Wednesday 3 October 2007

Defining failure

Today's newspapers have gleefully alighted on the definition of underperformance offered by Andrew Adonis yesterday, as he announced his plans for closer working between the private and state school sectors. Adonis now targets around 800 schools with fewer than 30% five A-C grades including English and Maths in 2006. He is right to do so. But he should also give these figures some context. How many such schools were there in 1997? There were nearly 1300 schools with fewer than 25% of pupils getting five good GCSEs including English and Maths in 1997, and their number had fallen to 500 in 2006. (Of those getting any GCSE, the number with five or fewer had fallen from 616 to 47). And half of secondaries in 1997 - or 1600 schools - were not meeting this new 30% target level. Equally, the number of non-selective schools with 70% or more five good GCSEs has increased from around 83 to 600 between 1997-2006, and the number of schools deemed failing by Ofsted is half its 1998 peak level. That doesn't make the challenge now any less, but it does show rather more progress than Labour's detractors (or its ministers sometimes) are ready to admit. Context matters.

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