THE National Union of Teachers (NUT) yesterday accused Education Secretary Ruth Kelly of trying to impose ‘impossible’ targets on state schools that would lead to their closure and the smashing up of comprehensive state education.
In speech to the Local Government Association, Kelly said that in future ‘failing’ schools in England will be given just one year to improve or be closed by the government.
‘Being in special measures for more than a year must become a thing of the past,’ said Kelly.
‘Parents, children and communities deserve better.’
Kelly spelt out that those schools that do not come out of special measures within 12 months of an OFSTED inspection would be shut and either handed over to the control of privately-backed ‘Academies’, given to faith groups or ‘groups of parents’ – outside local education authority control – or closed outright.
This is virtually notice of closure to the 285 primary and secondary schools currently under special measures.
The one-year ultimatum will be included in a schools White Paper to be published later this autumn.
NUT General Secretary Steve Sinnott said Kelly’s 12-month deadline was ‘an impossibly short timescale’.
He warned: ‘Local authorities and schools themselves will come under intense pressure to adopt quick-fix, cosmetic measures, rather than the steps necessary to tackle problems.
‘If implemented, such an arbitrary policy will drive up the number of schools forced to close which otherwise could have improved.
‘I hope this is not a back-door way of increasing the number of candidates for Academy status; a disastrous experiment which undermines the community of schools and introduces back-door privatisation.’
The NASUWT teaching union condemned the government for seeking to ‘fast-track’ the closure of state schools.
NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates said: ‘No-one would disagree that it is unacceptable for schools to “languish in failure” for four, five or six years.
‘If this occurs, and there is no evidence to suggest that this is a widespread problem, it is a failure of the system, not the schools.
‘No school fails overnight. No school deliberately sets out to fail its pupils.
‘The reasons for decline are highly complex and often outside the school’s control.
‘The reality is that the vast majority of the small number of schools in special measures succeed in raising standards within the government’s current two-year target.
‘It is highly regrettable that at the start of the new academic year there is a focus on failure rather than celebrating success,’ Keates added, referring to the recent record exam passes by GCSE and A-level pupils.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said struggling state schools needed support, not threats of closure, adding: ‘The one year turnaround is entirely the wrong way to go about it.’
l Recruitment of head teachers is becoming more difficult every year becauseof the government’s attacks on state education, their unions have warned.
A survey, commissioned by the Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers, showed that more than 20 per cent of schools in England and Wales that advertised for a head in the last school year, failed to fill the vacancy.
The situation was worst in the primary school sector, where 28 per cent of head teacher vacancies went unfilled for 2004-05.
The figure for secondary schools was 20 per cent and 22 per cent in special schools.
The unions warned that applicants were being deterred by the growing range of responsibilities being placed on heads by the government’s ‘reforms’, at the same time as resources for state education are rapidly diminishing.