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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 May, 2005, 17:35 GMT 18:35 UK
Weak school shut every eight days
Six failing primary schools have been closed so far this year
Failing schools in England are being closed at the rate of one every eight days, official figures reveal.

The Queen's Speech outlined plans for a more streamlined approach to shutting underachieving schools.

But the figures show that struggling schools already are being axed routinely - with 46 shut last year after poor Ofsted reports.

The government is proposing that the education watchdog should be able directly to close failing schools.

In the first three months of this year, seven failing schools were closed - six primary and one secondary, according to Ofsted.

Most were "subject to special measures" but one was just "underachieving".

And this follows a pattern of school closures over recent years. In 2004, 28 schools closed while under special measures, 16 while in serious weaknesses and two sixth forms judged "inadequate" - a total of 46 closures.

Most of them closed at the end of the summer term - the end of the academic year.

Eleven were closed in the autumn of 2003, the first year for which Ofsted published figures.

The Department for Education and Skills said 19 were closed in the 2002-03 academic year but that its figures were incomplete.

'700,000 surplus places'

Under plans presented in the Queen's Speech, the government says that it wants to give extra powers to Ofsted and local authorities to address parents' concerns about "school failure and underperformance".

Teachers' unions have protested against a right to close schools being extended to inspectors - saying that local authorities needed to decide on the organisation of school services in their areas.

The blueprint for Labour's third-term proposes an education system that is more responsive to parents - and which will create greater diversity and choice over schools.

As well as encouraging new providers to set up schools and create more places, this more consumer-driven approach would also allow for more unsuccessful schools to be closed.

Closing schools could become a more practical proposition because of demographic changes in the school population - with a falling number of pupils of primary school age.

Figures from the government have shown that there are already 700,000 surplus school places in England - with some local authorities having a fifth of primary school places left unfilled.

While such changes have prompted some local authorities to close schools, on the national political stage there have been promises of an expansion of choice and the creation of additional schools.

A termly report from the education watchdog, published this week, showed that the number of schools causing concern had fallen - a decline welcomed by the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell.

Plan to let Ofsted close schools
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