What next for schools that missed key government GCSE target?

Open Academy in Norwich.

Open Academy in Norwich. - Credit: Archant

It was a week of outstanding individual GCSE successes and record results for some schools, but among the joy there was also concern as top grades fell both nationally and in Norfolk.

City Academy in Earlham, Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

City Academy in Earlham, Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Concern will focus on three schools which have so far said they dropped below a key measure using GCSE results the government uses to judge under performance.

David Brunton, principal of City Academy at Earlham in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith

David Brunton, principal of City Academy at Earlham in Norwich. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Although the rhetoric has suggested immediate inspections, academy conversion and the possible removal of governing bodies and headteachers, whether this will apply to these schools is far from certain.

For a start, failing the 'floor standard' requires more than below 40pc of students achieving at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths.

It also needs a below-average percentage of students making the expected progress in both English and maths at the end of key stage four.

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City Academy Norwich said 22pc of its students achieved the required GCSEs, while the Open Academy in Norwich reported 35pc, and Cliff Park High School in Gorleston reported 38pc.

Also below the 40pc threshold were The East Point Academy in Lowestoft, on 39pc, and the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech, on 38pc. Sewell Park College in Norwich has not released its results. The Department for Education yesterday said it could not yet work out whether the schools were below the floor, as it needed final school-level data to calculate expected progress measures for 2013.

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For schools that are below the floor, it said it would consider the effectiveness of any academy sponsor, taking into account how long they had had to turn around a school.

Ofsted will also consider the floor when deciding when to inspect a school, but is expected to look at the trend in performance over a number of years, and not necessarily inspect a school just before it dropped below the floor.

The government is aggressively pushing academy conversion in its bid to improve standards, but that is not an option for the Open Academy or City Academy, Norfolk's two longest-standing academies. Cliff Park High is already due to become an academy next January.

Neither are new Ofsted inspections likely at Open Academy, which is still awaiting the outcome of an inspection this summer, or Cliff Park, which has had three monitoring inspections since it was declared 'inadequate' last year. However, City Academy has not been inspected since it was judged 'good' in 2009.

But while it is unclear what the government and Ofsted might do, Norfolk County Council, whose support for school improvement was recently criticised by Ofsted, signalled its concern about the schools that appear to be below, or close to, the floor.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of education strategy and commissioning, said: 'Although verified data is not yet available, we will be discussing next steps with the head teachers and governing bodies of any schools, including academies, that may be in this position.

'This is an important part of our role in challenging and supporting schools because we must make sure the needs of all Norfolk children are being met.

'In all cases, this will be part of existing work with schools.

'We continue to refine our ongoing monitoring of schools so that we become involved at an early stage where achievement is not sufficient.'

All three Norfolk schools which have so far reported figures below 40pc mentioned English, and a number of other schools said changes to English grade boundaries, or problems with a particular exam board, had hit their figures.

And while City Academy principal David Brunton would not speculate on what the government or Ofsted might do, he outlined action the school itself was taking.

He said: 'Improving English results is our top priority and we have already put in place measures to bring us up to where we need to be.

'These have included appointing a new head of department, recruiting three new English teachers, working with an outside specialist to assist with our literacy strategy across the curriculum and drawing on the expertise of the recently-appointed TEN Group strategic lead on English.

'Our teachers have also been putting in extra work and preparation during the summer break, in their own time, to ensure that improvement takes effect right from day one of the new term.'

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