The announcement last week that the PM was giving failing schools five years in which to improve results, or face takeover or closure, has particular resonance in Bristol, where secondary schools have historically performed well below expectations. There has however been some real improvement in some schools serving my constituency. In 2005 the City Academy saw a 17% rise in the number of pupils getting 5 GSCEs or more, taking it above 50%, and it has consolidated this performance over the past 2 years. Last year it was Whitefield Fishponds’ turn to show a massive improvement, as they also managed a 17% rise, from 28% to 45% – and that’s before their brand new school opens next year.
Hidden within the PM’s statement were the following figures: in 1997 there were more than 600 schools where less than 30% of pupils got 5 good GCSEs; now only 26 schools fall into that category. But the figure is much higher when the schools are judged on the number of pupils who get 5 good GCSEs including Maths and English, with 670 schools still failing to make the grade.
The PM has therefore announced that these schools will face annual improvement targets, takeover by good local state schools, closure or transfer to academy status. The new Bristol Brunel Academy (formerly Speedwell school) will provide an early example of whether such an approach works. In 2007 only 30% of pupils at Speedwell got 5 GCSEs (which was up from 23% in 2006). They’ve now got a phenomenal new school, built under the Building Schools for the Future programme; they’ve got academy status; and they’re part of a federation with the high-performing John Cabot City Technology College, whose head teacher becomes Executive Head of both schools. Only time will tell whether this pays off, but the school is confident it will; there's a real sense of optimism now.