In early June 2008, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, announced that up to 270 of the poorest performing schools in England would be closed if they did not improve, and replaced either with an academy or be partnered with a high-performing school in a new trust.1 At the same time, a list of 638 schools was published whose 15 year-olds in 2007 did not achieve at least 30 per cent 5+ A*–C grades at GCSE including maths and English. The secretary of state said local authorities should lead the drive to improve low-

attaining schools, but where they failed, he would step in and order the schools be closed by 2011 or within three years should they fail to take ‘radical action’. Legally, the Schools Commissioner, currently Sir Bruce Liddington, acting on behalf of the secretary of state, has the right to institute proceedings to close a failing school. So far this authority has not been used by the government. There are about 600,000 children aged 11-15 attending the 638 schools which in 2007

did not reach the 30 per cent target. This is about 20 per cent of the 3 million 11-15 year-olds attending state-funded English secondary schools – there are 600,000 children in each age cohort attending all state schools, with a further 50,000 attending independent schools.2