approach, saying the key to improving schools lay locally, through initiatives like school partnerships.
He said: “If you want to get performance raised, threats and bullying is not an intelligent way to do it.
“We take this performance business very, very seriously.”
Coun Berry accused the Government of trying to increase the number of academies across the country because it was in danger of missing its own academy creation targets.
And he said the minimum standards for school performance were constantly being raised.
He said: “What’s happening is the football pitch is being tilted.”
Coun Berry said Bradford Council planned to commit an extra £500,000 for school improvement work.
He said: “We have already said we will be working to challenge and support those schools below the floor targets. They have moved that floor target; obviously that creates additional challenges.
“We know the schools we are working with, and it is interesting that many of those schools will otherwise be deemed by Ofsted to be good schools.
“This is about forcing schools out of democratic accountability and into chain providers.”
Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “I’m becoming increasingly worried about the ideological intervention from the centre.”
She said there was no national evidence to suggest that conversion to academies brought about a “step-change in improvement”.
She said: “It’s a very mixed picture across the country. What does cause improvement is good quality leadership and management.”
The Conservative group’s education spokesman Councillor Roger L’Amie said there were three main points to the question of failing primaries being forced into becoming academies.
“Firstly, Bradford can’t afford any under-performing primary schools,” he said. “Secondly, where a primary is under-performing it is important that it gets up to speed. And, thirdly, if becoming an academy gives it a chance of making significant improvements, then it must be tried.”
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